You’ve probably read it here (and everywhere else) that Cultural Intelligence is super dooper important. It’s considered a skill on your resume. Why? Well, with this ‘global economy’ we know that it takes a diverse group of peeps to make up a workplace. (Geez, the last time I saw a Doctor, I was Skyping an African male in Sydney. The world is changing my friends!)
Diversity is good. It’s good for society and the bottom line. And it’s GREAT for the workplace. It’s awesome when organisations are full of people from different ages, races, countries, socio-economic areas, with different interests and personalities. Thank God we’re not all clones! It’s what keeps crazy Clarence in Accounts intriguing.
However - we must gain personal skills to work with people from other cultures.
I can imagine you’re sitting there thinking derrr Jemma, we know this. So let me ask you this gem of a question; (ok, now imagine I have a big spotlight on you and you’re like Bambi in the headlights):
HOW DO YOU GET CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE?!
As in, how do you actually become culturally aware? Hmm this brain buster got me confused.
You can’t just open a book, learn some facts about another culture and say BAM, I can tick this baby off my list.
You can’t go to Sushi Train and claim to understand Japanese traditions.
Nah, Cultural Intelligence is more than that. It’s an awareness of the fundamental fact that we all experience the world differently. This is generally linked with our upbringing; experiencing life as part of a tribe, so to speak.
We gain cultural intelligence through experience.
It’s tough to step out of our cultural comfort zone though, especially with social media and office gossip. (Nobody wants to be a meme!) We don’t want to unintentionally offend someone.
Sometimes we are scared of saying the wrong thing, so we say nothing. We see someone with a cultural background we know little about, so don’t talk to them. We put that person in the too-hard-basket and don’t even try. We tell ourselves it’s because we don’t want to offend them but really, we’re just being slack.
To develop your Culturally Intelligence you must face the fear of the unknown, drop assumptions at the door and Dear God, leave your ‘Judgement Hat’ THE EFF AT HOME.
So to step out of my own comfort zone and practice what I preach, I decided to try to expand my own cultural awareness. I’m the whitest chick in every room. (I’m literally playing Taylor Swift right now.) I know this isn’t what I’m supposed to say. But I’ll tell you the truth.
I’m 31 and grew up here in Adelaide and I don’t know jack shit about Aboriginal Culture. Part of me is annoyed that I wasn’t educated enough by my dreadful high school, but there’s a point where we need to take ownership of our own knowledge gaps.
You know it’s funny – I’m not afraid to ask questions of local people and their culture when I’m overseas on holiday, but here I am in Adelaide, and I’ve never asked local indigenous people about their culture.
And hey, I admit that learning about Aboriginal Culture makes me a little uncomfortable. I’m scared of saying the wrong thing and offending someone. But, frankly, this attitude it doesn’t cut it in 2018. I need to be better. We, as society, need to be better.
So instead of turning a blind eye to my lack of understanding of Aboriginal Culture, I grew-the-hell-up and decided to learn more from an expert in our indigenous people. I emailed Kira Bain, Cultural Services Officer & Kaurna Language Instructor at Tauondi Aboriginal College
, and she immediately said yes, she’d love to share with me about her culture.
Kira is of Ngarrindjeri heritage, which is an Aboriginal Nation that includes locations such as Murray Bridge. She is an expert in Aboriginal Culture and the Kaurna dialect. (Kaurna = the Aboriginal Nation in which Adelaide is located.) Kira is a two-time finalist for the Channel 9 Young Achievers Award and performs the ‘Acknowledgement to Country’ all over the Adelaide Plains in front of hundreds of people. Yep. She’s a big deal.
When I was driving to meet Kira, I was nervous as all hell.
Spoiler Alert: It took me less than 30 seconds to say something offensive.
Luckily, Kira understood I was coming from a good place. I was there to learn. And boy, did I.
See, as I was waiting for Kira in the reception area, I was near a bunch of students. They were joking around having fun. They were of different races, not all Aboriginal. Or so I thought.
Then Kira and I go to a meeting room and get acquainted. I start by asking her about the school and she explains it’s a college for Aboriginal people, much like a TAFE. They offer business courses, language courses, certificates etc. I asked her about the non-Aboriginal students in the hallway. Does this school cater to white Australians too?
Kira politely explains that white Australians may also be Aboriginal, and the colour of one’s skin does not define their cultural heritage. She informs me that White Aboriginals are often a result of the Stolen Generation.
Since we were off to a great start (yes, I’m kidding), I kept going. But every time I said something wrong or was scared I would offend Kira, she patiently educated me. She reiterated that I’m still learning and this was a safe place to ask questions.
And so I did. As I asked questions, I listened and learned.
I learned that an ‘Acknowledgment to Country’ is very different from a ‘Welcome to Country.’ For example, only a Kaurna person can welcome you to Kaurna country. Because Kira is of Ngarrindjeri Heritage, she can only perform the Acknowledgement to Country here in Adelaide.
Kira also explained to me that the original Australia Day was in July, the Stolen Generation wasn’t that long ago and heaps more things that I had previously been too scared to ask. (Did you know that Aboriginal Elders can be any age? Not just old people?)
There I was talking to another Adelaidean, learning about history that happened in my own backyard. It felt great.
Kira is a wealth of knowledge, has emotional intelligence up the wazoo – and wisdom beyond her years. I’m so glad she met with me. I’m so glad she didn’t make me feel stupid for being a decade older and having no idea about this stuff.
I still have lots to learn about Aboriginal Culture – but… I sharpened my cultural intelligence that day.
It was only a little step (teeny, really), but it was a big step in the right direction.
Maybe you’re like me and you get scared to ask questions about one’s culture or background. Maybe you’re a seasoned expert.
If you want to open up a discussion with a colleague about their culture or nationality, I say GO FOR IT. You can use the opportunity to find out what you have in common and of course learn all about the things you don’t.
Cultural Diversity is fascinating – and brings a fun flavour to your workplace! And, if you get scared you’re going to offend someone, just be open about this. Simply state your intention, tell them you’re unsure if you’re asking the right questions and that you want to learn. They’ll understand (and likely respect you more for it!).
Cultural Awareness begins when you step out of your cultural comfort zone.
I also discovered that Tauondi Aboriginal College offers a Cultural Awareness/Competency Program. This is the perfect place to ask questions and step outside of your cultural comfort zone whilst learning more about indigenous culture.