5 strategies for working with people from other cultures

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Examples of workplace situations involving cultural differences:

Nel came from Southeast Asia
Nel can speak English but the English in her country is different from the way it is spoken in Manitoba. Nel’s supervisor speaks fast and uses many idioms that are not familiar to her. But she does not tell her boss that she doesn’t understand. In her country, people don’t ask questions at work.

Elvira works with Louise
Elvira and Louise work in the same department. Elvira is outgoing and likes telling jokes. Co-workers talk about personal matters all the time in her culture. One time, Elvira made a joke about Louise’s body. She thought it was funny but Louise got mad. She did not speak to Elvira for days. Elvira apologized but their working relationship was never the same again.

John gets a lady boss
John came from a culture where women were never in leadership roles. In his religion, a man is not allowed to touch a woman who is not part of the family. He got a job in Canada where his supervisor was a woman from a different race. She introduced herself and reached out to shake John’s hand on their first meeting. John did not know what to do so he walked away. He kept avoiding her. The supervisor thought that he was discriminating against her because she is a woman.

Peter the supervisor
Peter is a newcomer from Europe. He was hired to supervise five people in a team. The team complained to management at the end of his first week. They said that he was mean. Peter was surprised. He was a top manager in his home country. A boss is expected to be direct with his subordinates in his culture.

Habib the micro-manager
Habib’s team complained that he micro-managed.They said that he watched them do every action. He checked to see if they are doing their job correctly and told them each step they should take. This was how Habib managed when he was in his home country. He expected each member to ask before doing anything that is not within their duties.

Are you familiar with any of these situations? Manitoba is so multicultural that we should be ready to experience these kinds of situations. It is best to remember these five strategies to avoid conflict when working in a multicultural workplace:


Five strategies for working in a multicultural workplace:

  1. Respect differences

    This means treating every person as an equal. It also means being open to our differences. If you are in a conflict situation:

    • Understand before you judge.
    • Pause before you act. Ask and listen.
    • Empathize. Some of your co-workers are also new to the country. They are learning and adjusting to new things. See the situation through their eyes.
    • You don’t have to agree about everything. But you have to respect people.
    • Communicate by using respectful, common language.
    • Watch your language, gesture, touch and space.
    • Say sorry when you have said or done something to offend a co-worker. Conflicts are avoided by being humble. Be honest.
  2. Adapt your communication style

    Observe how people communicate at work. Check the tone and volume of their voice. See how they behave in conversations. Always be clear when you talk. Go straight to the point but be always tactful.

  3. Communication tips:

    • Maintain good eye contact when speaking to others. It shows that you are respectful and trustworthy.
    • Use respectful language. Say, “please”, “thank you”, “could/would you …”
    • Be tactful when objecting to or commenting on something.
    • Don’t talk about politics, religion, and money. Keep private matters private.
    • Speak up when you have concerns about work. Suggest ways to improve your work or workplace.
    • Ask if you don’t understand something.
    • Know your limits. Don’t overshare details about your life. Don’t ask personal things when talking with co-workers.
  4. Understand power

    In Canada, the supervisor works together with the team. They guide, mentor, support, and resolve conflict within the team. Don’t expect supervisors to watch your every move. They should not tell you what to do all the time. You should work independently and take initiative to make your work better.

  5. Use Canadian time

    Arrive at your workplace ahead of time and work on the dot. Adjust your work pace to your co-workers’. Don’t waste your co-workers’ time by chatting. Don’t ask them to do tasks you should be doing yourself.

  6. Build credibility the Canadian way

    Education, awards, job titles, and political or social class make a person credible in other countries. In Canada, education and experience are important for getting a job but how well you do your job and work with others build your credibility.

  7. How to build credibility:

    • Do your job really well.
    • Do your job better than what other people expect.
    • Talk and act kindly to people even when they don’t.
    • Show that you are a learner.
    • Be flexible and open to change.
    • Have good English communication skills.
    • Speak clearly and respectfully.
    • Show positive attitude in the face of difficulties.

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