Cultural literacy

This blog has been discussing intercultural (mis)communication for a few years now. What hasn’t had a lot of attention yet though, are the expectations when it comes to the ability of people to engage with traditions and activities of people who come from different cultural backgrounds. Since this subject plays a big rol in intercultural (mis)communication this blog will focus on that subject from the perspective of “cultural literacy”, a term that causes some controversy at the moment because the founder of this term, mister Hersch, is said to have used a quite white male world view and despite several additions to his original work from 1983 he never really got rid of this stigma. With that being said, I will try to use the term “cultural literacy” with care in the following paragraphs.

Let’s start with the meaning of the term without connotations: cultural literacy refers to being able to engage with traditions and activities of a group of people from a given culture because you are able to understand them. The next question that naturally rises is, how does one develop cultural literacy? Especially now that the world seems smaller every year and cultural literacy has become almost a necessary 21st century skill. Like I mentioned before, some consider this term narrow in its original cultural scope, it has evolved though into representing a more multicultural thoughtfulness and understanding that helps employees interact and collaborate effectively.

A few thing to consider in order to avoid possible pitfalls

  • Each of us belongs to several communities that share things, that engage and that have a sense of belonging. In the essence we are all cultural beings.
  • Within every cultural group there are as many regularities as there are variations.
  • Cultural literacy is culture-specific. There are so many different cultures, no one can be literate in all of them (for example, in West-Europe we know the Beatles, but wel might not know Kadim al Sahir in Arab speaking countries people know Kadim al Sahir, but they might not know the Beatles). When you are in a new culturally diverse environment you will need to develop new cultural literacies.
Cultural iceberg model

How to develop new cultural literacies

You probably heard before that culture is like an iceberg, where the visible part is only 10% and the invisible part is 90%. The visible part consists of aspects that you can easily see, such as clothing, celebrations and language. Below the waterlevel are the aspects only visible to those who know and understand the culture. This invisible part can also be specific to workplaces. For example when you first arrive, you might feel like you don’t really understand what is going on. The values, customs, and terminology used at a company have to be learned like any other culture.

If this has grabbed your interest, I would be happy to facilitate a corporate culture discovery event in your team! Helping you unlock your teams full potential. Contact me if you would like to know the specifics of how this would work.

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