Risk and Cultural Values

Cultural Values and Translation by Trade

Another little gem by Dr Robert Long – If you liked this article then you should read the whole series: CLICK HERE. I highly recommend you check out Rob’s new book “RISK MAKES SENSE” – click on image to read precise

One of the most important things we discover in a study of culture is that other people are not like us. This is why it is so crazy to assume ‘common sense’, this is why it’s so misleading to even talk about ‘common sense’. The more we use this language the more we assume that everyone perceives risks just like we do, sees the world just like we do. They don’t. Yet we make assumptions in our communication about risk as if they do. We don’t do this when we travel overseas, we soon learn that we don’t understand others, don’t think like others and don’t sound like others.

In order to emphasise this point I have decided to make a comparative table (Figure 1) by building and construction trades. I have only done a few trade comparisons as the space for this article is quite limited. Perhaps you might like to put this table in landscape view and extend this thinking to other trades and professions you work with.

The table is developed based on observations, stereotypes and generalisations so please don’t get offended, as the purpose of the table is not about definition but illustration for further discussion. Whilst I would not advise making judgments by stereotypes, the table seeks to emphasis the point that cross-cultural translation is just as important on a job site when discussing risk as cross-cultural translation when working with someone of another nationality.

Some of the cultural risk indicators have been adapted from Hofstede (2002), further see http://www.culturegps.com/About.html

Figure 1. Comparison of Trades by Cultural Value

Cultural Value

Steelfixer

Electrician

Plumber

Engineer

Education & Learning

Usually poorly educated, school failure

Trade certificate

Trade certificate

Degree,

Kind of work

Structural

Finishing

Finishing

Professional

Overseeing

Literacy

Low

Moderate

Moderate

High

Attitude to Safety Training

An embuggerance

Tolerated

Tolerated

Valued

Risks

Direct

Direct

Direct

Indirect

Hazards

Seen

Unseen

Unseen

Unseen

Independence

High

Moderate-High

Moderate-High

Moderate

Masculinity

High

Moderate-High

Moderate-High

Moderate

Leadership & management

Managers out of touch with workers

Demanding

Demanding

Confident yet insufficient social skills capability

Elements

Steel

Power

Fluids

Design/Maths

Symbols

Earth/concrete

Current

Technologies

Drawings/plans

Language

Strength focused

Gatekeepers to power

Fluid management

Understanding design

Artefacts

Nips

Wires

Pipes

Paper/computers

Motto

Just get the job done

Isolate, work and commission

Isolate, work and commission

Get the job done properly

 

We all work with other trades and professions which are different. It is hard to get into the shoes of another if their world is foreign to us. So, let’s drop the pretense and language of ‘common sense’. Such expressions are delusional and make us lazy in our cultural engagement of others.

Let’s remember that when we have conversions about risk that we are engaged in an ‘extraction’ process not an ‘injection’ process. The key to a ‘risk conversation’ is listening and observing, open questioning and understanding, not telling and assuming.

The table endeavours to highlight the many sub-cultural differences between trades. So here is the point. Just as we need to ‘translate’ between cultures by nationality (eg. Australia and China) so too when we transverse between cultures on a work site. This is more so when we have conversations about the management of risk, perceptions of risk and understandings of hazards.

Dr Rob Long

Dr Rob Long

Expert in Social Psychology, Principal & Trainer at Human Dymensions
Dr Rob Long

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Dr Rob Long
PhD., MEd., MOH., BEd., BTh., Dip T., Dip Min., Cert IV TAA, MRMIA Rob is the founder of Human Dymensions and has extensive experience, qualifications and expertise across a range of sectors including government, education, corporate, industry and community sectors over 30 years. Rob has worked at all levels of the education and training sector including serving on various post graduate executive, post graduate supervision, post graduate course design and implementation programs.

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