Bridging Cultures for Safety (Intercultural Intelligence): 12 Dimensions of Culture

Episode 060

Jan 24, 2024

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We've all heard the statement, "If it wasn't for people, work would be easy."

Wouldn't it be great to view people as the solution rather than the problem?

Today, we continue exploring the topic of Bridging Cultures, sharing wisdom about how the world is perceived through different lenses and how to navigate the

12 Dimensions of Culture

Our previous episode discussed the three primary world views, broadly reflecting our cultural preferences through three lenses or drivers. As a quick reminder for anyone listening for the first time, these three drivers are:

  • Honour <> Shame - determining actions that bring honour or shame.
  • Innocence <> Guilt - deciding between right and wrong.
  • Power <> Fear - focusing on control, power, and influence, whether for good or not.

Everyone has a mix of these three world drivers, shaped by their education, country of residence, family background, and mentors during their growth.

For instance, Karin, born in Australia to German parents, has a strong mix of innocence<>guilt and honour<>shame perspectives due to her upbringing, which included being told things such as family matters are always kept private, etc.

These life experiences contribute to the three colours of worldview.

We use 'three colours' because if you combine the three primary colours and mix them all up, you get something like 18 million different colours or a kaleidoscope of colours.

Understanding this kaleidoscope by referencing the three primary worldviews helps us adjust our approach. It's not about changing who we are but instead learning, growing, and enhancing our wisdom and cultural agility - enabling us to better understand others and why they might see the world differently, with different drivers.

Three key questions serve as a litmus test for reflecting the primary drivers of worldview:

  • Does my action bring honour to those involved, or does it bring them shame? 
  • Is it the right thing to do? Does it do justice to all of those involved? 
  • And is it empowering and life-giving? Does it diminish fear, or does it instil an increase of fear? 

We dove deeper into these questions in Episode 059, so if you haven't had the chance yet, we strongly recommend listening to it and checking the show notes on The Safety Collaborators Podcast page.

Today, we want to expand further on this topic.

There are numerous elements to consider when it comes to teamwork, leadership, and working with colleagues.

We're all different, and different doesn't necessarily mean difficult.

Sometimes, we perceive others as difficult simply because they approach things from a different perspective – either their own global perspective, represented by the three colours of worldview, or a more dimensional perspective, such as how we prefer to communicate or what constitutes a working relationship.

We've mentioned before that when dealing with a culturally diverse workforce or engagement, there may be 15 different nationalities among 120 team members, adding complexity beyond just the 15 potential worldviews – it involves 120 unique personalities, bringing an additional dimension to the conversation.

In our work with Knowledgeworkx and Marco Blankenburgh, we use tools like DiSC and e-Colours to address these complexities. Importantly, none of this is about labelling; it's about fostering an understanding of oneself and others.

How can we navigate our days successfully, whether drilling a well or having a family dinner?

Nuala is currently staying with family and has always appreciated how her mother-unlaw (they're close friends now) used to say that you should only stay with family for three days because, after that, they start to smell – metaphorically speaking.

Different perspectives and ways of doing things can clash, even within the same family.

Nuala (an extroverted personality) is staying with family members who are more introverted and quiet. She understands that she needs to give them space to recharge and doesn't take it personally if they retreat to their rooms or offices for a while.

Understanding this dynamic has made a significant difference compared to the past when she might have felt hurt or confused by their actions.

This understanding is also valuable in the workplace - we call it cultural agility, and it goes beyond nationality, food preferences, or dressing styles. It encompasses the three colours of worldview, of which all three apply to everyone to some degree.

This understanding is key because it reminds us that our view isn't the only one.

We also have the 12 dimensions of culture that help us dive deeper into cultural diversity on a more personal level. We'll introduce these with the aim of not giving you an in-depth story about each one but a context of what they are, to help you understand their relevance.

These dimensions facilitate conversations, and our program, "Bridging Cultures for Safety," offers a valuable tool for diverse workforces.

It helps individuals and teams understand each other better, and the process is a form of self-analysis that can be applied individually or within teams. The group report can be particularly fascinating, as it highlights the strength of diversity within a team.

