As the new year begins, setting and reviewing both personal and professional goals and milestones is a habit of highly successful leaders. A common question we receive this time of year is how to become more cross-culturally aware.
There are several avenues, in addition to an intercultural or international business degree. Consider combining an international séjour, a bit of time and a willingness to learn. Learn a few words in a new language. If you’re looking to become more cross-culturally savvy in 2017, here are six tips to help you expand your horizons.
1. Absorb International News-
With the internet at our fingertips, it’s easier than ever to discover find what’s happening worldwide. Venture beyond your local paper and Facebook feed to catch up on current events.
Follow international media sources such as BBC, Sky News or Radio France International (BBC World!) for breaking stories happening globally, and revealing our planet's enormous complexity. Although it's nearly impossible to follow every regional news story worldwide, gaining insight into international events will stretch your conceptualization of world culture.
2. Suspend stereotypes
Unfortunately, stereotypes exist everywhere. Avoid the easy trap of subconsciously accepting commonly-held beliefs about a group of people or a country. Although not all stereotypes are negative, for example, the belief that all French women are excellent cooks, they predicate that pre-conceived notions about someone or something you haven't personally experienced for yourself are acceptable. This year try challenging stereotypes by seeking opportunities to encounter diverse people and places. Use these interactions to ask questions and try to understand a different way of life, and come to your own conclusions.
3. Watch foreign films with the subtitles on (or off!)
Foreign films are one of the most fascinating ways to glimpse another culture. As you watch, ask questions about how the director and producer have incorporated cultural elements into the film. What kind of music did they choose for the score- traditional tracks, Western rock ballads vocals, or instrumental? How does the director frame the heroine or the elderly mentor, and what might this tell us about the roles of women or authority figures in this culture? Movies often use these subtle cues to tell us about cultural dynamics and relationship customs. So pop some popcorn, set the subtitles if needed, and enjoy the show.
4. Ask open-ended questions
Whether it's your co-worker from Sri Lanka, or an exchange student from Warsaw, globalization has united us with people from around the world in our daily lives. Take the time to politely ask questions about others’ experiences, both as citizens in their home country and as individuals here in the U.S. What surprised them about U.S. American culture? What do they appreciate most about their home country? Asking questions such as these will broaden your understanding of different cultures, and stimulate your curiosity!
If you have the financial means and the time, traveling to a new destination can teach you volumes about different customs and cultures worldwide. Whether it's a country you've always wondered about, or an off-the-track location, make sure to research local customs and learn a few phrases in the local language before setting foot in new territory.
6. Appreciate diversity and difference.
Just like human strands of DNA, no two cultures are alike; people across the globe communicate, problem solve, think, and relate to others in a myriad of ways. It's important to understand that your lifestyle is not the only one - there's so much for us to benefit from other cultures! As global citizens in an ever-expanding world, we have the chance to stretch ourselves and look outside of what's familiar in order to appreciate the beautiful, the different, and the diverse.
Whether you’re preparing to voyage internationally, managing a multicultural team, or simply want to gain insight into global cultures, these six tips will help you develop a deeper comprehension of diverse perspectives and a powerful appreciation of traditions worldwide.
Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural consultant, an international protocol expert and the founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. She is accredited in intercultural management, is the resident etiquette expert for CBS Austin’s We Are Austin, regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, Fortune, The New York Times, and numerous other media. She is the best-selling, international award-winning author of Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, named to Kirkus Review’s Best Books of 2015 and recipient of the British Airways International Trade, Investment & Expansion Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards.