Communication for Development, Culture, Intercultural Communication, Intercultural Dialogue

Cultural Differences and Cultural Awareness Training Matters in 2021

By: Shanoy Coombs

May be an image of 10 people and people smiling

It’s 2021 and I hate being reactive, but in a recent tweet a ‘tech guy’ highlighted some of the challenges Caribbean nationals experience when they relocate to ‘big cities’ such as New York or London. This he called getting lost when faced with the big pond effect. I replied by indicating that this was not simply a matter of Big Pond effect but the role of cultural differences was often overlooked in many organizational contexts. What followed next was his comment which read

Possibly, but nobody in 2021 cares about cultural differences, frankly”. He continued ” Most people in high paid knowledge economy jobs already work remotely with international teams. Nobody will give you any slack just because you moved from [developing country] to London or NY”.

While I understand the sentiments about work pace and how it differs across countries, I also found it alarming that this fairly well known digital transformation executive who focuses on “effective communication in tech” at a regional telecommunications firm would make such a pronouncement. Here I share a twitter thread I generated as a reply, which can prove beneficial for others who feel the same about cultural differences.

At a time when the world has tuned into cultural differences probably more than ever, it is alarming that some still render cultural differences as negligible. Countless researchers have explored the importance of recognizing and harnessing cultural differences towards more effective team work in organizations and yet, here in 2021 are those who believe these cultural differences don’t matter. Sadly, many organizations tend to throw people together and expect miraculous collaboration. Yet the opposite is true in reality. In many instances, every aspect of team work was affected.

My most recent extensive research focused on acknowledging and utilising Intercultural Communication and cultural awareness training in multi-stakeholder platforms. My research was conducted via the International Land Coalition with headquarters in Rome and a presence in over 200 countries. My findings indicated that many of the organization’s goals could be achieved more significantly when persons from diverse backgrounds were given space to share their unique traits, be confident that they could be seen as an asset in team dynamics and not as a threat and actively contribute to the work culture. Broadly, this intercultural communication inclusion would also ensure that culture’s role and effect in every aspect of organizational life was acknowledged and managed effectively accordingly.

For the uninitiated, culture affects everything we do including communication styles, concepts of team work, reporting, management styles and more and yet, there are people who still think cultural differences don’t matter? Ironically, many of these same people stereotype and denigrate colleagues based on their differences.

Then there is the issue of how culture is viewed. It is not just about being from different nationalities as even within the same country, even among people of the same ethnicity, different ‘cultures’ exist. When one considers a country such as Jamaica for example, with a motto that boasts “out of many”, the many includes not just different nationalities but also culture that is generated by geography, by religious beliefs, by age, gender and more. Therefore even within a country such as Jamaica, cultural differences matter!

In one of my research encounters in the UK, I asked a British, caucasian respondent whether he felt cultural differences affected him at work. He initially said no as his ‘closest coworkers were all ‘just like me’. Yet, later he explained that he felt his muslim coworker (with legitimate religious observations) was using religion as an excuse to get away from work. As one who values committment to work hours he already formed a negative perception of his colleague and tended to ‘just avoid him’. Similarly, with research colleagues from diverse nationalities, I too discovered conflict that was often rooted in our cultural differences and which threatened to ruin our relationship. I therefore welcomed my own cultural awareness training which helped to better see things from their point of views. Through these lens, that one friend who seemed “too inquisitive” or “too quiet” were now seen as guided by cultures which encouraged probing versus cultures which encouraged modesty.

For the most part, I am happy to have studied in the UK in an environment where I experienced how cultural differences affect collaboration in friendships, team work, relationships and more. We all have unique nuances that may affect people who are both similar and different from us in very different ways. This can also result in difficult and cumbersome workplace and social interactions in person and online if not managed properly, usually via cultural awareness training.

I am grateful too for a rich work life which has seen me interacting with persons from diverse spaces and places and how approaching each person with a keen interest to listen, learn more and understand have served me well. I wish this for everyone who ever has to interact or collaborate with someone who they may see as ‘different’. My own cultural awareness training has no doubt helped and so I know cultural differences matter!

In summary, I suppose I’m still a bit shocked at the recent declaration that no one cares about cultural differences in 2021. This is especially shocking as #DiversityAndInclusion specialists have seen a boom in the demand for our services. Many firms also invest heavily in training for staff being sent off for overseas placements and many others train their entire staff to deal with these differences.

I trust that far more people see cultural differences as important than those who dont. Those like me in the cultural awareness training space know the demand for our services, but I’ve also now been made aware of the continued need to increase knowledge about the importance of cultural awareness training towards effective collaboration.

My Inbox thus remains open for those who require cultural awareness training, for those who are curious about cultural awareness training and for those who do not yet know that they need cultural awareness training.

My business @Infinity Integrated Communications Limited also offers diverse services under the three pillars of Communications. Culture and Collaboration.

N.B. This post first appeared on my Linkedin Page on February 19, 2021

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