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What is Culture?

Culture is a web of meaning shared by members of a particular society or group.  It is a shared system of beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts that group members use to cope with their world and one another.

-The US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, FM 3-24/MCWP 3-33

Navigating cultural differences can present operational, strategic, and tactical challenges. Effective leaders adapt across cultural lines. In the August 2011 memo from the Secretary of Defense, Sec Panetta emphasized the importance of cultural capabilities:

"Language, regional and cultural skills are enduring warfighting competencies that are critical to mission readiness in today's dynamic global environment. Our forces must have the ability to effectively communicate with and understand the cultures of coalition forces, international partners, and local populations. DoD has made progress in establishing a foundation for these capabilities, but we need to do more to meet current and future demands. ... At a minimum, both military and civilian personnel should have cross-cultural training to successfully work in DoD's richly diverse organization and to better understand the global environment in which we operate."

While there is no single definition of culture, Culture can be definied as :

"Culture is the shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts members of a society use to cope with the world and eachother."

ADRP 2-0, Intelligence, August 2012, para 2-24 , ADRP 5-0, The Operations Process, May 2012, para 1-36

"A web of meaning shared by members of a particular society or group within a society."

FM3-24/MCWP 3-33.5 11 March 2013 p 30

"The shared worldview and social structures of a group of people that influence a person's and a groups actions and choices."

Operational Culture 2nd Edition, USMC 2011

Understanding another culture, or what we refer to as Cross Cultural Competence, has been definied by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Insitute as:

The development of knowledge and skills through experience and training that results in a complex schema of of cultural differences, perspective-taking skills, and interpersonal skills, all of which an individual can flexibly (or adaptively) apply through the willingness to engage in new environments evein in the face of considerable ambiguity, through self-monitoring and through self-regulation to support mission success in a dynamic context.

DoD policy states that cultural capabilities are the skills and knowledge that enable personnel to adapt and function effectively in any culture to achieve mission success. Includes culture-general capabilities that promote effective development and use of regional expertise. 

It has also been established that a competency model can provide a means to inform cultural sustainment and enhancement education and training programs.  Based on current research, the baseline competencies have been determined to be:

A. Diplomatic Mindset

  The individual has to:

(1)  Be aware of their world perspective and mission relevance in a cultural context.

(2)  Recognize that the purpose of building intercultural relationships is to achieve  mission objectives.

(3)  Manage one’s own attitudes towards the culture to accomplish mission-relevant tasks.

(4)  Understand how he/she is viewed by members of other cultures.

B.  Cultural Learning

  The individual has to:

(1)  Learn cultural concepts and knowledge to prepare for cultural interactions.

(2)  Learn and update one’s knowledge from ongoing experiences.

(3)  Develop reliable sources of cultural information.

(4)  Seek out experiences and relationships to advance the understanding of other cultures.

C.  Cultural Reasoning

  The individual has to:

(1)  Possess the ability to make sense of situations or environments and manage unexpected cultural behavior.

(2)  Use existing knowledge to develop nuanced explanations of events.

(3)  Apply perspective-taking skills to detect, analyze, and consider the point-of-view of people who are raised in a different culture.

(4)  Demonstrate an understanding of others’ needs and expectations.

D.  Intercultural Interaction

 The individual has to:

(1)  Engage with others even when the cultural interaction and experience is rudimentary and culturally appropriate actions, interactions, and outcomes are uncertain or unknown.

(2)  Consider the desired effects to achieve with communication skills only in advance.

(3)  Use alternative strategies for achieving communication objectives.

(4)  Present themselves in a way to achieve the intended effects and outcomes.

(5)  Anticipate how others of another culture will interpret and react to the individual’s actions, mannerisms and attempts to communicate.

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