Cultural fluency, intercultural fluency, cross-cultural fluency, cultural sensitivity, culturally aware: there are many expressions which convey the idea we are talking about today.
Have you ever had a really awkward interaction with an international colleague, even though both of you spoke the same language? Or even with someone from your own country but of a different culture? Have there been occasions when a seemingly well communicated thing actually didn’t get communicated at all? When the languages are known but there still seems a lack in the communication, there might be a problem of cultural fluency, or rather the lack of it.
What is Cultural Fluency? :
You aren’t necessarily culturally fluent if you know multiple languages. Cultural fluency is more about the non-verbal cues. It is the ability to understand the norms and perspectives, attitudes and values of other cultures, and the ability to adapt to them in the particular cultural context. It is the ability to respectfully communicate with members of a culture different than one’s own.
Having cultural fluency is a necessity, especially if your job entails working with international clients. Technological advances may have bridged the gap of literal communication but it is cultural fluency that bridges the more subtle gaps of communication.
A lot of it comes down to communication style; each country’s work culture has unsaid rules which say how much is too direct, how much is too informal, how “equal” is the relationship between the person who reports and the person one reports to.
That being said, cultural fluency isn’t just about countries. The ability to understand the norms and perspectives, and display sensitivity towards people from a different state, race, religion, gender, orientation, age is also part of being culturally fluent.
How to Acquire Cultural Fluency :
To cite from a post by Harvard Business Review, the three ways to improve cultural fluency are:
1) Assessing your own level of competence and getting an expert guidance if necessary. You wouldn’t know what you want to improve upon if you didn’t know what level you are in the first place.
2) Acting with intent and to be curious and open about new ways of managing. It’s your job to try to understand the “other” culture, not the other way round. (Remember, your culture is the “other” for them, so it’s not like you are the only one who might be feeling “strange”.)
3) Remaining non-judgmental when conflict surfaces. Trying to understand the cultural logic and thought pattern would be a good idea.
Having a global perspective is valued, and to assess if the candidate has one, many interviews consist of questions about cultural fluency. So, what kind of questions could be asked?
- Describe a situation where you had to work with someone from a different background.
- Tell me about a time when you had to take into account the sensitivity of a party from a different background.
- What experience have you had with recruiting/training/supervising/leading a diverse workforce?
- Describe a situation where you had to work as a part of a culturally diverse team, and how you dealt with it.
To make sure you are prepared, go through the job description. It will help you see what kind of cultural fluency might be expected from you:
- Are you going to have to work in different countries? Your ability to adapt to new environment and a different work culture might be judged here.
- Are you applying at a multinational? Your ability to deal and coordinate with your global counterparts might be judged here.
- Are you applying for a leadership role? Your ability to lead a culturally diverse workforce might be judged here.
- Are you going to deal with people of a certain class, region or orientation? Applying for jobs at certain NGOs or some government posts can also require this other sort of cultural fluency. Remember, in an Indian context, cultural fluency is not just about being global. For example, if you have been raised in an urban setting, a part of being culturally fluent would be the ability to interact well with someone from a rural area, or vice versa.
To cite a blog post from Big Interview the best way to answer such questions is to adopt the STAR method, where step by step:
- You talk about the specific Situation (S) that arose
- The Task(T) that was at hand
- The course of Action(A) you took and
- The Result(R) which it brought about.
Be it global or local, cultural fluency is a necessary skill that ensures respectful communication and provides great scope for collaboration, not to forget the growth that comes with understanding multiple perspectives.