Cultural Sensitivity in the Workplace

Our work is just not local or national. It is also global.  Sometimes, it can be intimidating to be exposed to different cultures. Adapting to a new culture is often new for so many people. Just think about the many cultures represented in one workplace. The global business environment has transcended borders and oceans to a new normal. Most of us are aware when things may be more different than what we are accustomed. Do we really embrace the fact that many cultures are not like our own?

Cultural Sensitivity defined is being aware and being accepting of cultural differences.  This is most essential in all work environments. It is even more critical in international relations.  In fact, more negotiations are possible when there is cultural sensitivity.  How do we take on understanding a culture different than ours? It is often reflected in understand the basics of body language, speech patterns, and customs unique to a particular culture. This basic understanding will better help us to understand our coworkers, business partners, affiliates, and our valued customers.

Let’s look at some examples:

  1. The practicing of tipping is expected in restaurants within the United States of America but it is not considered acceptable in other countries throughout the world. Some of these countries are Japan, China and South Korea.
  2. The practicing bargaining is not always common in some countries but it is perfectly acceptable in other countries. Some of the countries where bargaining is acceptable are Turkey, Egypt, China, and Iran.
  3. Arriving late to an event is extremely rude in place like the United States but may be permissible in other countries. Some countries where arriving late is the norm is Mexico, Peru, Brazil, and Colombia
  4. Within the United States, children are taught that food should be eaten with forks and spoons. There are some exceptions like hamburgers, hotdogs or ribs but otherwise use of forks, knives, and spoons are expected. In many cultures in the Middle East, eating with the hands is very commonplace. Some countries where this is truly acceptable are India, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, and Saudi Arabia.
  5. In American culture, it is ingrained to say “Please” and “Thank You” at an early age. Forgetting to say “Thank You” is considered rude but in other cultures this is not the case. In Japanese culture, it is considered polite to deny a compliment than to accept it. Saying “Thank You” in this culture come across as showing arrogance.

Cultural differences certainly make any environment more diverse. A more cohesive professional culture can always be created through ways our worldviews are shaped through cultural sensitivity. When we have a better understanding of the practices, rituals, and customs of our cultures, this will foster an environment where others will be more accepting of our culture. We must not see different cultures as impediments. We must see them as multipliers in producing the best possible product and/or service to the people we treasure most: our valued global customer.

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