As we begin to explore and understand how cultural orientations affect our assumptions and perspectives, it is important to understand what a cultural orientation is and how it affects worldviews. Everyone has specific orientations, or ways of perceiving the world around them, primarily derived from our cultural background and the way we were raised. These orientations, or world-views, combine to determine who we are and how we see the world around us. From that basis, we will begin to look at several layers of cultural orientation that specifically affect the way people view the world and the assumptions that are placed on interpretations in communication.
If we can leverage orientations to better understand our own perceptions, as well as help us to understand the complex network of cultures surrounding us in our work and in our lives, we can then begin to leverage cultural orientations as a communication tool for discovering creative solutions to problems – increasing the human potential of everyone involved, from every culture, and achieving success on a journey toward high performance and fulfillment that will far exceed everyone’s expectations. Let’s get started with the first set of cultural orientations…Power/Responsibility.
There are three critical elements to establishing how an individual or group may view where they, themselves, as well as others, belong on the Power/Responsibility continuum:
1) Humility: People should accept inevitable natural limitations and are not in control
2) Harmony: People should strive for balance with nature, having a clear understanding of what one can control and what one can not control… or
3) Control: People have determinant power and responsibility to forge the life they want, and are in complete control of every aspect of life
Humility recognizes that most things are out of our control. Success is viewed as a combination of effort and good fortune, but is never of one’s own doing. Humility teaches us to gracefully accept our limitations, however humility becomes ineffective when it leads to passive acceptance of fate and prevents individuals from taking proactive steps toward positive change. It can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies perpetuating the status quo and causing missed opportunities. On the other hand, humility can teach wisdom: we can learn to accept what life has for us (gratefully or with a grain of salt), relieving us of the burdens of feeling responsible for what happens – everything is beyond our control.
Harmony is the center-point of the continuum between Humility and Control, and is all about balance – knowing when to act and when to let go; maintaining balance between opposite forces. Those who strive for harmony tend to create an atmosphere of consideration and mutual respect. There is a clear sense of when to take control and when to fall back and accepts that there are limitations. This approach fosters an atmosphere of unity and collaborative processes that lead to global success. The leader who knows when to listen, when to act, and when to withdraw can achieve anything.
Control-oriented individuals feel they are in charge of their own destiny – a belief in man’s will over nature, relationships, and happiness, as well as academic or business success. The positive side of control is that it often leads to productivity and strong self-fulfilling prophecies – one can achieve anything one puts his/her mind to. It exudes a sense of optimism and an ability to attain extraordinary goals. The ugly side of control is arrogance and the potential for guilt and frustration when things do not happen as planned. After all, if you believe you are in complete control, it is also your fault when success is eluded. In addition, it is a high-risk proposition to try and control your environment and relationships – you may find in others an unwillingness to comply that ultimately impedes your goals, and thus your success.
Now, imagine the difference if you could begin to leverage the richness in each orientation, while being aware of, and watching for their downsides amongst your diverse global counterparts. If you understand that your own sense of Power/Responsibility may lie toward the control orientation on the continuum (for example), but you need to successfully establish annual goals with your staff in Asia, which are likely to lean more toward a humility driven orientation, how might you shift your approach to communicate in a way that may result in better cultural understanding and buy-in? If you need to change a process, how might you leverage your knowledge of Power/Responsibility and the associated orientations to alter your communications between geographies to facilitate excitement and buy-in to change across various regions? Your understanding and use of cultural orientations communicates a sensitivity that will facilitate faster, more effective results in a fraction of the time that a “one size fits all” communication approach can ever hope to achieve.
If leveraged correctly, this concept will allow you to discover new options, shift perspectives, and quite possibly, to leverage differing orientations as you move between and amongst different geographical locations and cultural orientations. My theory…Acting Local is Acting Global.
As a global leader, how will you balance differing cultural orientations across your diverse organization?
For the next several weeks, I will be discussing specific cultural orientations that will facilitate successful communications and business results across cultures. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check back next week for the second in a multi-tiered discussion on understanding cultural orientations for successful communication Across Boundaries & Borders, Time Management Orientations.