Developing Cross-Cultural MindednessEarl Harewood | Lecturer, Heriot-Watt University/School of Higher Education
Global workers are only able to function in diverse environments if they have developed cross-cultural minded knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs). Cross-cultural minded KSAs espouses the idea that workers understand the importance of their own cultural heritage, the meaning they ascribe to these narratives and how they use their culture to interpret and response to the world around them. Based on the premise that these are different from person to person, organization to organization, community to community and nation to nation, workers must have well-developed cross-cultural mindedness competencies if they are to function in diverse work environments because they will need to apply similar methodologies in understanding the culture of others. Thus, differences by its very nature mean that workers bring very different things to the workplace which must be understood, respected and managed for meaningful relationships, innovation and effective processes to evolve.
Respect for diversity is probably one of the most pressing issues in the globalization discourse and cross-cultural engagement. More so because the workplace is becoming more and more diverse, but there is a far greater and pressing need for persons to develop cross-cultural competencies since this is viewed as an area of comparative advantage for most organizations, communities and nations. So important are the issues of diversity and global mindedness that some universities in the United States are making it mandatory for both graduate and undergraduate learners to engage in some form of cross-cultural engagement outside their cultural of origin. These experiences do provide some level of cultural sensitivity, but it is important to examine how cross-cultural mindedness is handled at home first because important lessons can be learned about workers’ perceptions about differences in the process of helping them understand the origin of these perceptions – good, bad or indifferent. This understanding can become the basis for helping persons understand where erroneous perceptions about difference originated and help them work through these because to do differently lessen persons’ ability to function effectively as global workers at home or in a foreign country.
Second to race, culture is one of the fundamental elements that accentuate people’s differences. Culture give meaning to who people know or think they are; how they behave; how they interpret and respond to the behavior of others; but most importantly, culture tells numerous stories about why people behave the way they do. Thus, to truly understand a person’s culture, it important to go deeper than what the eye can see; dig deeper than the arts and delve deep into the histories for it is there the people can be found. People’s histories are where culture was birthed so it is in the histories of the people that culture must be understood. These ideas may sound simple and in some instances insignificant, but embodied in a people’s history lie the tools and attributes for understanding:
1) What makes a people significant?
2) What makes them a different people?
3) What makes them aspire and function the ways they do?
Understanding of a people outside of their histories can lead to many inconsistencies about a group of people which can fuel inequalities and practices that stagnate a people, who may be already marginalized in the country of origin or a foreign country.
One of the fundamental characteristics of globalization is the fact that it has created conversations about challenging economic and educational realities, the pervasiveness and interconnectedness fueled by technology, social disparities and of cause diversity of every kind. Given the veracities of these issues, culture cannot not be taken for granted in a cross-cultural interchange, because the potential to botch meaningful relationships heightens given the interpreted disrespect, which can come from either side because of lack of cross-cultural mindedness competencies. Added to the possibilities of disrespect in poorly cross-cultural engagements, globalization has heightened competition and opportunities to foster relationships differently so it is easy to switch relationships without much care since businesses, communities and nations’ needs can easily be satisfied elsewhere. That is why understanding the tenets of cross-cultural interactions must be learned, practiced and planned for because these are crucial for cross-cultural engagements, especially in this global ill-defined economic environment where business relationships need to be more symbiotic and collaborative, especially in these uncertain times where the search for meaning is resource driven and in some cases it is exhausting.
History has taught many of important lessons about misgivings that have resulted from simple errors in engagement between persons from different cultures and those involved in expatiate placement must see these as areas for corrective action. There was a time in the history of the world where workers were sent to work in a foreign country, but today in addition to being sent, prospective workers are migrating to a country of their choosing. Regardless, of how workers end up in a foreign country, there is a certainty that they bring everything about them to the host country. Some of these attributes may fit nicely, others may need to be rework to fit the current context, while others attributes may have to be stored until the person returns to their culture of origin or abandon all together because those attributes are now inappropriate for any context in this global economy. The issue here is that everything is not for everyone, so what is good in one cultural setting may be misplaced in another culture since every cultural nuance is not for every space. This is where it is important for expatriate to have a deepened knowledge of their own histories, how these narratives might have formed their own cultural belief system and how these are leveraged in the ordinariness of life in the country of origin. This exercise can unearth many misconceptions about difference cultures and groups in those cultures which will requires corrective action to help workers adjust toxic mindsets that can lead to attempts to use those faulty mindset as barometer in other cultures, can lead to frustration and attritions and even career derailments. There is no certainty in this kind of training, but what this will do is bring some hidden and sometimes misconceived ideas about differences to heighten levels of awareness. Exercises like this one can heighten persons’ level of awareness, thus, giving them more tools to self-regulate their propensities on cross-cultural assignments if they can’t change their misconception. Still, behavior drives subsequent behavior so it might be necessary to disqualify some persons from cross-cultural work assignments if they lack the capacity to acquire cross-cultural mindedness competencies or simply refuses. Relationships are too important in the global economy to risk putting persons on international assignments without the required cross-cultural mindedness knowledge, skills and abilities to function on those assignments.
Author Perspective: Educator