Topic of the Week An Education - Navigating Cultural Differences
• DON'T stay isolated.
• DO learn about your own culture.
• DO viva la difference.
• DO change your behavior.
The workplace has become so multicultural and multigenerational that we all have to learn how to work with people who act and think differently than we do. Which reminds me of a 19-year old Knoxville man who literally walked in someone else's shoes. Unfortunately he wasn't doing it to relate to their life, he was trying to escape a crime scene. His own. The criminal was picked up by police for driving a stolen car and managed to escape into a public housing complex. He broke into a woman's apartment, and was picked up hours later trying to escape the scene disguised as a woman.
If all of us could only spend more time walking in someone else's shoes, leaving out the whole crime scene part, the workplace would be a much saner place. I've listed three Do's and one Don't for increasing your cultural awareness to make you more effective at work. For more, check out Thomas and Inkson's book "Cultural Intelligence" (Berrett Koehler, 2009).
DON'T stay isolated. I live just up the road from the Seattle Center, the old location of the 1962 World's Fair. Almost every week there is a different cultural festival: Irish, Mexican, French, Iranian, etc. I make it a point to visit every one with Frankie, my youngest. I tell her we go for her entertainment, but to be honest, I learn something every time people from another culture surround me. What can you do to increase the amount of time that you're surrounded by people who don't act, think or feel anything like you do?
DO learn about your own culture. When we think of dealing with other cultures, the onus is almost always on what we can learn from them and there's nothing wrong with that. But don't stop there. You also can learn a lot from your own cultural biases and inconsistencies and how they're unconsciously reflected in your own perception and behavior. Yes, in addition to going through the looking glass to explore other cultures, you also need to take a long look in the mirror.
DO viva la difference. Sure, you might have figured out the best way to do many things at work. But I'm willing to bet that there are some even better ways to do things out there. The journey to dramatically improved performance starts by being open to new ideas. Instead of holding on tightly to your current standard operating procedures, open up to new ways to do things. You won't be disappointed.
DO change your behavior. New is not better in and of itself. I'm not one for change for change's sake. But I do believe that we need to be constantly updating our approach to people, to problems and to finding new and innovative solutions. So don't go on a cultural journey as a passive observer, keep your eyes open for opportunities to add to your repertoire.
Follow these tips and you'll never have to dress up to understand how another person sees the world you'll already know it.
About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. Check the revised edition of his Wall Street Journal best seller, "The Boss's Survival Guide." If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected].
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"If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is a part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us."
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