Cultural Awareness

Cultural awareness is rarely something a business owner considers a priority in fostering commercial success. The business should exude its own culture that workers buy into. However, with increasing emphasis on encouraging workplace diversity, savvy business owners are seeing value in cultural awareness.

Not Everyone Sees Everything The Same Way Every Time

Cultural awareness is a perception that not all people see all things the same way all the time. Recognizing that what may be accepted as appropriate behavior in one culture may be regarded as inappropriate in another is an important step in avoiding misunderstandings that could prove costly in many ways.

If you own a business or are a workplace supervisor with employees from many different backgrounds, it is critical to develop a sensitivity to cultural distinctions, not only to avoid potential legal issues, but simply to better communicate with workers in a way that could motivate them to become better, more productive contributors to your mutual success.

Be Conscious Of The Unconscious

Cultural mannerisms are ingrained learned behavior that becomes innate second nature to most people. Therefore, becoming aware of cultural differences is often an exercise in developing the conscious acuity to observe and recognize them in real-time cognition.

The best way to hone this sensitivity is to simply ask workers and colleagues from different cultural backgrounds about the proper way to address issues you may be concerned with. More often than not, they will appreciate the query and be very responsive in ensuring your business does not inadvertently embroil itself into a miscommunication that could be legally defined as a discriminatory act.

With the emphasis on incorporating diversity into the workplace, there are potential landmines to navigate, especially if an employee’s culture somehow conflicts with the organizational culture your business is developing to achieve success.

Four Stages Of Cultural Awareness In The Workplace

There are supervisors in virtually every workplace that will proudly boast that there is only one way to do business under their watch -- their way. This is often referred to as the “parochial stage” in workplace cultural awareness and if this leadership model strays from anything other than strict adherence to work methodology, it almost certainly will eventually lead to discord and legal issues.

In situations where supervisors and workers are aware of cultural differences in the workplace but still insist on behavior that insists their way is the best way and the only way, this is referred to as the ethnocentric stage. This, too, can lead to discrimination claims and other legalities should the cultural domination ever expand beyond the basic A-B-Cs of execution,

When workplace supervisors and employees recognize that there are differences in their way of doing things but they allow workers to adhere to their cultural methods of getting a job done, this is called the synergistic stage. The potential for trouble in this scenario arises when, quite simply, the boss’s way of doing something is more efficient and less costly than others’ ways of doing things, and they demand adherence to their system. This requires adroit implementation to avoid allegations of being culturally insensitive.

The best scenario is the participatory stage in which workers with varied cultural backgrounds come together and foster an “our way” of getting things done that is aware of individual as well as the business’s culture.

Managing Cultural Diversity

Being aware of being culturally aware is a key first step in managing workplace diversity. Do not be afraid to ask employees how to approach an issue in a way that will not be insensitive to them. Continuously seek insight from workers regarding assumptions to ensure you understand how they could interpret a proposed policy.

To ensure you avoid potential issues related to workplace cultural awareness, ensure your employee policies and practices have been reviewed by attorneys who specialize in these type of laws -- employment attorneys. Upcounsel.com provides a comprehensive directory of attorneys who are practitioners in distinct fields of business law, including such specialties as small business law in specific states and in putting together an employee handbook that covers all the bases, including cultural awareness.

If you have questions about workplace cultural awareness, you can post them on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.