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Culture made Practical: Self-Cultural Analysis

Updated: Jul 2, 2019

Personality and Culture, Part 1 of 2 (Read part 2)

What if in addition to personality tests there were cultural profile tests to help you discover who you are as a cultural being? There are. Let us save you from trying to memorize a list of traditions for 200+ countries. Simplify your grid for understanding culture and become more effective cross-culturally.

Issues That Led Us to Find a New Approach

The world has become more global than ever before. Even if you have not made efforts to reach out to the world, the world has come to you.

We engage the world through the Internet, through games, through sports, the entertainment industry, news, education, work and yes; the people who move into our neighborhood from another part of the world.

Over 250 million people live and work in a country other than the country of their birth. On top of that there are also over 60 million people displaced from their countries, fleeing danger and instability. That is roughly the same number as we had at the end of WWII.

"In this global and diverse world we still sit on a strange infatuation: humanity insists that culture has to be understood through the lenses of Nationality and Ethnicity."

In 2004 we at KnowledgeWorkx realized this was not going to work for the world that was then or the world still in development around us.

Although your new colleague carries a Swedish passport, how do you know if she is the prototype of a 'true Swede'? What if you pull out your 'cheat-sheet for working with Swedes’ and you try it out, only to discover that your new Swedish colleague is actually a global nomad who was born in Sudan and has lived on four continents before she finished high-school?

Or what if the people that just moved into the house next door look like they are from somewhere in Asia, and after some pleasantries you discover they are originally from Vietnam. Would a ‘cheat-sheet for working with Vietnamese’ tell you what you need to know to engage with them effectively?

The Radical New Idea

After ploughing through a whole bunch of books that used Nationality and Ethnicity as a way to guide the reader in intercultural relationships, we realized that actually trying to live and become more effective in relationships with this nationality-driven grid was a serious challenge.

Not only was it impossible to memorize over 200 cheat sheets for every possible nationality, it was also dangerous in a world where hundreds of millions of people are 'cultural composites' of the rich cultural journeys they have been on in life.

The more we looked at this the more we realized that a nationality- and ethnicity-oriented approach of looking at culture was insufficient to engage people effectively in a multicultural world.

When you look at the world of psychology, many psychometric instruments have been developed to help us understand ourselves and relate to others. People have attempted to “map out” the terrain of human personality from various angles. And in talking to psychologists there is a common assumption that the world of psychology is able to explain most of what is going on in human behavior.

But living and interacting with many different cultures in our home area of Dubai in the early 2000-s, we found that to be profoundly incomplete. Our experience underlined a problem: that by emphasizing the psychology side of behavior so much, the cultural side of behavior has been under-emphasized.

You only have to look at the number of assessments available on each side of the equation. There are hundreds of tools on the psychology side of human behavior, but up to April 2018 we have found only 47 assessments on the cultural side of the equation.

So we asked the question: "Why can't we map out personal cultural preferences like we do personality ones?" We started pursuing that goal 17 years ago, coining the term "Self-Cultural Analysis.”

What is Self-Cultural Analysis?

Psychologists use behavioral frameworks to explain human behavior. Based on this they have developed hundreds of psychometric assessments. We set out to develop a framework that creates a structure and language for specifically the culturally-driven behavior of humans around the world.

We were not the first to try and create a framework that explains human cultural behavior. Many researchers have worked with dimensions, polarities or values that seem to manifest themselves in different ways in different cultures.

We stand on the shoulders of these researchers and are very grateful for the work they have done.

But we wanted to make these frameworks more practical. We looked at the great work of people like E.T. Hall. G. Hofstede and F.J. Trompenaars and asked the question: "When I meet somebody for the first time, what would I want to know about that person to understand who they are as a cultural being? What is truly relevant and meaningful to assist me in building a strong relationship with him or her?"

Using their research, we have created a framework for self-cultural analysis that allows us to measure personal cultural behavioral preferences – not just trends in larger populations. We do that for ourselves first, and then as a grid for understanding others.

KnowledgeWorkx have developed two self-cultural analysis tools: The Three Colors of Worldview and the Cultural Mapping Inventory based on the 12 Dimensions of Culture.

How does Self-Cultural Analysis work?

Self-Cultural Analysis starts with understanding the cultural motivators and demotivators we bring into any relationship; drivers that run deeper than actual behaviors. We call these the Three Colors of Worldview.

The Three Colors of Worldview map out three main cultural drivers which cause people to focus on:

  • Doing the right thing and avoiding the wrong thing. (Innocence/Guilt)

  • Doing what is honorable and avoiding what is shameful. (Honor/Shame)

  • Doing what gives you power and avoiding situations where your power is diminished. (Power/Fear)

Knowing the cultural drivers that we bring into a conversation is significantly important. It has a huge impact on the way you develop trust, handle conflict, lead a team, and engage effectively with clients. We have developed an online cultural assessment to help you understand your mix of these cultural drivers presently and how they effect your behavioral choices.

