Culture has a profound impact on how individuals and teams communicate and respond to situations in the moment. We need to grow our awareness of our own cultural heritage and our unconscious biases. By noticing and appreciating the richness and variety of human experience, we begin to perceive the subtle cultural differences that encourage us to gently interrogate our iron-clad assumptions and expectations about what behaviour is 'default', 'normal' or 'correct'. By engaging with diverse teams and opening ourselves to new experiences, we gradually uncover the unwritten, unquestioned, unconscious rules and codes that we’ve absorbed since childhood.
An individual’s lived experience, perception and cultural background influence their communication and behaviour. Our gestures, expressions, non-verbal communication and body language are shaped by the cultural norms we absorbed in our developing years. Our cultural background influences the context of our communications by differences in how we perceive and value time, space and touch. To understand the rich and complex influence of culture and other hidden impacts in our communication, we should pay attention to these differences:
A person who grew up in a low-context culture such as the US or Germany expects communication to be explicit and specific. A person from a high-context culture, such as Japan or Indonesia, expects the listener to accurately interpret indirect messaging and subtle non-verbal cues in their communication.
A person who is communicating in a language they have learned, especially in later years, will differ in style and interpretation from a person who is speaking in their native tongue.
Cultures vary in their comfort with the expression of emotion. An open expression of emotion that is acceptable in Italy or the US, may generate discomfort and disquiet in Japan or the UK.
Gender generates differences in the way we communicate as individuals and how we influence groups.
Our generation and stage in life impact what we perceive as ‘appropriate’ communication and behaviour in a workplace setting.
As well as our cultural codes, we all express ourselves according to our own interpersonal style and habitual way of behaving with others.
Corporate culture adds another layer of complexity to our communications and responses in a workplace setting. Employees unconsciously absorb the stated and unstated beliefs, goals and expectations of the organisation. Employees may come and go but the culture remains. In safety-critical workplaces, this may include an unacknowledged tension between safety and performance that can impact employee behaviour.
Inserting technology into our communications can exacerbate the differences and variance between individuals, teams, organisations and nationalities.