Ethnocentrism – the evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture.
We’ve been discussing this theme for the past few weeks. And that’s because ethnocentrism is innate in all of us. Although it seems like a type of bias only present in uneducated or prejudiced people, even the most “woke” individual, even those who study cross-cultural differences professionally, even those experts who produce management literature are all subject to ethnocentricity.
For instance, Maslow’s pyramid of needs is ethnocentric. The “needs” in question are not universal; they’re the needs of those from western cultures.
So, being that we are all subject to our own innate cultural bias, how do we use ethnocentricity to our advantage?
Overcoming Your Own Cultural Bias
We are programmed through primary socialization and further cultural conditioning to view our way of life as the most logical. We consider other cultures to be “wrong,” while ours is “right” and should be universal.
This is ethnocentricity in a nutshell.
Even when we are well aware of our cultural bias, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to overcome.
While we may not be able to avoid ethnocentrism completely, in a cross-cultural workplace, it’s essential to accept that our values are not universal, nor are they absolute.
This is the first step to altering our perspective of another culture’s values and norms and adapting our behaviors accordingly.
In order to thrive in a foreign culture, acceptance and tolerance will melt ethnocentrism’s hard edges.
Next, you must adopt the fresh new “rights and wrongs,” standards, and methods of the new business environment.
Doing so may feel unnatural to you, but your willingness to adjust to the other culture’s standards will allow you to succeed in that new culture, as it demonstrates respect.
Play It to Your Advantage
Taking this all a step further, you may use ethnocentrism to your advantage in business.
This is more applicable to specific aspects – like playing to your customer base, for instance.
If you’re opening an American hotel chain in America, for example, you’d likely highlight the new spacious rooms, the modern conveniences, the privacy and security of the hotel, the staff’s professionalism.
But if you were opening that same hotel in Albania, you know that Albania’s hospitality index is through the roof, so you might focus your press release on the personal nature of the hotel’s hospitality, its traditional and homey atmosphere, and its family feel to accommodate Albanian values.
The point is, awareness of your own ethnocentricity – and that of the culture in which you’re doing business – can often help you work, communicate, and promote effectively across cultures.