Cultural Mindfulness: Going Beyond Cultural Stereotyping | 文化的マインドフルネス:文化的ステレオタイプを越えて

Originally written in English

This article first published at The HR Agenda Magazine [November 2017-February 2018 issue].

Cultural intelligence is important and necessary, but it's Cultural Mindfulness that unlocks the path to successfully navigating today's multicultural workplaces.

The Japan HR Society (JHRS), now celebrating its 10th year, is a perfect example of cultural diversity. It’s in our DNA. While most of our hundreds of members, newsletter and magazine subscribers (Japanese and foreigners alike) are based in Japan, the JHRS experience is undoubtedly enhanced by people and partners coming from all over the world. They add to the group’s already colorful and diverse composition, making JHRS a melting pot of HR ideas, wisdom, and best practices all aiming to advance the HR agenda.

As expected, with cultural diversity comes differences in thoughts and actions – a good and necessary outcome for the workplace. But the dynamics diversity brings also pose some unique challenges. If someone unintentionally or ignorantly commits some cultural faux pas, misunderstanding and miscommunication can easily arise.

As such, more and more professionals and organizations are investing in cultural training to help them navigate today's increasingly culturally diverse business spaces. Educating yourself to be culturally intelligent without proper context and framework, however, can lead to mindless cultural training. It results in cultural stereotyping, which only serves to exacerbate the original problem of cultural insensitivity.

So what is the solution? I propose Cultural Mindfulness.

Cultural Mindfulness Cultureis broadly defined as the ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular people or society. In an organizational setting, culture is the collection of written and unwritten values, philosophies and practices that govern how members of the organization behave and interact internally and externally.

Mindfulness, meanwhile, is commonly known as the psychological process of bringing one's attention to experiences occurring in the present moment. In other words, it’s “being at the moment” or “living in the moment” and being conscious of our own thoughts and behaviours as we interact with other people or situations.

Combining the above definitions give us Cultural Mindfulness – a state of being mindful of, first,your own cultural construct, and second, the cultural constructs of the other person you are interacting with at the moment of such interaction. It simply means basing your reaction or response to the actual stimuli (the other person) without the baggage of cultural stereotyping.

It’s important to stress that the focus of cultural understanding or awareness should first be from within (yourself) and then manifest that externally by being mindful of other people’s cultural conditioning.

Why Cultural Mindfulness Simple answer: To avoid becoming too ethnocentric.

Ethnocentrism in itself is not bad. We all have and need a certain degree of ethnocentrism in our lives to have a healthy appreciation of our own background, origins and culture. Such perspective plays a significant role in how we define ourselves, form our belief systems, and identify with others. The challenge is to find the balance between knowing your own culture and being open to understanding the culture of others.

An ethnocentric worldview may lead us to:

  • a tendency to view our own culture as the “master culture”

  • develop a mentality or mindset of “us” versus “them”

  • become too self-focused and self-absorbed

  • live within our own bubbles of reality and experience, and

  • become judgmental and worse, turn into bigots, our hearts filled with hatred and rage.

Another good reason to pursue cultural mindfulness is it helps us develop an awareness of our own cultural biases. We all have and need to have biases. As leading neuroscientist Dr. David Rock says,“If you have a brain, you are biased.” Unfortunately, there are just too many cognitive biases that we, as a species, have learned and accumulated as a result of thousands of years of evolution.

Image source: Cognitive Bias Codex

Having awareness of all of our cognitive biases is obviously impossible as well as insane. However, it's crucial that we try to be aware of our own cultural biases. The key is not to deny our own cultural biases but to recognize that we have those biases. And through the process of self-awareness and being open to how other people experience and view their own cultural biases, we can become truly mindful of our own and other people’s cultural lenses and conditioning. In essence, we become culturally mindful.

Practicing Cultural Mindfulness As an example, in Japan, the concept of being on time is predominantly observed and even expected. In fact, Japan time is actually 5 to 10 minutes earlier than the appointed time.

However, if a Japanese arrived late, we sometimes make a quick judgement that they are not being “Japanese” without even bothering to know the reasons why they were late in the first place. Is this a one-time event or is this a recurring behaviour of the individual?

Being culturally mindful in that instance means that we first must have an awareness of our own concept of time: is it several minutes before the appointed time, exactly on time, or several minutes after the appointed time? Then, we inquire about and seek understanding of the other person's concept of time. Finally, we find out the reasons that contributed to their delay (e.g., train delays, miscalculation of time, accident, or even laziness). From there, we can make a more informed reaction based on that incident and act accordingly.

The reverse is true. If a Filipino arrives on time to an appointment, people may be surprised because of the prevalent cultural stereotype of “Filipino time” which is later than the appointed time. Personally, I have always subscribed to the concept of “Filipino on time” and plan my appointments accordingly so that I show up at least 5 to 10 minutes in advance. Does that make me less of a Filipino and more of a Japanese? No, it’s simply a personal preference; I want to manage my own time while respecting other people’s time. That is, theoretically as per cultural stereotype I should be following Filipino time since I was born and raised in the Philippines. But in reality, I show up on time consistently (a Japanese cultural stereotype) even before living in Japan and learning its cultural norms.

In short, cultural mindfulness teaches us how to understand ourselves first and then others. When dealing with cultural issues, the first step is to withhold judgment for the moment. Be aware of our own cultural biases and conditioning, and then seek to understand the perspectives of the people we encounter.

We hope that this issue of The HR Agenda will help you gain some insights on how to become culturally intelligent and, more importantly, how to start being culturally mindful.



現在創立10周年を迎えているThe Japan HR Society(JHRS)は、文化的ダイバーシティの好例と言える。それは私たちのDNAに組み込まれている。日本人であれ、外国人であれ、数100名におよぶ私たちの会員、ニュースレター・本誌の購読者のほとんどが日本在住だが、JHRSの取り組みは、世界中から来た人々・パートナーによって、疑いなく、向上している。これらの人々は、私たちのHRに関する行動計画を前進させることを目指し、JHRSをHRのアイデア・知恵・最優良事例を融合させる場とすることで、グループのすでに多彩で多様な構成をさらに豊かなものとしている。




文化的マインドフルネス おおざっぱに言って、文化は、特定の人々または社会の考え方・慣習・社会的行動と定義することができる。組織において、文化とは、組織構成員がどのように対内的・対外的に行動し影響し合うかを左右する成文律・不文律の価値観・思想・慣行の集成である。




なぜ、文化的マインドフルネスなのか? 答えは簡単:過度に自民族中心主義になることを避けるため



  • 自分の文化を“最上の文化”とみなす傾向

  • “我々”と“奴ら”を対立させる考え方、物の見方を育てる

  • 自己中心、自己陶酔に偏りすぎる

  • 自分の狭い現実・経験の中だけで生きる

  • 性急に否定的な判断を下しがちになり、さらに悪いことには、頑固者になり、嫌悪と憤怒で心が満たされる


Image source: Cognitive Bias Codex


文化的マインドフルネスの実行  1例として、日本においては、時間順守が圧倒的に順守され期待されている。実のところ、日本時間とは、予定時間の5分から10分前である。






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