Picture this: You and your best friend, both US born and raised, are off on a trip. You choose to travel to Tokyo, for a completely different experience. After the saving and hours of traveling, you arrive and head out for your first meal. You are so excited to try all these new dishes and experience the culture, but your friend says, “I need a burger, why don’t they have those on the menu? American food is way better than this stuff!”
This may seem like a harmless example, but it illustrates a point: We generally see the world through our own perspective and expect everyone else to have that same view. This aspect of human nature is called ethnocentrism (also known as egocentrism)
Ethnocentrism: When someone holds their own world view or beliefs above, superior to, those of other groups or cultures.
(Tolbert, A. S., 67)
This homogeneous way of understanding and moving through the world can get us into trouble, both personally and professionally. Let’s think of the workplace: how do we collaborate with others or expand our perspective, when we view the world only through our point of view?
Our own biases and prejudices affect how we process information; it’s just human nature. But ethnocentrism is a caused condition. How? The answer screams “MEEEE!” Ethnocentrism rears its ugly head when we are:
(Tolbert A. S., 68)
So how do we mitigate ethnocentrism?
Remember our example. Perhaps your friend was exhausted from the long plane ride, so they naturally returned to what they know. They may have been embarrassed or felt exposed because of their unfamiliarity with the language.
Our ethnocentric sides most often show themselves in moments of stress or when we feel emotionally unsafe.
Instead of immersing yourself immediately into unfamiliar culture, start small: Head out to a market near you to try cuisines from different parts of the world. Browse a magazine or read a picture book about the cultures different from your own. Make a food typical of the place you plan to visit. These actions generate excitement and expand your horizon – and palette… planting the roots of geocentrism, so it – and you – can grow.
Geocentrism: The ability to find a variety of choices when seeing the world and situations.
(Tolbert, A. S.)
If ethnocentrism is what inhibits an innovative, diverse workplace, geocentrism is the solution. As Penn State explains, a geocentric leader works to “produce a collaborative and cooperative effort on the parts of both headquarters and all subsidiaries to establish worldwide standards, and permissible local standards variations,” (psu.edu)
In other words, when it comes to business, a geocentric approach embraces both global adaptation and the specific cultures of each locale. A geocentric approach asks us to update our perspective to fit the globalized world we now live in, instead of thinking, “My way is right because it’s my culture and it’s what I know.”
How do we move toward geocentrism?
- Be aware: Think back to when you were just learning and, thus, where might you have gotten your ethnocentric behaviors
- Learn, learn, learn: Be willing to open up and learn about other people and cultures different from your own
- Sort old and new information: Decide what views, either from your early learnings or recent ones, you want to keep and which are out-of-date or no longer fit
- Take risks: Put yourself in new, difference and uncomfortable situations. This will narrow your ethnocentric boundaries and broaden your geocentric view. Get involved and put all the theory to practice!
(Tolbert A. S., 71)
At the end of the day, to achieve a geocentric mindset one has to identify and discard old habits in order to open up to the possibilities that lie outside of one’s comfort zone. By opening up, you invite innovation, collaboration and a myriad of opportunities for both your interpersonal relationships and workplace environment.
ECCO International improves employee and organizational effectiveness by developing multicultural competence for clients in national and global markets. We improve the workplace environment on a long-term basis, which enhances the productivity of your organization. When workplace environment improves, productivity increases, thereby increasing profits!
pkh5062, et al. “pkh5062.” SiOWfa16 Science in Our World Certainty and Controversy, 27 Sept. 2015, sites.psu.edu/global/2015/09/27/geocentrism-the-global-mindset/.
Tolbert, A. S. Reversing the Ostrich Approach to Diversity: Pulling Your Head out of the Sand: Five Simple Concepts You Can Use Now to Reap Bottom-Line Results by Honoring Diversity. Nasus Pub., 2002.