When people from diverse cultural backgrounds interact within an organization, the chances of saying or doing something that can offend another person increases significantly. In fact, I never ceased to be amazed at some of the crazy things we say to one another in the workplace! Fortunately, there are several steps we can take to minimize this possibility. I refer to these steps as the Do’s and Don’ts of Multicultural Communication. Here are the first 3 DON’TS:
1. DON’T talk to anyone in a patronizing fashion. In other words, never “talk down” to another human being. One of the quickest ways to break down communication is to treat another person in a condescending manner. Therefore, you should consciously focus on treating everyone as an equal. Bear in mind that this is often easier said than done since we tend to categorize people and treat them based on the category they represent. For example, we often treat managers and their secretaries differently. Likewise, in educational settings, I have observed that administrators, teachers and students are treated differently depending on their status. This often happens unconsciously so pay close attention to how you interact with others.
2. DON’T make assumptions about people, especially those who are culturally different. Stereotyping (making generalizations about the members of a particular group) is very common, and poses a significant barrier to effective cross-cultural communication. For that reason, it is important to be aware of the assumptions you make as you interact with culturally different people, and to make a conscious effort to minimize those assumptions (see my previous post “Removing the Barriers to Effective Multicultural Communication: Part 1” for additional tips).
3. DON’T assume a culturally different person is an expert about his or her cultural group. A common mistake that I have observed in diverse work settings is asking a culturally different person (especially if that person is a ‘minority’) to speak as a representative of his or her cultural group. This poses two problems. First, it puts the person ‘on-the-spot’, which may create a significant level of discomfort. Second, it inaccurately assumes that one individual can speak for an entire group of people. Always remember, no one is a spokesperson for his or her cultural group.
NEXT POST – September 16, 2008
How to Avoid Offending Others: Part 2