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

  1. She can speak English. But the English in her country is different from the English in Manitoba.
  2. Nel’s supervisor speaks fast. He uses many idioms that she does not know.
  3. Nel does not understand her supervisor.
  4. Nel does not tell her boss that she doesn’t understand.
  5. People don’t ask questions at work in her country.

Elvira works with Louise

  1. They work in the same department.
  2. Elvira is outgoing. She likes telling jokes. Co-workers talk about personal matters all the time in her culture.
  3. Elvira made a joke about Louise’s body. She thought it was funny.
  4. Louise got mad. She did not speak to Elvira for days.
  5. Elvira apologized. But their working relationship was never the same again.

John gets a lady boss

  1. John came from a culture where women were never in leadership roles.
  2. A man is not allowed to touch a woman who is not family in his religion.
  3. John got a job where his supervisor was a woman from a different race.
  4. She introduced herself. She reached out to shake John’s hand.
  5. John did not know what to do. He walked away. He kept avoiding her.
  6. The supervisor thought that John was discriminating against her because she is a woman.

Peter the supervisor

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

Habib the micro-manager

  1. Habib’s team complained that he micro-managed.
  2. They said that he watched them do every action. He checked to see if they are doing their job correctly. Habib told them each step they should take.
  3. Habib told each staff their duties in his home country.
  4. He expects each member to ask before doing anything that is not within their duties.

Have you seen any of these situations?

Five strategies for working in a multicultural workplace:

Respect differences

  1. Treat every person as an equal. It also means understanding that we are different.
  2. 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 also learning and adjusting to new things. See things 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.

Adapt your communication style

  1. Watch how people communicate at work.
  2. Check the tone and volume of their voice. See how they move.
  3. Be clear and brief when you talk.
  4. Communication tips:
    • Keep 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.

Understand power

  1. The supervisor works together with his team.
  2. They guide, mentor, support, and resolve conflict within the team.
  3. Supervisors should not watch your every move. They should not tell you what to do all the time.
  4. Employees should work independently. Take initiative to make their work better.

Use Canadian time

  1. Come to work ahead of time.
  2. Adjust your work pace to your co-workers.
  3. Don’t waste your co-workers’ time by chatting.
  4. Don’t ask them to do tasks you should be doing yourself.

Build credibility the Canadian way

  1. Education, awards, job titles, and political or social class make a person credible in other countries.
  2. Education and experience are important for getting a job in Canada.
  3. But these build your credibility:
    • How well you do your job
    • How well you work with others
  4. 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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