Discussions about diversity usually include the four layers of diversity: personality; internal dimensions; external dimensions; and organizational dimensions. Internal dimensions relate to our physical bodies; external dimension to our upbringing and socio-economic environment; and organizational dimensions include our histories and environment.
Understanding these layers is important because they influence how we behave and how we view the world. They reflect our "cultural programming," which teaches us how to interact, solve problems, and give meaning to behavior. It is important, when working with other people, to recognize that different people have different cultural programming, and therefore might do things differently. This might mean something as concrete as dressing differently, or something as intangible as having a different sense of time. The following are some qualities that can vary among cultures:
- Sense of Self and Space - In some cultures, such as those of Latin America, people have much smaller "personal space" than North Americans do. In Britain, by contrast, personal space bubbles tend to be much larger than in North America.
- Communication and Language - About half of interpersonal communication is non-verbal, and this can vary significantly from culture to culture, and even person to person. (The PPC module on Communication Skills provides information and guidance on effective communication, including nonverbal.) Often we don't even realize how much is communicated nonverbally.
Look at the following picture. Can you tell which man won the basketball game? See the bottom of the page for the correct answer.
Similarly, can you tell whether the woman on the phone is speaking to a male or a female? One study (Hanna and Wilson, 1998) concluded that women used fewer gestures than men. These authors also stated that women use fewer gestures when they are with other women than with men (see bottom of page for answer 1).
(See the bottom of the page for answer 2).
- Dress and Appearance - Across the globe, proper business attire can mean anything from suits to dashikis.
- Food and Eating Habits - People from many cultures follow strict dietary rules. Some are vegetarians, some eat no pork, others eat no beef, some don't touch food with the left hand, others don't mix certain foods, such as meats and dairy products. Insensitivity to customs or restrictions can cause offense and potentially ruin a business meeting. If, for example, you leave chopsticks sitting upright in a bowl, you will offend and alienate your hosts, since this resembles incense at a funeral and represents death.
- Time - While North Americans view time as linear and finite, people in other parts of the world have other concepts of time. As a result, many do not share the values of "getting down to business," or being punctual.
Other differences exist in areas such as relationships; beliefs and attitudes; social order and authority; mental processes and learning; and work habits and practices.
Without examining and understanding the layers that form our filters, we are apt to be victims of our differences, making unconscious assumptions and encountering inexplicable and frustrating barriers. On the other hand, when we understand the many influences that have formed our unique filters, we have choices about our behaviour and about our reaction to others.
These two exercises can help you see the ways in which are culturally diverse and identify how diversity impacts you and the organization in which you work. "You as a Culturally Diverse Entity" and "Assessing the Impact of Diversity in Your Organization."