There are many applications of understanding just this aspect of culture. But on its own The Three Colors of Worldview is merely a starting point. It doesn't give the language and analysis framework necessary to understand any possible intercultural situation.

Seventeen years ago we researched every cultural dimension we found documented in academia and asked ourselves the question: "If we were to develop an assessment tool with the framework and language to make sense of any intercultural situation; which dimensions would it need to include?"

From this we developed the Cultural Mapping Inventory, built on 12 cultural dimensions. This inventory is designed to accompany the Three Colors of Worldview and creates a comprehensive Self-Cultural Analysis framework.

We have proven time and again that these tools in combination create a robust framework for analyzing any intercultural situation.

The 12 dimensions of the Cultural Mapping Inventory form an excellent foundation to discuss personal cultural preferences, explaining the 'why' of intercultural dilemmas and the behaviors of individuals and groups involved in them. They give us a neutral language to discuss the intercultural dynamics at play, leveling the playing field and balancing out those inclined to be critical of cultures different from their own.

The learning tools created around this framework equip you with strategies to navigate any situation where the other party has different cultural preferences.

How does Self-Cultural Analysis change the game?

If our mind is programmed to look for cultural clues based on a person’s Nationality or Ethnicity, we are likely to get stuck on stereotypes and miss a great deal of what is important about others.

But by starting our journey of cultural discovery with the premise that each person has their own cultural preferences, we are defining a fundamentally different way of engaging with the person in front of us. Nationality and Ethnicity become just one factor in a person’s cultural makeup.

Self-Cultural Analysis gives us a new level of respect for individuals; the type of respect that communicates to the other party: "You are a unique person, and I want to get to know who you are. I believe that your personal cultural preferences are important for us to build a meaningful relationship." Starting with the philosophy of Self-Cultural Analysis allows us to ask different questions; ones that lead to richer, deeper, and more respectful conversations and relationships.

Nationality or Ethnicity can be important, but in today's world they are often not the best starting point for engaging with others.

Self-Cultural Analysis has proven to be a pragmatic game changer. In sales and customer service, if I have a deeper understanding of clients’ unique cultural wiring it enables me to come alongside them constructively, resulting in productive relationships and greater client satisfaction.

In leadership, if I become more sensitive to the unique cultural wiring of the people I lead, I can build stronger teams by tailoring my leadership approach and crafting a team culture that resonates with everyone.

Good for the Individual, Good for the Team

After completing the Three Colors of Worldview discovery tool with a team, we asked the group: "If you used the Three Colors of Worldview to describe the culture of your team; how would you articulate it?" In the conversation that followed we realized using Self-Cultural Analysis this way was another breakthrough idea.

We started leading similar team conversations with the 12 Dimensions of Culture©, and with self-cultural analysis tools guiding the discussion we formulated our first Inter-Cultural Team Development process.

The Inter-Cultural Intelligence framework built on Self-Cultural Analysis has proved to be a powerful way to guide people through discussions around enabling and disabling team behaviors.

As we applied these methods with teams in over 60 countries we started to see patterns emerge. All successful intercultural teams seemed to have one thing in common: They managed to find common (intercultural) ground in four main areas:

  • Cultivating trust

  • Establishing healthy communication

  • Aligning around a common purpose

  • Building relationships for success

Successful teams always pointed to these four areas as success factors, and failing teams always pointed to challenges in one or more of these four focus areas. We developed our High-Performing Intercultural Team process using these four areas to assist teams in defining their own inter-culturally validated behavioral charter.

We cannot over-emphasize the value of going through this process with an intercultural team – reducing tensions and mis-communications so that the team can spend more time working together on what matters most: the team’s actual purpose.

As we applied the Inter-Cultural Intelligence framework with more teams and organizations we proved its value in a variety of areas:

  • Developing managers and leaders for a global and diverse world

  • Equipping HR practitioners to evaluate, develop and interculturally validate their practices so that they will resonate with a global and diverse talent pool

  • Analyzing and aligning client engagement approaches

  • Fine-tuning communication and use of language to resonate with specific or general target audiences

  • Developing interculturally validated approaches to managing people and organizational processes in Mergers & Acquisitions

In our next article, Two Spotlights for Illuminating Human Behavior, we’ll dig deeper into how we bring Self-Cultural Analysis together with the personality psychometric conversation. We call this shining both the interpersonal and intercultural 'spotlights'.


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