Dec 11, 2023

Bridging the Gap: Navigating Generational Culture in Family Dynamics


The world our children are growing up in is vastly different from the one we grew up in. These shifts in culture, social, and environmental forces can create a generational gap between parents and their children unless we are intentional to bridge it.

Why do we need intercultural agility within a family?

In the world of psychology, there are universal psychometric assessments that can be taken to reveal a person’s unique personality or shed light on motivations for certain behaviors. In the cultural world, however, people have historically been placed into broad categories like nationality, language, or ethnic group. However, we have recognized the need for a deeper approach to culture. In the same way that personalities differ from person to person, each person has their own unique cultural identity. After living and working internationally for so long, we have realized that each person has their own unique cultural wiring and developed cultural assessment tools that help people gain insight into their cultural drivers.

This is also true in families. Just as children do not always share the same personality traits as their parents, they can also have differing cultural preferences and drivers, which can lead to conflict. Eventually, these differences can become so stark they create a rift in a family, this is especially true in high-net-worth families whose children are growing up in a very different environment from their parents.

High-net-worth families often have more exposure to cultures different from their own. Typically, such families travel more than others, they have investments in multiple countries, and they become involved in cross-cultural business and personal relationships. There is more global thinking required, and as a result, the family goes on a rather unique cultural journey. In addition to these factors that affect the family as a whole, high-net-worth families may see a further rift form as culture changes from one generation to another.

What do generational cultural differences look like?

It happens in many families (if not all of them) to some extent. As children grow up in different environments from their parents with different social forces at play in their world it results in, not only changed habits, but also changed beliefs and preferences.

One common way this shows up in families is in the matter of ascribed status. Status and honor within the family are ascribed to the elder generations. The next generation, who has may happily give honor as they feel it is due. The third and fourth generations, however, typically move away from those with the positional power, perhaps, because of their desire to create an identity of their own. The younger generation may want to achieve their status, instead of living in their parents’ and grandparents’ shadow, or ascribed status. They may feel accountable only to themselves, while their elders feel the weight of accountability to the family and, perhaps, the community. The younger members of the family may want to be more self-directed, and able to make their own decisions, while older members of the family feel that they should consult the whole family with every choice they make.

Beginning to understand that these differences are not merely differences of opinion or personality clashes, but indeed cultural differences, is the first step in better managing conflict and division within the family.

Recognition of the beauty and pitfalls of different worldviews

In our work in seeking to improve our understanding of culture and its drivers, we created a tool called the Three Colors of Worldview, which describes three broad cultural worldviews that shape the way people engage the world. The Innocence/Guilt worldview often looks like trying to make decisions in life that allow you to do the right thing and avoid doing the wrong thing. In this worldview, you are driven by the pursuit of innocence and will avoid guilt. In contrast, those who seek the good of the family or the community, who desire to remain accountable to the community would be driven by the desire for Honor and avoid Shame. Conflict can arise within the family if the desire for innocence or doing the right thing for themselves in one generation is viewed as bringing dishonor or shame on the family by another. In addition to the drivers of innocence and honor, some may pursue power and avoid fear as their main cultural driver. When an elder in the family desires to strengthen the family name to hold power over a certain area or sector of industry, the younger generation’s desire to do the right thing for themselves may drive a wedge between generations.

How to engage family across worldviews

The key to maintaining strong family bonds is to learn to manage these differences in worldview. Where differences exist in accountability, methods of communication, and the need for status, it is vital to remember that there is beauty in all aspects. There isn’t one correct worldview and another that is incorrect. It is not for the older generation to convince the younger to agree, or vice versa. Drawing comparisons between days gone by and the present is also unhelpful. Instead, by understanding these differences families are empowered to manage them well, exploring their cultural differences, instead of seeing them as problems to be solved. So, when you catch yourself thinking, “Why can’t these youngsters think like me?” or “Why do grandma and grandpa never listen to what I say?” Remember that there are benefits and pitfalls to both points of view. Becoming more interculturally agile will help you to embrace the beauty of your world and worldviews different from yours and avoid their pitfalls.

What is the way forward?

There is a way for the different cultures within your family to, not only co-exist but also thrive if you have the intercultural agility to create space for them. It is possible to make decisions together. The basis of change and reconciliation where relationships have broken down is recognizing that each member of your family is not only a unique psychological being but also carries a unique cultural identity. Then, using culture-o-metric tools such as The Three Colors of Worldview and 12 Dimensions of Culture will give you insight into the individual culture of each family member. This insight will allow you to better manage these differences, and ultimately strengthen the relationships that will secure your family’s wealth and prestige.

Understanding my own Colors of Worldview?

This article is part of a series that KnowledgeWorkx has published to explore all three of the Colors of Worldview in-depth, Power-Fear, Innocence-Guilt, Honor-Shame. If you would like to learn about your own color(s), check out this opportunity to discover your own Three Colors of Worldview profile, and get a personalized report:

Download the Free Three Colors Sample Report

Check out more articles on our KnowledgeWorkx Resource  page.

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