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Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsWhen we start work in a new organization, we need to be aware of its culture and how to adapt to it. To help you do that, we'd like to give you a simple way to think about culture. You can think about culture as being like an ocean in two different ways. The first is because culture moves and changes just like the ocean. Global interdependence means that culture also travels long distances and in many different directions just like the ocean's currents. When the ocean and the land meet, they interact and both gradually change. Similarly, when people interact with each other, there is give and take, and our ideas and behaviors are shaped and reshaped.

Skip to 0 minutes and 54 secondsThe second way culture is like an ocean is because there are things happening on and below the surface. Just like on the surface of an ocean, where we can see people and boats interacting with our water, with culture, we can see behaviors and signs on the surface. These are aspects of our identities that are easily seen and heard-- for example, your appearance at work, what you wear, the style of clothes you choose. It can also be how you communicate with your colleagues or how you and your team celebrate success. Under the surface of an ocean, there are lots going on-- the flow of the currents the sea life swimming around in the water and on the sea floor.

Skip to 1 minute and 37 secondsOn the surface, we can't see it, but we know it's there, and we know that it influences the ocean. Under the surface, aspects of culture work the same way. There are aspects of every group and every situation that are not easily seen. These unseen and unknown elements are very important and can even be more important than what you see and hear on the surface. In an organization setting, this could be how colleagues earn reputation and status-- who has influence within the office environment, or it could be the outcome of a project undertaken in the past, which affects the way people approach projects now.

Skip to 2 minutes and 18 secondsWhen you're interacting with a new organization, don't assume that what you see and hear above the surface means what you think it does. For example, in one workplace, following a training session, the manager might say the presentation was quite good, and this may or may not be seen as a compliment depending on the culture. Quite means a little to someone in the UK who will know that this is not actually meant as a compliment. Whereas someone elsewhere will be confused and think they are being praised. Another example could be where it is common for staff to bring food to share at lunch time and breaks, whereas another group of staff would never do this.

Skip to 2 minutes and 58 secondsDoes this mean that the staff that share food get on well together and others do not? In fact, both sets of staff actually get on very well together. They just show it in different ways. The custom for the second group might be to meet after work and socialize then. The most important thing to remember is each situation at work is unique, and you may approach each one slightly differently according to your views and the culture of your organization. So if you are interacting in a new culture, particularly in the workplace, remember to be aware of the diversity that exists, including your own behavior and views and how these can be seen by others.

Skip to 3 minutes and 40 secondsTry not to make too many assumptions about others and know that you can change these as you get to know people better. Like an ocean current remain fluid, adapt your behavior to fit in so that others feel comfortable working with you, but always remain true to what is really important for you.

Cultural oceans

In this video, we explain how to be aware of culture and how we can adapt to it.

The video uses the idea that culture is similar to an ocean. Culture is always changing and moving, just like an ocean. Oceans also have life above and below the surface, and culture does too. There are some elements of culture we can see (above the surface) and there are some we can’t see (below the surface).

Do you agree that culture is like an ocean? How else would you describe culture?

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This video is from the free online course:

How to Succeed in the Global Workplace

British Council