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Reflection – Jun Shao

by on December 1, 2007

Use Culture to Differentiate People
We have 24 people in class of diverse backgrounds. Kevin designed a small exercise to show us how assumption, such as culture label, led to wrong images of unfamiliar people. I totally agree that we can not describe others simply based on their culture. However, I believe that culture, to some extent, differentiates us from others.

Three layers of culture
Culture has been described as ordered into three layers.[1] It likes an onion, where one peel has to be taken off in order to see the following layer.

The first outer layer, artifacts and products, is the most explicit of all layers. It includes language and food, architecture and style etc. Those apparent characteristics are easy to understand and distinguish from others. For example, most Indians are vegetarians. However, the world becomes flat and globalization erases differences. My hometown Shanghai is crammed with western style skyscrapers and the local residents there prefer bread rather than rice. Culture labels at this level are not suitable to describe an open culture that is always ready to accept changes. Meanwhile, it works well in a close culture which is not easily influenced by others. As we all know this old saying, do not judge people based on their appearance.

The second inner layer is about norms and values. Norms are the mutual sense what is right and wrong while values represent the definition of what is good and bad. This layer is not so easy to change as the first outer one. We take years of education, living, and working with others in developing them. They are not isolated and often altered by surroundings, such as culture. I believe this layer differentiates one culture from others. For example, Chinese people are always quiet in class, believing that not disturbing professors is the best way to learn while our classmates of the United States always interrupt professors in class and raise their concerns and question at free.

The innermost layer, basic assumptions, represents the core assumptions of what life is, assumptions about how to handle everyday problems that have become self evident. This is the most intrinsic one and thus hard to visualize.

Based on the analysis of these three layers, we might focus on the second inner layer to differentiate unfamiliar people since the first layer is easy to change and the innermost one is hard to measure. In the class exercise, Rachel made a mistake about where Blaine came from. She thought that Blaine was from the West Coast since he was always in casual, which supposed to be the West Coast dressing style. While Blaine used to live in Colorado and changed his clothes habit since he is now living in Seattle. In contrary, my assumption about John turned out to be correct because I knew a little about American’s norms and values and made my assumptions based on them.

Communication with others
Awareness of culture difference benefits communication during change management. Time Concept is what I talked in class. The culture has a significant impact on the concepts of time. Germans are always on time while we have to wait one or two hours for a Latin American. For the latter, it does not mean disrespect. Latin Americans just think that they are still on time even they are already two hours late. To know those differences contributes to eliminating misunderstandings during communication.

As we know, the concept of culture label is always criticized. However, it can be still practical when you choose the right layer of culture to make assumptions. When we meet someone unfamiliar, we will find a culture label is the shortcut to distinguish differences. Also, we have to be cautious since every person is unique and they might share a little common behavioral patterns and personality traits of their culture.
[1] O’Neil, D. (2006). What is Culture? Retrieved Nov. 28, 2007, from

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