Having cultural agility does not depend on memorizing a list of what-to-do’s and what-not-to-do’s. It involves learning about cultural variations, developing self awareness and applying your knowledge in a flexible, reflective manner. While the following article discusses situations and examples of people living overseas, here in Toronto we could all benefit from increasing our cross-cultural competence, given that many of us have neighbours and colleagues, and hopefully some friends, from different locations in the world.
I believe the key here is to develop self-awareness. It is a difficult and never-ending process but so important in all communication processes. When we consider how much information and stimulus is pouring into our brains every second and the tiny percentage we can really process, learning to focus our attention and remain open can be quite challenging, yet this is what we need to do if we want to bridge the assumptions and patterns we all have.
The following article expands on the importance of delving in beyond superficial cultural observations and discusses some ways to strengthen our cross-cultural agility.
8 Ways To Reduce Your Cross-Cultural Clumsiness
By Paula Caligiuri
Whether of companies or countries, to lead across cultures means knowing when to adapt, integrate, or override their differences.
Cultural agility is the ability to respond quickly, comfortably, and effectively in a different culture and with people from other cultures. Cultural agility is not cultural adaptability. In fact, there are times when cultural adaptation is counter-productive, when maintaining the organization’s standard or creating a new approach is critical. My research has found that the most effective culturally agile professionals toggle across these approaches, knowing when to adapt, when to override, and when to integrate diverse norms, practices, or perspectives.
Below are eight suggestions for business leaders who seek to build a more culturally agile workforce:
Question your own assumptions about cultural differences.
Leaders who observe many overt similarities with colleagues from different cultures often erroneously believe cultural differences do not exist. Having the same watch, golf handicap, or favorite sushi restaurant in Paris does not mean cultural differences have vanished. It is difficult for you to credibly lead the charge for enhancing cultural agility if you do not understand the need for the ability. Leaders with significant international experience, especially in implementing a strategic initiative in another culture, have a deep appreciation for the criticality of cultural agility. If you do not see it for yourself, speak with them.