Cultural sensitivity and risk intelligence into practice

December 8, 2023



Nippin Anand and Pedro Ferreira follow up on their conversation in Croatia A conversation about what it takes to bring cultural sensitivity into organisations. Nippin and Pedro discuss several examples of how fostering conversations that are not power-dominated and personal agendas are not so much at play, can bring about a much better understanding of different perspectives. The understanding and sharing of different perspectives then bring about much-enhanced decision-making.

Further information


Nippin  00:00

Welcome to another episode of embracing differences with me Nippin Anand , a podcast aimed at engaging with different viewpoints and perspectives about how we as human beings learn, unlearn, recognise, risk, tackle risk, and become culturally sensitive. Talking of which, we have a tweet his workshop coming up in London, from the 21st to 23rd of February, on culture and risk intelligence. If you’re wondering, what is the connection between culture and risk intelligence? My answer is this. How can we recognise risk in our everyday life? By stepping into another culture? How much do we tend to normalise? And assume as we go about making sense of the world around us, until we meet someone from another culture, who sees things completely different to us? In those moments, what do we do? Do we judge them? Do we control them? Do we evaluate their culture, their rituals, habits, language, behaviours, ethics and narratives? From our point of view? Or do we genuinely make an attempt to understand their culture, from their own point of view? That takes confronting our own assumptions and expanding our worldview. And that is what makes us culturally sensitive and risk intelligent. We want to hear more, you can go on our website, novellus.solutions/events. And you will find all the details of the event page including a detailed brochure of what we will cover in this workshop.


Pedro Ferreira  01:49

Morning Nippin Hey, good, good. First discussion we had in Croatia about why culture is cultural understand understanding culture is important for for risk intelligence. So, before moving on, from there, perhaps Summing up, what we’ve discussed, what do you think is the key idea that we we extracted from that first episode?


Nippin  02:21

Yeah, so the key idea was to make a connection between cultural sensitivity or understanding culture and risk intelligence. So if you take the idea of risk intelligence as the ability to make good decisions, right now, what do we mean by good decisions? If you think about all decision making, originating from the unconscious mind, which is basically that all decision making has certain biases certain assumptions in it, then how can we become better at making those decisions? The way to make good decisions is to be able to rationalise what is coming through emotions and feelings. And the trouble is that I am not aware of my biases, I’m not aware of my assumptions. I’m not aware of my worldview, until I relate with another person, until I go and meet another person and, and see the world through their eyes, or allow them to question my deepest held beliefs, my myths, my language, my symbols, and so on. And I think in that sense, being culturally sensitive, which is appreciating that there are other forms of life, appreciating that other religions, there are other myths that are other subjectivities allows me to surface my own assumptions, and hence make better decisions. Yeah, everything is through relationships. And everything is through experiencing those relationships. And I think that is really the connection between cultural sensitivity and risk intelligence.


Pedro Ferreira  04:12

Great, great. I think that sums it up very well. And so the thing that we committed to do this time around is, okay, so how do we turn this into practice? How do we explore how do we explore this in how do we bring this into an organisation? What are we facing up to?


