Intercultural Corner – What is Culture?

Intercultural Corner

by Jan O’Brien

For the purposes of this month’s article I would like to explore what we mean by “culture” in the context of coaching across cultures. So, what is culture? Jean Paul Lederach defines culture as “…the shared knowledge and schemes created by a set of people for perceiving, interpreting, expressing and responding to the social realities around them.”

Culture is learned, not inherited with one’s genes. It is visible and invisible, explicit and implicit. When observing the visible dimensions of culture we use our five senses – sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing. For example, these five senses allow us to consciously notice the culturally-based aspects of clothing, music, dance, food, architecture and literature, but when it comes to understanding cultural differences, this is just the tip of the iceberg!

The larger part of culture, which is invisible, includes our beliefs and values and patterns of behavior; our concept of time; our notions of modesty and personal space; our gender roles and how we raise our children; our work ethic; our role of leadership and how we organize within a group. Just as the larger part of an iceberg is hidden below the surface of the ocean, it is also hidden from our physical senses. We cannot see, taste, touch, smell or hear the deeper dimensions of culture, but when we “bump” into them, the effect can cause confusion, resistance and misunderstanding. These experiences can also enrich and expand our own world view such that we are inspired to explore and discover new and different ways of being and behaving.

So, how do you, as coaches, establish and maintain a relationship of trust when working with clients from cultures that are different from your own? What, if any, challenges do you encounter and how do you overcome them?

We would love to have your input so do please join us for a discussion on the IAC LinkedIn group!

Jan O’Brien IAC-MCC
Jan specializes in Cross-Cultural, Personal Leadership and Spiritual Intelligence coaching. She is committed to exploring the multiple layers of culture, self-awareness and leadership so that her clients develop an integral understanding of themselves and others — personally, professionally, culturally and spiritually.

2 thoughts on “Intercultural Corner – What is Culture?”

  1. Hi – Can you please share the link to the Linkedin discussion? I tried to find it on the IAC Linkedin page, to no avail. Help this wayward soul.

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