Navigating cultural differences

At Grace Church God has blessed us with people from many different nations and cultures. Broadly speaking we have European, North American, South American, African, Asian and Middle-Eastern cultures (you can break those down more) which makes for an incredibly rich experience.

However it all can raise some issues in really understanding each other and building relationships with each other. Many years ago when I did some cross-cultural training and these areas are drawn heavily from training  I did with RedR. Here are 17 (yes 17!) different areas to be aware of and maybe you can think of more.

  1. Time – how important is time? What’s more important past, present or future?
  2. Space – What space is private or public? Is there a notion of personal space?
  3. Physical contact – How does that work? What is acceptable? Is greeting done by shaking hands, hugging, or with a kiss?
  4. Communication – What topics are off-limits? How direct can questions be? What is open, what is secret?
  5. Body language – Does shaking your head mean yes or no? How does eye contact work? Is using certain hands to shake hands offensive?
  6. Dress – What are the values of modesty? When should shoes be worn/removed? What’s appropriate for work or relaxing (or on the beach)?
  7. Gender – What are the cultural attitudes to women? How do men and women behave together? Who normally does what type of work?
  8. Age – Is age a sign of status or seniority? How are the elders treated?
  9. Emotions – How are emotions displayed? Is a ‘hot’ or ‘cold’ culture with regard to public display of emotions?
  10. Relationships – How do friendships work? How are deeper relationships formed?
  11. Respect & politeness – What are the different ways of showing good manners? Who should be shown respect and how?
  12. Religion – How does religion shape and influence culture, daily life, work?
  13. Authority & status – How is authority & status derived? How are foreigners viewed? How are the bosses and servants treated?
  14. Decision making – How are decisions made? (Consensus or decree?) How important is consultation?
  15. Loyalty & trust – How is non-conformity treated? How important is loyalty and to what (family, religion, tribe, race etc..)?
  16. Nature & world – Does nature exist for mankind or are people a part of nature? How important is work? Are people free to shape their destiny?
  17. Law & ethics – What is ‘law’ and what importance is it given? Is it an honour/shame or right/wrong culture?

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