Nippin  04:34

Absolutely. And then we will talk about that within a framework, which in social psychology of risk we refer to as the culture cloud. I have the cloud right in front of me drawn on a whiteboard. So I will occasionally referred to it because there’s far too much to cover in this next 1520 minutes. But even before we did that, there are some terms that we need to become familiar with before we delve into the culture cloud. One is the idea of unconscious, that a lot of culture in fact, all the culture lives in the unconscious space without our knowledge. So if I was to summarise in two words, what culture means, it means what we share unconsciously between us, the shared unconscious, and the term shared unconscious comes from Carl Jung. Right? So what is what does that shared unconscious really mean? What do we share unconsciously between us, which sits below the conscious level, below the head, under the shoulders, in our heart, in our gut, in our bodies, what is it that we share unconsciously, we share certain habits, we share certain behaviours, we share certain rituals, we share certain narratives, we share a very, very specific history. We share certain language, certain artefacts, certain symbols and slogans. And the beauty of all that I discussed just now as part of the culture cloud is shared unconsciously. And if we start to think about these things, and bring them to surface, and which means bring them to our conscious awareness, then we become culturally intelligent. But we can only do that in a conversation. So what do I mean by that? A conversation is all about a meeting between two people, where we, we are brave enough, we are courageous enough to suspend our agenda, for example, I’m going on an audit or an investigation. And for a few minutes, I let go of the idea that I have a scope. In this investigation, I have a scope in this audit, the first thing is not the scope of the audit and investigation, but keeping an open mind to what people have to say, before I start looking into even my checklist, right? Agenda is important, because at the end of the day, we are accountable, we have to to come back and produce a report. But sometimes what happens is that agenda keeps us from appreciating things that we don’t know of. And it’s very easy to go into the rabbit hole. So suspend your agenda for a few minutes, at least for some time. Let go of the idea that you are in control of the situation, because that’s an illusion, you’re not in control of anything at all, stay open. And the third thing is, when you’re meeting another person, you give them your 100% Attention, which is you attend to the other person, you see another person as an equal, you don’t see them as a subordinate. You see them as an equal, which we have a tendency to do that, when we go and evaluated on the culture. So in a conversation, we suspend our agenda, we let go of control. And we attend to the other person in order for us to appreciate their myths, their symbols, their way of living. And that is how we understand our biases and assumptions, and so on, which is very, very important. If we want to learn something new. And if we want to understand the limits of our, our, our worldview, the way we see the world and become risk intelligent, I think that that is the key to it.


Pedro Ferreira  08:51

Yeah, I think it’s important to really understand what we mean by conversations here. I imagine people watching this or listening to it and see well, I have conversations I talk to people all day long in my organisation and outside of it. But I think the understanding of the conversation has become, or the idea of a conversation has become more of a fencing of argumentation rather than actually what you just mentioned, which is suspending your agenda, actually attending to the person. So what you’re saying is, those are the, the ingredients if you like that need to be brought into an organisation in order to transform, a duel that has become most of the conversations into an actual conversation. Is that right?


Nippin  09:46

Well, absolutely. And you know, it’s such a good point because a good conversation is when you have no idea where it will go in the end. You have no idea. It’s so Some people would call it the emergent nature of a conversation that you start off in once one location, and you end up in a completely different place, which was unknown to you, and the one you were conversing with completely unknown. And that is because a lot of things that you discover, the word discover is very important. Whenever thought about at the start, because they floated up from the unconscious of both of you. And I think there is a there is many, many examples that I can give you. But maybe perhaps we should we should move on from here. I think most people recognise and have experienced, in their own lives, certain conversations that left them absolutely bewildered, absolutely confused, in some ways, and come to realise how little I knew before I started this conversation. I think we’ve all had those moments. Yes.


Pedro Ferreira  10:57

So I think you’ve touched upon yet another important element, which is see the experience of it. And maybe that’s a good point to come back to the cultural cloud that you also mentioned.


