iStock_000020219012SmallCulture is a collective phenomenon, learned and not inherited. The set of unique characteristics mentioned by Rosinski above are always at least partly shared with people from the same social groups. The nature of these groups varies and they may be defined by nationality, religion, ethnicity, profession and education, organization or function, social groups such as family, friends and clubs as well as gender and sexual orientation.

Researchers have explained the unique characteristics as similar to the layers of an onion or compared them to an iceberg. “Artefacts and products” are the most visible manifestations of a culture e.g. food, etiquette, architecture, fashion, art. This is the outer layer of the onion or the visible tip of the iceberg. All observable behaviours including communication belong to this layer.

Peel away the layers of the onion or dip below the surface of the iceberg and what you find are firstly, norms, i.e. what is considered right, appropriate and acceptable by the cultural group and then values, i.e. the ideals shared by that group. Norms and values vary cross-nationally but they also vary by other cultural groups.

Basic assumptions or beliefs lie at the heart of culture and drive how we experience universal challenges such as time and our relationship to the world at large and nature.  For example, these two contradictory statements are assumptions or beliefs and not universal truths. “Life is what you make it” versus “Live life for today”.  The significance of basic assumptions lies in their hidden nature and their role in driving the visible behavior.

Our Top Tip: In order to prepare for cross-cultural challenges, first of all reflect on what you consider to be right or appropriate (norms), what is important to you (values) and what you regard as true/false (beliefs).

The role of culture in dealing with communication challenges has been central in some of our tailor-made programmes for groups and individuals – take a look at our “Success Stories”