I write to you today while looking the Indian Ocean. It’s striking to know that even halfway around the world, there are certain things that translate clearly. Even without sharing a spoken language or a specific culture, we all understand a friendly smile. A tasty meal. A kind gesture.
Earlier this week, I spoke with some new Sri Lankan friends. We talked about certain values that are upheld within this island nation. While their heritage is different, we were excited to find many common values. Among them were honesty, integrity, hospitality, family, and hard work (among others).
Because of our conversation, I thought about what truly defines culture.
Is it the way we act and think?
Rather, is it in the traditions we keep and values we hold?
According to a report from The UN World Commission on Culture and Development, “Culture is the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or a group. It includes creative expressions, community practices, and material or built forms.”
Culture speaks to how we think, act, and create our lives. It is both innate and learned. Therefore, the complex facets of it are created through one’s life experiences and interactions.
As a result of coaching clients around the world, I witnessed the impact of cultural influences firsthand. So I made an easy way to discuss cross-cultural interactions within organizational and team settings. I named it the Culture Circle™, and it contains three spheres:
First, we begin within the central sphere. This circle includes our own personality and preferences, family background, cultural heritage, and other attributes. We notice how they influence our attitudes and actions. In the inner part of the Culture Circle™, we develop the core of who we are and how we show up in the world.
Moving to the second sphere of the Culture Circle™ teaches us to notice how our local community norms and values influence who we become. Hence we can make a choice at this point: What do we accept, modify, or reject? We shape our culture as we integrate certain customs into our lives or start fresh and create our own. But this is within that environment.
The larger picture of our intercultural world portrays the exchanges that influence how we’re designing our lives in the outside sphere. What was once deemed “normal” can be questioned and challenged as we’re exposed to more outlooks and ways of doing things in a global setting.
This final sphere of the Culture Circle™ is a chance to look through the eyes of others. This is to find common ground while respecting our differences. If we’re willing, we can move away from judging the unfamiliar. Instead, we can move toward understanding (and even valuing) these differences as we define our culture.
The Culture Circle™ show how to break down the complex nature of one’s culture into three distinct areas of influence. Culture is a complex and nuanced subject. As a result, this model is designed to help individuals and teams unpack the specific experiences that shaped where they are today.
Please contact me for an in-depth look at the Culture Circle™ model or to learn more about inter-culture team training.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press.