A global leader can reduce ethnocentrism in an organization by modeling open-minded behaviors and embracing new cultures with open arms. It’s that simple. To preface, ethnocentrism is “an exaggerated tendency to think the characteristics of one’s own group or race is superior to those of other groups or races” (Drever, 1952, as cited by Penn State, 2017a). Every day we see people who bash on other cultures or other peoples’ beliefs for whatever reason: maybe it doesn’t align with their own, or maybe it makes them feel like the values they’ve grown up with are incorrect. People fear differences, so ethnocentrism is a very serious and real concept. But people also learn from watching each other. So how do we help other people not only express openness towards different cultures, but also express openness to the possibility that differences can be positive? How do we share these ideas without people feeling like we’re saying “I’m right, you’re wrong”? We do this by understanding how culture works, by understanding how social learning theory works, and by implementing Schein’s Model of Planned Change.
Comprehending the concept and design of culture is an important prerequisite to understanding how to be open to others. Hofstede (2001) defined culture as a mental program: “it is a system of ideas, values, and behaviors that reflect the social systems we belong to (Penn State, 2017a). Thus, cultural values serve as a shared frame of reference for a group, and those values determine behavior (Rokeach, 1973, as cited by Penn State, 2017a). Ethnocentrism occurs when unconscious values drive behaviors, so the root of the problem results from values. But remember: culture is a mental program. Literally speaking, programs can be altered to produce different results. So when you see someone whose mental program operates a bit differently from your own, keep in mind that you are capable of changing those programs. With the right skills, you can change peoples’ behavior, and you can acquire those skills through social learning theory.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “monkey see, monkey do” at some point in your lifetime. The premise of the saying refers to the learning of a process without an understanding of why it works. It’s essentially mimicry, and it’s becoming outdated, because peoples’ actions are more complicated than that. Younger siblings don’t always just copy their older siblings; they’ll replicate a behavior and modify it based on their own desires and experiences. This is social learning, and according to Bandura (1986), it occurs through a four-step process: attention, retention, motivation, and reproduction (Penn State, 2017b). First, one will focus their attention on a person and the behavior that is being learned. Then, they will store that behavior in their brain, and recall it when they want to produce the behavior. They will be motivated by the environment and respected models in their lives, and reproduce accordingly (Penn State, 2017b). So it makes sense that if culture is developed from values and behaviors that respected organizational leaders can change the mental programming of their subordinates through social learning. That’s a rationale for why it can work, but how can it work? Schein’s 1980 Model of Planned Change has served for decades as a means of effective change implementation.
Schein’s model is essentially a re-cap of Lewin’s 1952 model that occurs through three stages: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing (Penn State, 2017b). In a nutshell, the process involves showing organizational members that their current behaviors/attitudes are incorrect in a way that motivates them to change their behavior, helping them identify with a respected model to learn the new behaviors from, and then refreezing those behaviors into the organizational standards (Penn State, 2017b). Simply telling people they’re wrong and you’re right won’t lead to change, and scaring people will lead to turnover, so this model can be a good middle ground to motivate people to implement new ideas. To apply this concept to ethnocentrism, we, as global leaders, can teach the strongest members of our organizations to serve as role models to those exhibiting the behaviors we want to change. We can create a culture—our own mental program—where openness is prominent and diversity is positive. We can teach our rigid members why ethnocentrism is harmful to the organization, and to themselves, and we can create a psychologically safe environment for practicing new behaviors, and unlearning dangerous values. With these concepts in place, organizational members will feel safe to test the new behaviors, because as the old saying goes, monkey see, monkey do.
Monkey See, Monkey Do [Cartoon]. (2016). Retrieved May 3, 2017, from http://www.monkeysread.com/
Penn State World Campus. (2017a). Lesson 2: Introduction to Culture. Retrieved May 3, 2017, from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1826457/modules/items/21654081
Penn State World Campus. (2017b). Lesson 05: Learning and Change in a Global Setting. Retrieved May 3, 2017, from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1826457/modules/items/21654113