Remember - diversity isn't about thinking the same way;
it's about leveraging our differences to achieve our goals effectively.

E060 - 12 Measurable Dimensions of Culture - Image

1- Growth (Material <> Personal)

In the context of growth, we frequently contemplate two approaches: one that centres on people and another that emphasises material aspects like systems and infrastructure.

The choice depends on whether we prioritise the impact on individuals or invest in tangible assets. This balance between a people-oriented and a material-oriented approach varies based on specific situations and objectives.

2- Relationship (Situational <> Universal)

The next dimension we're exploring is the nature of relationships: whether they are universal or situational. This means considering if a relationship formed in one part of life extends to other areas.

Some people prefer to separate work and personal life, while others are more inclined to mix the two.

It's essential to respect these boundaries and understand that differing preferences in this regard don't necessarily reflect personal feelings towards others.

3- Outlook (Innovation <> Tradition)

We're talking about outlook here, specifically whether someone has a more traditional or innovative perspective.

This is relevant in today's world, where we often contemplate the balance between preserving traditions and embracing new ideas, especially in the workplace.

Regarding work, it comes down to whether we judge the success of an organisation or the company we work for by looking at future opportunities or past achievements.

Some prefer a traditional outlook, valuing their family and business history, while others are more innovative, always looking forward to exploring new possibilities.

Understanding a person's outlook is important, especially when hiring or integrating them into a group or team, because based on their traditional or innovative perspective, it will help determine whether they'll thrive or face challenges in a specific work environment.

4- Destiny (Directive <> Directed)

Let's explore the concept of destiny, which is about how we perceive our life's path.

Do we feel guided by external forces, such as society or circumstances (external locus of control)?
Or do we believe we have the power to control our destiny (internal locus of control)?

In a directed perspective, people tend to see themselves as influenced by external factors, often following societal expectations and predefined roles. They might think, "I fit into society's mould, and my path is influenced by others."

On the other hand, those with a directive outlook believe they can shape their destiny regardless of their background or circumstances. They have a strong sense of individualism and determination to create their future.

It's worth noting that these perspectives can overlap, and people often fall somewhere in between rather than strictly adhering to one category - this connects with the next dimension.

5- Context (Formal <> Informal)

The concept of context is often discussed, but it can be viewed as a polarity between informal and formal.

In informal settings, there are fewer strict rules, and people tend to have a more relaxed approach to behaviour guidelines. Conversely, adhering to protocols and strict rules is emphasised in formal contexts.

The formality is reflected in attire, such as the corporate dress codes of the past, where suits were the norm. However, personal preferences may not align with such formality, and one's worldview plays a role.

Some value titles and formalities as a sign of respect, while others may not attach the same significance.

Respecting cultural differences is essential, whether adhering to dress codes in a host country or understanding the dynamics of a formal working environment to build relationships effectively.

The key is adaptability and agility in different contexts to achieve positive outcomes.

6- Connecting (Inclusive <> Exclusive)

Connecting with others can be viewed on a spectrum between exclusivity and inclusivity.

Exclusivity involves following a hierarchy, speaking when prompted, and sharing information when necessary. In contrast, inclusivity means freely engaging in conversations and valuing people for who they are, irrespective of titles or degrees.

The speed at which we get to know others is also a factor, with inclusivity seeking deeper connections, while exclusivity limits information sharing to essentials.

Finding a balanced approach to sharing information and building relationships is crucial for effective communication and connecting.

7- Expression (Conceal <> Reveal)

Expression plays a crucial role in our interactions.

Some of us have a revealing style, openly sharing thoughts and emotions verbally and non-verbally. Others have a concealing style, preferring to keep their feelings private.

Context and feeling safe to share also influence how we express ourselves.

These 12 dimensions provide insights into our natural tendencies. Although these tendencies may vary in different settings, people typically fall somewhere on the spectrum and adjust based on the context.

8- Decision-Making (Rules <> Relationship)

Decision-making involves a balance between rules and relationships.

Some individuals prioritise rules and formal contracts in business decisions, while others emphasise relationships, trusting verbal agreements and ongoing conversations.

Cultural values can influence this polarity, with some cultures emphasising rules and safety regulations.