Nippin  11:10

Yes, experience is very important Pedro because I think a lot of training coaches I have been on and I get very frustrated, even something as simple as how the the room is laid out. Is does not help you to make connection with the, with the environment. And, you know, simple things like the trainer is facilitating a course. And you’re sitting in a theatre, or you’re sitting in a classroom, as a passive, absorbing absorber of that knowledge. And so in that exchange, one person is speaking, and everyone else is just taking information in, which makes it very brain centric, which makes it very information lead. And you’re never actually experiencing, it never actually penetrates into your body, in your heart, in your gut, it never what you’re experiencing does not resonate with you, because it remains at a very, at the level of the brain. I’ll give you an example of that I was in a, in a Quaker meeting. And I go there very often in Aberdeen, and, you know, Quakers have a very, very, very interesting ritual, which is to meet on a weekly basis in silence. And you would have a group of 1015 20 people just sitting in the room in silence for about an hour. Now, these, it’s not complete silence. As you enter into the room, they explain the ritual to you in the on the first in the first occasion, and then you just go and take a seat. And what happens is after after a long period of silence, maybe 20 minutes or so, in this case, one person got up. And he said something about his concerns about climate change. Right in the way the climate is changing, and he was deeply, deeply concerned about it. And he sat down, it was complete silence again. And another 10 minutes, somebody else caught up. He targeted started to talk about the war in Israel. Right. And he narrated his story. And then he sat down and then somebody else got up, and she started talking about health inequality. Right. Now, if you were to look for a golden thread, in this conversation, there is none. But what I took away from this, this experience was that unlike in many corporate meetings that I have been part of, there is no argumentation. There is no building up to say my argument is better than yours. There is no counter argument. It says a complete acceptance of an individual’s expression. And that’s it. That’s it. You have a concern. You get up and then there is complete silence again. What a wonderful meeting. And then at the end of the meeting, somebody asked me to why are you here? And I said, I just came here to experience this place. I’ve heard a lot about Quaker meetings and I could go and read so many books, but I would never come anywhere close to what I experienced just now. Everything that I took in my body token to wait somebody else said that you have to listen to this. It’s very funny actually said that. This It’s very interesting because somebody who studying theology came here a few weeks ago. And he asked so many questions. And at one point, she jokingly said, my head, I almost felt like his head was swollen before he left this place. What a wonderful expression to say that how much of life is lived in the brain, in this space above the shoulders, that it’s by absorbing information, it’s by asking more questions, this is not the same thing, like how the classrooms are laid out, laid out in schools, is, through this brain centric way of living, we can understand what the Quaker Meeting is, we understand none of that, if we really wanted to do that, we could go on on an online encyclopaedia, we can go on Wikipedia, we can go and read a book on Quakers and we can get everything from there. But what is the beauty of understanding culture is that it has to be experientially understood you have to be in the moment and you have to take it in all as a whole person. And this was the point I was trying to make earlier that if you want to understand culture, you have to, to be there. You have to, to take things in, you have to experience the culture semiotically you have to take the environment, the all all the symbols and the metaphors and artefacts and the language and you have to take it all in. And this is where all culture is understood experientially. There was a you know, we are doing this weekly courses right now. And I started off with a with a girl and I asked her I said, I said, How’s it going for you? And she responded by saying Nippin I can’t, I can’t understand most of it. At the moment, it’s it’s too abstract. But it all feels very good. It all I can all I can already feel it so much before knowing you can actually feel things. And I think the feeling of it is so important to understand culture.


Pedro Ferreira  17:15

So if it just to bring it down a bit, what I guess what we’re saying is that what how this needs to come into an organisation is precisely that, instead of trying to measure and dissect culture, which will only make your head small and actually try and just experience it for a while. It’s, it’s about really getting good at experiencing culture, and being there with your organisation in your organisation. Does that sound good? Yes,


Nippin  17:58

you remember, when we were in Stavanger, we went for a walk. And as we were going on a walk, I asked everyone to take a picture and start thinking about how does it connect with you? How does this picture connect amongst the many of the questions that that we asked? And it was so fascinating, that is one of the pictures, for example, somebody took a picture of a hut with a slope. And, and I asked everyone, what is so unique about this picture? And they all had something to say. But one of the things that was in the unconscious was the the heart had a slope. And so which which nobody question because you know, it’s the collective unconscious of this culture in the West that a heart must have a slope, a house must have a slope. Now, if you go into another culture, the House does is does not have that slope, right. But you won’t understand that until you meet somebody from another culture, I think so that that semiotic experience of going around and just questioning things and how they connect with us. Things that we question, and things that we never question is so integral to culture, and understanding, what do we share unconsciously in our in our hemisphere and our symbols in our metaphors in the way we see the world around us? Yes. Yeah.


