Good intentions are not enough. Of course, it is important to have the 7 Helpful Attitudes in your toolbox. But, without knowing some things about another culture, you’re likely to find yourself confused – unable to connect.  To avoid this, it often becomes necessary to learn about another culture.   The following 7 Keys to Learning about Culture describe practical things that you can do to gain the vital information you’ll need in an intercultural situation.

  1. Explore Your Cultural Identity – A growing awareness of your cultural identity and how it influences you to behave may be the single most important skill you can have in relating to people from another culture.
  2. Study Cultural Values – Studying and understanding the basics of Cultural Values prepares you to meet and interact effectively. I present five Layers of Culture on this blog. However, the third layer, Cultural Values yields the most benefit. So start there.
  3. Study a Culture Up Close – You may not be able to go deep with every culture you encounter. However, it can be extremely helpful to learn all that you can about one particular culture. The experts call this an “ethnography”. Doing just one ethnography will reveal the depths and richness of cultures which is likely to improve cultural encounters in general.
  4. Observation – Actively noticing cultural norms including details of interactions, symbols, and behaviors is an indispensable skill. Not everyone intentionally does this. Others, notice cultural differences but too quickly move beyond observation to judgement. Be an observer, to be a learner – not a judge.
  5. Engage Cultural Interpreters – In many situations there are people who, to some degree, are ‘bi-cultural,’ meaning they have a foot in two cultures.  With their understanding, they are often in a better position to interpret behavior. Talk to them — they can clear up a lot of confusion!
  6. Ask Questions – Appropriate questions about one’s culture can provide insight, create connection, spark lively conversation, and resolve misunderstandings.  Be careful, however to ask questions that are sensitive and be sure to ask in an appropriate way.  Your questions should not seem like an interrogation.
  7. Reframe Situations – Negative interpretations of cultural behavior often need to be challenged and considered from the point of view of the positive and healthy cultural values that are behind them. As a learner, you will want to develop this ability.

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