As an anthropologist, I learned to define culture as a set of beliefs and behaviours a group of people share. With time passing and a couple of experiences richer, I have fine-tuned my definition of culture.

Culture is, indeed, about beliefs and behaviours but it goes deeper. Culture is about the values we choose to live up to and how the lessons learned impact us.

Values influence how we experience things.

Our values support our beliefs, and our experiences will shape our daily choices.

Values define families, organizations, schools, sports teams, work and any group in general. It is important to name one’s values and see and accept other people’s values to create an understanding, an acceptance and a way to work together.

When looking at culture in organisations what is being said, most of the time,  is: Culture is about “How we do things here”.

When we know and understand our values, we can make conscious choices for every aspect of our life, whether it is work, social, personal, etc. Only when we stand still, listen and see the person in front of us can we allow (invite) different people to meet in a safe and trusting space. Only then can we share “how we do things here” and listen how things are done on the other side and if necessary find common ground.

Same but also different; it’s all in the eye of the beholder

Every value, for instance respect, has different meanings, depending on the person’s beliefs, education, experiences, goals and ethics.

Recently in a group activity the team leader, without asking the group, decided to wait till the last participant arrived as she was running late. Mind you, this activity is planned once a week every month and she is one of the participants joining the group for a long time.

For me, it was the first time, and I was quite bothered not only by the waiting but by the attitude of some of the other participants finding excuses for her to be late and be okay with it.

“Jane is always a bit late as she has to care for her sick husband”.

I was upset, I wanted to start, I felt disrespected and not seen and I had made sure I was on time (in fact too early). Later on I heard others expressing similar feelings.

While I was telling myself to take a break, for others it was the most normal thing to do: wait for someone who is late, even if this is a pattern.

In my case respect is about seeing others, respecting agreements; not taking things for granted and at the same time be seen. I saw Jane as disorganised and inconsiderate. For others respect is about waiting, for a friend they perceive is having a hard time, independently of other people. Same situation, same place, same value but different meanings and ways to express it!

Tips to help you create more empathy when relating to others:

  1. Remember we see things from our standing place
  2. Every story can be told in many different ways
  3. If you are not sure what people are saying, just ask for an explanation
  4. Ask yourself, I am living my values right now?
  5. Remember you teach people how you want to be treated…



Day in, day out we are confronted with similar situations where it is about the same value, but with different points of view.  Learning to see values for what they are a 360 degree sphere, with many angles, defined by beliefs, experiences, traditions, education, definition helps creating different emotions, explanations, acceptance, compromises even we can create neutrality.