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Why is Cultural Awareness Important?

Why is Cultural Awareness Important?

Why focus on culture?

When working across different cultures it's critical that you understand the rules and cultural expectations of others.

If you don't, you can make mistakes. These mistakes can be harmless, or, they can be very serious.

Click here to read an example of a cultural error which resulted in a G4S staff member being beaten by a mob!

We'll look at some further examples shortly.

Cultural competence is valuable throughout life; whether you're travelling abroad for a holiday, or working across cultures in your professional life.

Working with people from different cultures has become more and more frequent for many of us and, as a result, more important.


Understanding 'culture' in training is essential because, otherwise, it's easy for people to underestimate the impact cultural differences can have.

Underestimating culture is the point at which things can start to go wrong. 

Although it may be easy to learn facts and do’s and don’ts about different cultures, this is not necessarily being culturally aware.

If you think of culture as an iceberg, what we see of a culture is tiny in comparison to what we cannot see. It is the unseen elements of culture such as values and beliefs, that are usually hardest for people to understand and deal with. When we interact in cross cultural situations, a lack of awareness can lead to bad or poor decisions.

culture icerberg

Cultural awareness helps us reduce the chances of making bad decisions and increases the chance of us making more insightful, considered decisions.

How about we look at an example to explain this further?

Cultural Differences at Work

Here’s a real-lfe case study for you to think about from a project we worked on.

Mr Rossi is from Italy and has been moved by his company to manage the office of their subsidiary in the Netherlands. He is horrified to find that his desk is in the middle of an open plan office seated next to some interns and junior ranked staff.

In his first week he moves himself into his own separate office. Although he feels much better, the local employees are enraged with his behaviour and there is instant resistance to his presence in the office.

Any idea what happened here?

Well, let’s break it down. Mr Rossi comes from a culture which respects hierarchy and status. A boss should have their own office, otherwise they are not worthy of being the boss, right?

In Dutch culture, however, hierarchy doesn't carry the same importance – they prioritise equality and everyone being the same. When he moved into his own office, he essentially signalled to his team that he thought he was better than them.

Again, both parties in this example with a little bit of cultural awareness may have stopped to think about what was going on.

 cultural lens

The Cultural Lens is a good way of thinking about differences - we all wear a pair of invisible glasses that shape how we see things around us.

When we come from the same culture, our colours are closer together than when we come from different countries.

The Importance of Cultural Awareness

These sorts of misunderstandings happen at all levels. The business world is full of examples of where companies have ventured into foreign countries and completely failed to understand the local culture.

What these sorts of examples clearly show us is how culture can and does get in the way when it comes to how we see others and the decisions we make.

Cultural awareness helps us move beyond this.

An important learning point, that we must stress, is that being culturally aware is not about compromising your own culture or sacrificing your values or identity for ‘another’s’.

It is simply about helping us understand how we can best adapt our approaches, thoughts and decisions to ensure we create positive outcomes in cross-cultural interactions.

It is about respecting others’ cultures as well as our own.


Learn More About Cultural Awareness

Did you know we have a free online training course on Cultural Awareness?

Feel free to watch it here, on You Tube or on the course page which also includes free resources and a quiz.


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