21st Sep 2020
3 Min Read

Internal communications – Home for the Workplace Cultural Anthropologist

Dr Alex Gapud
Dr Alex Gapud
Culture & Change

We internal communicators might use a bit of jargon every now and again. But while we love the sound of culture, engagement and change, even we might hear the words cultural anthropology and question its relevance in the world of IC. So, can anthropology help us captivate colleagues and transform our worlds of work?

As a cultural anthropologist now immersed in the world of IC, please, don’t let the term scare you off. Even the most astute communicators could benefit from some cultural anthropology in their comms mix.

Let’s look at where these two disciplines overlap and see what insights we can apply to make our communications shine.

What is cultural anthropology?

Good question! It’s the study of groups, including their behaviour, rituals and lore: everything from witchcraft in Sudan to England’s colonial past.

If you’re a communicator keen on organisational culture, you might already spot a similarity between this field of study and your own line of work. Anthropology looks at how people deal with experiences – both past and present – to better understand how to get to where we want to go. By knowing what makes us who we are, we learn our pitfalls and potential. The same goes for any organisation’s culture.

This can give you a greater understanding of your people and what drives them. So how else can you use cultural anthropology to your advantage?

We strive for cultural understanding

As an expert communicator, you’ve observed the behaviours, language and social interactions that define your organisation’s culture. In that case, your role likely overlaps with that of an anthropologist.

We understand culture by building up a picture of it through patterns, interactions and messages. Applying that approach to develop a picture of your own organisation can help you better understand its nuances.

Once you wield that information, you can craft bespoke messages that don’t just communicate information to colleagues – they’ll resonate with them and drive change.

We’re empaths at heart

Being able to see things from someone else’s perspective is invaluable for comms specialists. How can you make content your audience will love if you can’t at least empathise with them?

Similarly, an anthropologist needs empathy to understand the experiences of others – especially when jumping into a seemingly exotic culture.

IC pros might not be diving into the unknown with their own organisational culture, but this is a valuable tool, nonetheless. Empathy will help you present the content people want to see through the right channel, or keep an open mind when encountering new ways of working.

We love a good story

Our empathy means we don’t just tell stories – we listen to, elevate and amplify the tales of those around us. We’re mediators between the story of the individual and the collective experience of an entire culture.

Notice another similarity? As a comms wizard, you need to walk the line between individual storytelling and the needs of an entire organisation. At scarlettabbott, we’re no strangers to this.

We’ve worked with a global professional services firm to co-create, gather and share the lived experiences of their people. The ongoing result? A culture with inclusivity, diversity and belonging at its core.

We’ve encountered some tricky, hard-to-hear stories along the way. But giving people a platform to share their narrative helps us create an inclusive culture. In that sense, we both listen, mediate and craft stories while looking for those cultural trends, barriers and opportunities for change.

We look at the bigger picture

So we’ve seen, we can dissect a culture and tell a captivating story with empathy to incite change.

As an IC aficionado, that might sound great. But what about the longevity and reach of your work? What’s the point of a new strategy if it resonates with your management teams but not with those on the frontline?

We need to start with a fundamentally sound understanding of a culture or an organisation. That’s balancing a fine line between sweating the small stuff and looking at how that fits into the bigger picture.

It’s easy to get lost in the details of any particular division, region, team, or function within an organisation. But as collectors of stories and connectors of people across an organisation, we also recognise that same tension between the part and the whole.

Sound familiar?

Anthropology could be the key to understanding your organisation’s culture and reinvigorating your people.

Let’s make cultural anthropology, social science and academia do the hard work for you. Get in touch, and let’s chat about your world of work.

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