Cultural values

Page last updated: 29 January 2024
Organisations we regulate

Cultural values are a culture's core beliefs about what's good or right.

We all have cultural values. These are sometimes called 'cultural value preferences'. They’re informed by the cultures we most associate ourselves with. These values are neither positive nor negative - they're just differences.

Cultural values can influence the way we treat others and want others to treat us.

There can be differences between and within groups

While different groups can have different cultural values, there may be differences within groups as well. So it's important not to make assumptions or stereotype others.

They're not just based on people's ethnic backgrounds. Other social contexts influence them too - for example profession, age, gender or faith.

We do not always see them

We're not always aware of cultural values. This means they can give rise to bias or discrimination. Or if we understand them well, they can influence us to be more inclusive.

It's often difficult to see our own cultural values because we take them for granted. But the assumptions we base on them can affect other people.

Being sensitive to them can make a difference to people's care

Being aware of your own cultural values and other people's can affect:

  • relationships between people using the service and the staff
  • whether people take part in activities
  • how likely they are to speak up if they're unhappy about something

Try to be aware of your own cultural values and how they might sometimes be different from other people's. It can help you understand people better.

To make a bridge between your cultural values and other people's:

  • be curious about how people are feeling
  • ask people questions
  • listen without judgement
  • check your own thoughts - try to be aware of assumptions and judgements that could come from bias or stereotypes

Examples of cultural values and how they might affect people

Being or doing?

Some cultures value being. This might mean you're happy watching the world go by, talking to people or listening to music.

People from a different culture might see this as laziness or unwillingness to get involved in activities.

If people using your service value being, try to support them in what they want to do. Try not to push them to get involved if they do not want to.

Other cultures place more value on doing, where people like to be on the move all the time.

Someone whose culture values doing might get bored watching TV or sitting still for long periods. They might be much happier getting involved in activities. Try introducing them to new activities and new opportunities to engage.

Cooperative or competitive?

Cooperative cultures value collaboration, nurturing and family. There is less emphasis on competition, assertiveness and achievement.

People who are not from a cooperative culture might see this as weak or avoiding confrontation.

Someone from a culture that values cooperation might be less likely to speak up if their own needs are not being met when they notice the staff are busy.

People who come from a competitive culture are more likely to speak up if they feel they're being left out.

They might also be unhappy if they do not have enough to do. People from a competitive culture often value recognition for performance or achievements.

Non-expressive (neutral) or expressive?

In non-expressive cultures, people are more likely to communicate without showing emotion.

They may hide their feelings. Other people might see this as cold and aloof.

People from a non-expressive culture might be uncomfortable with big expressions of emotion. So it might be important to manage your own emotions and body language.

There are also cultures where people express feelings in a more visible way.

Less expressive people might see this as over the top, aggressive or threatening.

People who are more expressive respond well to the emotional tone of the way you communicate - for example warmth. But they might not respond well to a communication style they see as cold and clinical.

It can be important to check the way you respond to more expressive people. A raised voice, facial expression or hand gesture might not be meant in a threatening or intimidating way.

Imagine you're from an expressive culture and you're caring for someone from a non-expressive culture. You might assume they're happy with their care because they have not told you they're not. You may have to think about different ways you can get effective feedback from them.

Accept decisions from people in charge? Or question authority?

Some cultures place an emphasis on status. In these cultures, people may expect the people at the top to hold all the power and make all the decisions.

They're less likely to challenge those in charge. This might mean they're less likely to complain.

People not from these cultures might see this as passive or lacking initiative.

People from cultures where status is important may be more formal in the way they talk to you.

You might need to encourage them to tell you what they think. You may also need to reassure them that what they say makes a difference.

Other cultures place more emphasis on equality and making decisions together.

This might mean they want to be more involved in decisions about their care. They're also more likely to give you feedback about your service.

They're likely to be more comfortable with a more informal communication style.

Other people might sometimes see them as disrespectful or challenging.

This emphasis on status can vary between countries. But it might also come from personal background – for example, among people who have been in the army.

Avoid uncertainty? Or comfortable with uncertainty?

People in some cultures are more comfortable with uncertainty than others.

For example, in some cultures people are happier to try new things and take risks. They value flexibility and adapting to things.

Other people might see them as unprepared or disorganised.

But some cultures are more inclined to avoid uncertainty.

This might make people less comfortable with change - for example, changes to staffing, routines or new activities.

Others might see people from these cultures as uptight and inflexible.

If you're caring for people that prefer to avoid uncertainty, give them as much information as you can about any plans that have an impact on them. Try to avoid sudden, unexpected changes to routine.

Imagine you're making some changes to your service. For example, you want to change the activities you run. Let's say you come from a culture that's more comfortable with uncertainty. You might assume everyone will be happy you're improving your activities. But someone from a culture more inclined to avoid uncertainty might be anxious about the change in routine. So they might need some reassurance.