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