Culture is a set of learned, often intangible, aspects of human social behavior. Sociologists use the term to describe values, beliefs, communication systems, rules and norms, as well as physical objects that distinguish one group of people from another.
Cultural aspects include religion, notions of time, gender, roles, space, and more. They differ from person to person and from community to community, but they are passed down by generation in a similar way. A person’s culture influences his or her decisions, opinions, and perceptions.
The definition of cultural can vary significantly depending on the field of study and the perspective of the researcher. For example, Edgar Schein describes culture as “the whole pattern of learned behavior that distinguishes a human group from other groups.” He explains that it includes “all the beliefs and assumptions, even the hidden ones, that influence attitudes and decisions.”
It is important to understand the role of cultural factors in the workplace. When managers fail to consider the underlying dynamics of a workplace situation, they are likely to apply incorrect or ineffective solutions. This can result in failure of programs, policies, or initiatives. It can also create tension between employees or departments.
A key aspect of cultural is language. Whether it is an individual’s spoken or written language, or the language used in the media, it is a symbol of a particular culture. An ethnic background can also influence a person’s language, as can a belief system or political ideology.
Another cultural factor is the value placed on certain objects or practices. These can be as simple as a holiday or an impractical but symbolic piece of clothing, such as lawyer wigs or military officer spurs. Traditions are an essential part of any culture. They represent a long-held belief or practice that is passed down from generation to generation, with specific meaning or significance.
The iceberg analogy is often used to illustrate the difference between the tangible and intangible elements of culture. Many people only see the tip of the iceberg when interacting with other cultures, focusing on visible behaviors or symbols. This can lead to stereotypes, which are limiting and not intended to be inclusive. The best cultural generalizations are those that focus on predominant tendencies among groups, not labels for individuals.
An understanding of culture can help businesses to thrive in diverse environments. When the differences of various cultures are recognized and appreciated, everyone benefits. Educators have a great opportunity to foster this appreciation by involving students in cultural activities that are relevant to their backgrounds and experiences. When students feel included and valued, they perform better in school and develop a more positive outlook on life.