Pedro Ferreira  19:18

Just on that same topic, one similar walk that we had in Athens. And one thing that I found very striking then was someone that will sit sleeping on a doorstep. And we, when we came back to the meeting room, discussing how we felt for this person, because we immediately assumed that this was someone going through a hard time sleeping on the street. And I noticed but if you look closely, you see a spotless, clean, almost looking brand new sleeping bag, and also brand new backpack. Does that sound which which you know it, it’s been paying attention to the being there and paying attention observing. And that that, I think is something that we also discussed quite a lot here. And the moment you pay attention to such details, you start to see a radically different picture around you. You


Nippin  20:30

do Pedro but I think something very powerful in what you said is that what is paying attention really mean? Paying attention means suspending your agenda, giving up control and attending to the other. The only way we make connection to somebody lying on the floor is that I am, I have never done this, so he must be less than me. Right. Now, I’ll give you an example from the maritime world, I once investigated an accident in the Singapore Straits of a ship being which was which was going in in a convoy with other ships. And the company came to the conclusion that the accident happened, the collision happened because the ship was not following a safe speed. Right. So what is the safe speed safe speeds typically stipulated in the company’s safety management system is 80 knots, which is about between 25 and 30 kilometres an hour. And this ship was doing two or three knots more than that. And based on that, very quickly evaluate or make the judgement that the ship is doing a fast speed. So that must be the reason. Now, when you look at every other ship, in that area, is actually doing the same speed as that ship. And according to the captain, if he did any less than them, he would create an opportunity for other ships coming very close as they overtake the ship. And the point I’m trying to make is, is this that we never actually take the time to understand the culture, we are so quick at making judgments, we are so quick because thinking is hard. Understanding another point of view is different is difficult. So we try to close that gap by putting our own worldview into that situation rather than understanding another worldview. And I think that is a skill that you develop, once you become culturally sensitive. If you look at the culture cloud, if we go through when we talk about behaviours, we talk about behaviours. And this is a very, you know, concise kind of a podcast, but obviously we can talk in more details, but people are more than what you see them at a particular moment in a day. You know, when somebody is in in stress, that person is not the same person as what he or she would be in a you in the usual life. We all know that when people are under stress, they are on the opposite side of the temperament. A lot of people cannot handle stress, you know, if you if you look at, for example, my wife, you know, at 730 in the morning, when kids have to go to school, she’s a completely different person. And she’s very stressed out in those moments, it she can be the complete opposite of what she is on, on on an average basis. So what sense does it make to evaluate people’s behaviour in a stressful situation? When when you want to do to make things safer? You have no idea what that person so this this mechanistic idea of labelling people as negligent alcoholics careless, not having enough situational awareness is pointless if we don’t engage with them, if we don’t understand what is what, what is the basis of behaviour, which is the unconscious, right? Then we talk about things like for example, you want to understand the history, which is integral to culture, how do you go about understanding history? What methods and techniques do we have to understand his history? It turns out that in most organisations, you will fall back on on accidents, near misses, you will fall back on, on, on successes, you know, some some big projects, some big big awards one. And the trouble is that most of those over simply fight reports or narratives are, don’t give give you a detailed understanding of what was the what was the situation that so for example, in near misses, we see somebody’s being disciplined, but we never actually we never actually get to understand their side of the story. Never. So the history If you’re relying on to evaluate the culture is very oversimplified. It’s it’s, it’s full of facts. It’s full of evidences, but it it almost always misses the voice of the marginalised, the wise of the powerless. So what are you really relying on? The trends, the patterns are all about hero hero myth, and the anti hero myth who did something wrong and who was who was the hero behind the success. So you end up in a very tricky situation, if you don’t have an understanding of how to engage with history. Yeah, but just on that particular note, very recently had an interaction with somebody with, so I wanted to bring that person, some some not so pleasant news about what was going on in their organisation. And even before I could finish my first sentence, the response was, I cannot accept this allegation. If I did, I will have to close down the operations of this place. And my point was that it’s not an allegation. It’s an invitation to understand what’s going on in the organisation. And the beauty of it, Pedro, is that if you’re not emotionally intelligent, if you’re not culturally intelligent, you will never be able to grasp that experience. Because it it stays just here, it never goes here. And as that person was hearing what I was saying, I could already see his body was rejecting all of that his body just could not cope with that, in DiMarzio. His words, you’re not culturally intelligent, because your homeostasis your life processes go out of balance, when you are faced with a threat, or an opportunity, or anything in between. So a large part of being culturally intelligent, is to be able to realise your emotions when you’re confronted with something new. And that, so as part of this cultural cloud framework, you help people realise that how much of life is lived at the brain centric level, rejecting everything that denies your worldview, that challenges your worldview. And I think in many ways, it’s a journey. Because one cannot expect people to become culturally intelligent in a day, it’s impossible, even in a two or three day session. It’s a journey that everyone has to experience that you cannot control the world. Forget about the world, you cannot control your own children. So why not embrace uncertainty? why not embrace the unknown? And learn something new about yourself in order for you to make better decisions in life? more mature decisions in life? Yes. And I think that is the core of it. Yeah, I just want to share with you I think you’ve seen this mug. But, you know, the lion is the is the arrogant one. And the mouse is the courageous what I call the most courageous because at the end of the day, it’s the mouse whose life is at danger when he comes out of his burrow every day in search for food. The lion has no such issues, he can roam around and eat whenever he or she is hungry. But when the lion sits in patients in patience, and listens to the mouse mazing things happen. Most lions in organisations are not aware of their own worldview of their own limitations and a lot of them genuinely believe they genuinely believe that they engage with a mouse they believe so, until you do a semiotic exercise like an IQ session with them and map their conversation with another person to show how much of their life is lived is are the ethics is all about controlling the other person solving their problems, apologising to them, holding them to account or whatever, but never actually understanding this person’s point of view, never very rarely it happens. And that is, I think, good for the mouse Of course, for the lion, but for the entire organisation.


