A Uniting Culture for the New Multicultural WorkplaceBy: Susan Dunn
Never has it been more important in your organization to have a common language, and never has it been more elusive.
Today’s office typically contains individuals from many different cultures, not just within the US, but from all over the world. People with different customs, beliefs, ways of thinking and different first-languages come together to work together, and the result can be confusion and misunderstanding.
“We need a common language,” a manager from a state education agency told me the other day on the phone. She was inquiring about an Emotional Intelligence program, correctly thinking it might be the “new common language” for their agency. The old one, she said, something about “Steps” had worn itself out.
It is not easy understanding people from different cultures. It’s not easy understand even on person! In the case of different cultures, we bring with us assumptions, stereotypes and generalizations which can get in the way of commonality.
Most of the time the technical vocabulary is understood, but other parts of communication are missed. Up to 90% of any communication is nonverbal, and gestures, postures, and expressions vary widely from one culture to another, as does intonation and phrasing.
It’s easy to misunderstand another cultures expression of respect or warmth. When you meet someone new, the other person may be expecting a slight nod of the head, a quick handshake, a bow or a hug with a kiss on both cheeks. How are you to know?
I was working with a manager the other day who had a problem within the ranks. One of the employees was harassing some women, not all of them, or so the women were reporting, and it wasn’t clear what was going on. When the manager called the employee in and got to the root of the problem, it turned out he assumed that women in marketing would not “mind,” while the women in the other fields would. Where he got that idea wasn’t clear, but people have their ideas.
We could substitute –
In “Beyond Race and Gender,” author R. Roosevelt Thomas defines managing diversity as “a comprehensive managerial process for developing an environment that works for all employees.”
And “all” employees are individuals, so there you have it.
There remains the need for a common language, and given the extreme diversity these days, Emotional Intelligence is an excellent tool. I have trained coaches from all over the world in EQ, and the concepts are understood by all. In fact there’s interest in EQ all over the world.
Emotional Intelligence competencies include flexibility, intuition (good for reading nonverbal communication), resilience, interpersonal skills, communication and empathy. They are based on understanding one’s own emotions and those of others, and managing your own and those of others for the best outcome. People from all cultures have the same emotions and want to be treated with respect. Emotional Intelligence can bring the common language and culture that is missing.
© copyright, Susan Dunn, 2004
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