3 simple tips for being more culturally sensitive by yvonne thackray

Focusing on culture this quarter has been a rewarding experience. Investigating what this could mean from a universal perspective to how it can be applied at a personal life indicates to me that this is only the beginning! I started from a position of positing whether our identity is innate or influenced by culture  (briefly engaging in the nature vs. nurture debate); then I focused at a national level, observing how society has changed in the UK particularly around the class system and reflecting what this could mean. Finally, this month is about action and how I think we can engage more fully with diversity and culture at a personal level.

I started by asking myself, how cross-culture or diversity personally impacts me, and the only answer I could come up with is it’s been around as long as I have lived and it's a part of my day to day life. I don’t remember a time when I haven’t conversed, studied and worked in a cross-cultural environment. To live in a homogenous environment – what is that? This could be a generational thing, but I’ve always noticed the similarities and differences. We connect with others on common core interests like education, profession, social activities, religions, etc. and our differences are often exacerbated by the stereotypes and unconscious biases we have towards others like gender, social class, ethnicity, sexuality etc. Sometimes it's easy to blame those differences, especially when we have a fixed mindset or too focused on one part of the whole, because it's hard to see the other person(s) points of view and respect how they might have come to their position when we no longer have the capacity to emphasise with them. I believe one of the strongest signals is when one has stopped listening. At this point, we may either be starting to blame the person rather than listening to the reasoning through the conversation or rationalizing his/her behaviour because of cultural upbringing, gender, ethnicity, social class, religious beliefs etc. It can be extremely easy to generalise rather than search for the truth, which can often be found below the surface. I am not suggesting that when there is a conflict you should go along and agree with the other person, I believe that we can agree to disagree, but we should be coming from a place where we at least agree on the common facts even if our interpretations differ. Those interpretations will be the result of our intellectual capacity, enculturation, values and belief, and we need to be able to respect how an individual comes to their own opinion.

Ultimately, who we are as an individual is the resultant of our personality, culture and experiences. However, when a situation arises when we notice we are absent-mindedly rationalizing their point of view and/or generalizing their behaviour, we should take a moment to check those assumptions we so easily arrived at. I recommend 3 simple tips, something we were taught in some shape or form when we were growing up as well as being the basic tenements to coaching:


'Tongue-in-cheek' by some of the best coaches I know

Listen: Pay attention and listen fully to what's been said.

Observe: Observe how you are responding to what's been said, and physically observe how they are speaking to you.

Ask: Ask questions to clarify when you notice you might have a different interpretation of what's been said; focus on the facts of the conversation rather than engaging with the emotions unless it's appropriate.

I believe we do this most of the time without realizing it, but when we are under pressure, overwhelmed and stressed that is the time we need to step back and quickly run through these tips.