The Importance & Stages of Cultural Awareness in Project Managers

When working in a multicultural environment, it becomes extremely important to take other people’s cultural perspectives into consideration to avoid conflict. Project Managers in particular, often find themselves working in multicultural teams that have members with different perspectives, opinions, world views and cultural beliefs. It’s important to take some time to understand other people’s culture at the beginning of the project to avoid misinterpretation of your actions or the actions of others. In Japan for instance, it is considered rude to stare someone straight in the face. 

When relating with people, it’s always safer to assume they are different from you to avoid misrepresentation - until you are proven otherwise.

There are different stages of cultural awareness that people go through. Understanding what stage you are in will help you develop a mature approach to handling cultural differences.

The Parochial Stage - This stage is also known as the state of blissful ignorance. At this stage, you are only aware of your own way of dong things, ignoring the impact of cultural differences. The thinking here is, “My way is the only way”. You are not aware that you might be stepping on other people’s toes and you are likely to be in this stage if you have not had much interaction with people of a different culture.

Ethnocentric Stage - At this second stage, you are aware of other ways of doing things but still consider your way to be the best. You ignore the significance of other people’s culture and place a higher level of importance and credibility on yours. The thinking here goes like, “I know their way, but mine is better”.

Synergistic Stage - At this stage, you are aware of your own way of doing things and the ways of others. You choose the best approach depending on the peculiarities of the situation you are faced with. Cultural diversity is harnessed here to create new solutions. The thinking here goes like, “There are benefits to my way and other ways”. You are ready to make adjustments that indicate you are considering others' opinions.

Participatory Third Culture Stage - At this stage, you can work with people of different cultures to create a culture of shared meanings. You work with others to create new rules to meet the demands of any situation you find yourself in.

The objective of cultural awareness is to ensure that cultural diversity can be harnessed effectively to achieve a successful project outcome. When project managers are culturally aware, they understand that other people are different and that there might be strength in that difference if properly harnessed. Everyone is a product of their culture, afterall.

Project Managers help to create bridges that pull people together, despite their differences through their:

1) Emotional Intelligence - Being sensitive to what others feel

2) Ability to Avoid Premature Judgment - PMs must collect as much information as possible about a situation before passing judgment.

Successful project managers are able to grow through all these four stages and produce strong teams where members feel respected and appreciated.