Being culturally competent in the Netherlands

I have been writing about this subject before: the importance for employers of a team that can understand and work with people from different cultural backgrounds. If you are reading this blog you are most likely an expat in the Netherlands and you will know as no other that cultural competencies are a necessity to adapt and succeed in a new environment. Putting cultural competence to practice is an ongoing process that helps you to finetune how to act efficiently in various cultural settings. A difficulty is that theories that can help you with this process are often as complex as the cultural settings itself. It’s all about norms, history, values and socialisation. Now where do you think this development starts? Exactly, in education. Well, let’s start with some education right now, because: what is in fact cross-cultural competence? Just like culture itself has many different facets. In fact cultural researchers usually focus on just one or a few of the aspects or interpretations of cross-cultural competence, and that’s just fine.

What is important to know is:

  1. Who am I, culturally speaking?
  2. How can diverse teams help innovation?
  3. How culturally sensitive am I?

Let’s look at your cross cultural competence by examining the three aspects above:

Who am I culturally speaking?
To do a little self research in under 5 minutes about who you are, culturally speaking you can look at the aspects of time, space and context by Hall & Hall. Look at the 3 layers of culture and how they apply to you. Are you more into being exactly on time? Do you value personal space?

How can diverse teams help innovation?
Diverse teams are not only great for innovation they also help both the individuals in a team and the organisation they are working for. You can read more about this in my previous blog on diversity brought by expats.

How culturally sensitive am I?
To realise how cultural sensitive you are you have to understand that cultural sensitivity travels through phases. Phases of personal growth. The Bennet scale is a perfect explanation of these phases. People go from denial to defense to minimization and only after these 3 steps the actual cultural sensitivity starts to develop with the next three steps:  acceptance, adaptation, and integration.

When looking at cultural competence there is definitely some self examining involved, including questions like how do I think? What influences my thinking and how does that change over time? Realising that not one way is better that the other way, and that the uncomfortable feeling that intercultural settings might give you perhaps are in fact moments of personal growth. What helps is to acquire knowledge of cultural norms, one of my favorite tools to use for this is made by Hofstede and can be used to compare countries, or even better physically meet up with people you are trying to understand!

Other tips would be to avoid assumptions and ask “why?” a lot! Remember that everyone is unique and that adapting is everyone’s responsibility. Last but not least: don’t just talk about interaction, take the effort to actually interact with the world around you. And of course I am more than happy to help you out with your specific questions. This is what I can help out with, and here is how you can reach me.

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