Culture is a very broad term. It can refer to the beliefs and practices of a society or a group of people who live in the same location. It can also refer to the way that humans act creatively and to represent their experiences in symbols. Each society would have its own culture and within that culture, there are numerous sub-cultures. In today’s world where travel and communications have been made so easy, people are coming in contact with cultures that are different from the one that they are used to. This can give rise to conflicts. If a person who comes in contact with another culture is not ready for it, then it can cause some problems.
In this day and age when a lot of people are coming in contact with other cultures, it is important that there should be more cultural awareness . Different people see things in different ways. What could be seen as normal in the culture that you grew up in, might be seen as inappropriate in another cultural setting. So it is important that you should have a good level of cultural awareness, especially if you are bound to come in contact with other cultures.
You could be travelling to a different country for example or you could come in contact with people who came from a different background. It is important that you should be aware of the culture of the country that you are travelling or of the kind of culture of the people that you will be in contact with. Failure to be aware of their culture could lead to disastrous results.
One example would be the difference in the way that Americans and those from most Asian cultures talk. Americans and other westerners are frank and direct when they talk. They say what they think and feel. Most Asian cultures on the other hand do not value talking frankly. Saving face is very important to them and because talking in a frank manner can cause embarrassment, they stay away from it. This point in cultural differences has often been cited in the past. Many Westerners fail to take that into account. But if only they are aware of that point in Asian cultures, then they might have saved themselves a great deal of trouble and they might have worked more harmoniously with others.
Levels of Cultural Awareness
There are levels of cultural awareness. There are those who have not worked on it yet and so they have a very low level of awareness.
My Way is the Only Way
This is the lowest level of cultural awareness. The people on this level believe that their way of living is the only one there is and would not be able to understand if they were to come in contact with other cultures.
My Way is Better
At the second level of cultural awareness, people know something about other cultures. They might have read or seen it somewhere. But though they know about other cultures they believe that theirs is better.
My Way and the Others
At this stage of cultural awareness people accept that other ways of doing things can be valid as well. When faced with a certain situation, they can choose between their culture and the others to find the best way of handling that situation. People who are in this stage know that differences in culture could lead to problems. That’s why they try to work them out.
This is the last level of cultural awareness. At this stage, people from different cultural backgrounds come and work together in order to come up with a shared culture. They discuss and ask questions together.
How to Have Cultural Awareness?
Would you like to have an awareness and acceptance of other cultures? That’s needed now in the world that is increasingly becoming a global village. It might not be easy at first to have cultural awareness. You are a product of your own culture after all, but there are certain steps that you can take in order to have cultural awareness.
Admit What You Don’t Know
It is important for you to admit your lack of knowledge in certain things. That is connected with admitting that the culture that you grew up with does not have the answer to everything. Once you have done that, then you would be open to look into what other cultures can offer. You should accept that the culture that you came from is not always right.
This is still connected with admitting that you lack knowledge. Before you make a judgement on anything, you should collect as much information as you can first. Once you have collected the information from other cultures, you can do your evaluation.
One of the most important aspects of having cultural awareness is having empathy. Empathy is the ability to step into other people’s shoes. If you are dealing with people from different cultural backgrounds then you cannot empathize with them if you are not aware of their culture and where they came from.
Expose Yourself to Other Cultures
If you want to have cultural awareness then the best way to achieve that is by experiencing it first-hand. You should travel to other countries and immerse yourself in the culture there. If you cannot travel to other countries then you should at least spend time with people from other cultural backgrounds. Learn of their ways and customs.
Improving Your Cross Cultural Communication
Communicating with people from other cultures is not an easy thing, but it is something that you need to do if you want to have an increased awareness of other cultures. If you will be communicating with people from other cultures, there are several things that you need to keep in mind.
First of all, you have to know yourself. You have to be aware of your own personality and your own behavioural patterns. You should also be aware of the personal space in the culture that you are dealing with. For Westerners, the personal bubble or the space which is considered to be personal by someone is within an arm’s length. If another person enters that bubble then a Westerner might feel uncomfortable. In other cultures however, the personal space is a lot smaller. If you come from a culture where the personal space is wide and you find yourself in a culture where it is non-existent then you need to prepare yourself.
You should also be conscious of the way that you communicate. If you are using English in communicating with someone who is not a native speaker of it, then you should be careful on how you speak. Keep in mind that he or she might not understand slang words or expressions that you take for granted. That does not mean that they are inferior at all.
Another important idea when communicating with other cultures is that pauses in conversation is not necessarily bad. Pauses are moments of reflection. That’s when you think about a reply to a question so it really is very important in communications.
These are just some of the things that you can do in order to improve your cultural awareness.