Balancing rules and relationships is crucial. Rules ensure safety and order, while relationships foster teamwork and adaptability. Many people are flexible, following rules when they make sense and leaning towards relationships when rules seem arbitrary.

Unwritten rules also come into play, often driven by the need to fit into a team or organisation.

Effective decision-making requires adaptability and an understanding of when to apply rules and when to prioritise relationships in various situations.

9- Planning (Time <> People)

In the dimension of Planning, we examine whether individuals prioritise their daily activities based on people or adhere strictly to a schedule.

People-focused individuals are more flexible and handle interruptions well but may struggle with time management. Time-focused individuals excel at one task at a time but find interruptions frustrating.

Understanding these differences is crucial, especially in cross-cultural interactions and business.

Adapting to others' expectations and recognising when to be people-focused or time-focused can lead to more effective communication and relationships.

It's about finding the right balance for each situation.

10- Communication (Direct <> Indirect)

We explore the spectrum between direct and indirect communication styles in the Communication dimension. The question is whether one prefers to communicate straightforwardly and openly or chooses a more indirect and diplomatic approach.

Direct communication involves openly addressing issues, expressing opinions clearly, and confronting matters directly.

Conversely, indirect communication aims to convey messages more subtly, often using a third person or a less blunt approach to avoid damaging relationships or causing misunderstandings.

Finding a balance between these two approaches is essential, as some individuals appreciate straightforwardness, while others prefer tactful and indirect communication.

It's crucial to adapt one's communication style to the situation and the preferences of the people involved.

Effective communication involves navigating these differences and having meaningful conversations that consider individual preferences and cultural backgrounds.

11- Accountability (Individual <> Community)

In the 11th dimension, Accountability, we explore the balance between individual and community accountability.

Individuals from different cultural backgrounds may lean towards either individual or community accountability. It's essential to consider cultural diversity and adapt accountability approaches accordingly.

Western cultures often emphasise individual accountability, while community-based cultures prioritise collective honour and shame dynamics.

Bridging the gap between these perspectives is crucial for effective accountability.

Overall, the Accountability dimension sheds light on how cultural viewpoints influence our approach to responsibility and accountability, with variations along the spectrum from individualism to community focus.

12- Status (Achieved <> Ascribed)

The final dimension explores the concept of status and whether it is ascribed or achieved.

Ascribed status is tied to one's background and community standing, often determined by factors like family and rank. Achieved status, on the other hand, is earned through personal accomplishments, emphasising individual effort.

These distinctions vary across cultures, with some valuing ascribed status based on birthright and others emphasising achieved status grounded in personal achievements.

This dimension highlights the role of status in societal structures and how it is attributed.

In this episode...

We have explored the 12 Cultural Dimensions that influence how individuals perceive and interact with the world.

These dimensions span various polarities, such as direct vs. indirect for the dimension of communication, individual vs. community for the dimension of accountability, and ascribed vs. achieved for the dimension of status.

Understanding the 12 Dimensions of Culture can help individuals navigate cultural diversity and collaborate effectively.

It's important to remember that these dimensions are not fixed, and people can fall anywhere along the spectrum.

Embracing these differences and engaging in open, meaningful conversations can lead to better cultural understanding and collaboration.

If you're interested in learning more about bridging cultures for safer operations and promoting a culture of care, please don't hesitate to contact us at or visit our website.

About the Show

Our purpose in sharing this podcast is to have a chinwag (conversation) to help people change how they think and behave about safety. 

We do this by engaging in dialogue and testing the levels of trust and psychological safety, which are core to organisational culture. Making safety part of your DNA so that your people speak up, show up, do right, and become safer every day for yourself, your team, and your business.

We will explore topics related to organisational and safety culture, leadership, the language of risk, emotional literacy, psychological safety, conversational agility, intercultural intelligence, and whatever else pops up during our conversations—sharing our experiences and learnings. 

We intend to share nuggets of wisdom that will challenge your perspectives, potentially solve a nagging problem, share actions you can implement, and give you at least one aha moment.

And, if you enjoyed the show and gained value, please share with just one other person to help spread the word.

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