Nippin  29:42

The interesting thing about social psychology of risk and and the the framework that we use for understanding culture is that there are tools and methods to put it in practice, you know, simple things like like the the this pocket book, very simple pocket book that you can tuck into your pocket. and just go through it for a few seconds before the audit or investigation is to say, this is the culture cloud. And how do I go about familiarising myself with the culture of this place. And it’s got all the the checks and simple keywords that you can use to take your cultural intelligence to the next level. And it’s all semiotic. Very little text, very little slogans, very little presentations. It’s all semiotic. It’s all visual. And what’s once it becomes that visual, that model becomes part of your body. You don’t even need any of this. You can, you can just throw it away. And you can do it yourself. Because it’s all part of the body. No. Yep.


Pedro Ferreira  30:49

I think we’ve extended, we’ve learned, we let it go. And we ended up where we didn’t expect to as any good conversation. How would you like to close this up? Well,


Nippin  31:02

I don’t know, Pedro. I think the idea of this session was to give people a flavour of how to put cultural intelligence into practice. And I think we’ve done that. Obviously, I will include the culture cloud semiotic as part of this podcast. Also, there are books that Dr. Oblong has written wonderful books to explain these things in practice. We have a workshop coming up in London, in March from the 20th until 22nd of March, where we will discuss it’s a three days workshop where the first two days is all about classroom discussions and reflections on culture. And the third day, we actually take people on a walk to experience culture, which is the essence of what we discussed today. So there’s a plenty of opportunities for people who really want to learn more about culture. That’s That’s all.


Pedro Ferreira  32:02

Great. Thank you.


Nippin  32:05

Thank you, Pedro.


Nippin  32:14

Do you have any questions, any feedback, any comments, any criticism, you can always write to us? You can write to me personally, at support@novellus.solutions. You can also leave a message for us on our website novellus.solutions. You can email me personally at Nippin.Anand@novellus.solutions and you can find me on LinkedIn. Until then, have a good day.