Becoming culturally competent in the Middle East melting pot
Managing cultural diversity is an integral element of life in the Middle East. Traditional approaches to building cultural awareness provide information – on the traditions, beliefs and common practices – of specific nationalities, with the message “people from this place do these things, and to be sensitive, we need to do this.”
However, a person’s cultural DNA is as individual as their fingerprints, and to categorise people according a particular group is a form of stereotyping.
The cultural differences, which are initially interesting, can soon result in embarrassment, tension and frustration however, when they do not fit with how we make sense of the world. These pain points, or cultural dimensions, often centre around power, rules, control, time and relationships. If left unexplored, the differences can cause withdrawal, hostility and/or biases that impact the ability to be effective. Central to becoming culturally competent is the ability to recognise a dimension for what it is – a difference.
How to achieve culturally competency:
1. Self awareness and a flexible outlook
Often viewpoints are interwoven with a personal values system, with issues arising when deeply held beliefs are challenged by the new environment. In labeling our belief as right and everything else as wrong, we create a barrier. However a different environment will have different rules – so who is right and who is wrong? Could it be that everyone is different and developing a more flexible outlook to acknowledge differences is the right approach?
2. Exploring alternative viewpoints
Through exploring alternative viewpoints we start to recognise the commonality in the goal – it is just the practices and behaviour that are different.
3. Embrace the difference and create new rules
True cultural competence is using differences to create a new set of rules to fit the environment. Understanding where we can adapt our behaviours to align both our personal values and the new environment is a vital coping strategy.
How to facilitate the adjustment:
1. Admit what you don’t know
Some situations will not make sense, previously held assumptions may not be correct. Assume differences, not similarity.
2. Suspend judgments
Collect as much information as possible before evaluating a situation. Ask questions, listen and be open to different viewpoints.
3. Be comfortable with ambiguity
The more uncertain a situation seems, the more we try to seek control by applying what we know. Listen and inquire to understand the differences, more often than not there will be more similarities than are at first obvious.
Every environment has its own rules; the melting pot of society in the Middle East makes this adjustment process even more challenging because of the variety of rules in any one group, but with the right insight, tools and attitude, it is possible to achieve this smoothly and effectively.
About the Author
(Maria Pearson, Executive Director at grow.ME – a specialist learning & development consultancy that encourages learning, builds non-technical skills and aligns attitudes in order to attract and retain the right employees and investors, and increase the effectiveness and value of the business as a whole.)