Enhancing Your Diversity Knowledge

February 3, 2009


In my last post, I introduced the second diversity competency, diversity knowledge.  Individuals with a significant level of diversity knowledge possess information about diverse cultures and groups, including information regarding communication and learning styles.  They understand how various issues of diversity affect the workplace, the work environment and interactions between culturally different persons.  There are many steps you can take to enhance your diversity knowledge:

1.  Take a cultural diversity class.  There are many classes, seminars and workshops that provide information on different cultural groups and/or diversity topics.  You can identify an appropriate class through a local college, community organization or your place of work.

2.  Read a diversity-based book, magazine or article.  Likewise, there are many books, journals and periodicals that provide information on a wide variety of diversity issues, topics and cultural groups.

3.  Share information about your cultural heritage with others.  Revealing information about your cultural background and experiences can be a powerful tool for building stronger relationships.  It helps your colleagues better understand who you are as a human being, and encourages them to be more open about themselves.

4.  Participate in the holiday celebration of a culturally different group.  Whatever your cultural background, you undoubtedly have celebrations, holidays and events specific to your group.  For example, African Americans have Kwanzaa, Latinos celebrate Cinco de Mayo and people of Jewish faith celebrate Hanukkah.  Learn more about the culture and traditions of other groups by participating in one of their celebrations.

5.  Visit a cultural museum.  There are many types of museums you can visit that will provide you with an opportunity to meet a diverse array of individuals, and learn more about the background and experiences of different cultural groups.

6.  Visit a culturally different church.  Attend service at a church with a diverse racial or ethnic composition.  You will have an opportunity to interact with a wide range of individuals in a pleasant social setting. 

7.  Write an article on a diversity topic of interest.  Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a prolific author.  Just identify an appropriate publication such as your local paper, a website or a newsletter.  Write a brief article that describes a diversity holiday, a cultural practice or lists upcoming diversity events.  It’s a great way to learn and to help others increase their diversity knowledge.

8.  Develop a list of diversity websites and resources.  By doing a little Internet research, you can identify dozens of organizations, websites and companies dedicated to diversity programs and information.  Compile a list of these resources and share it with your colleagues and co-workers.  Type ‘Diversity Resources’ in any Internet browser to get started.

NEXT POST – February 10, 2009

The 8 Competencies of Diversity #3: Multicultural Communication

The 8 Competencies of Diversity #2: Diversity Knowledge

January 27, 2009


In my last 2 posts, I described the first diversity competency, Self-Awareness, which refers to a deep understanding of who you are as a human being including your strengths, weaknesses, values and biases.  The second competency, Diversity Knowledge, refers to developing a greater understanding of those around you.  Specifically, culturally competent individuals possess knowledge of diverse cultures and groups, including information regarding communication and learning styles.  They understand how various issues of diversity affect the workplace, the work environment and interactions between culturally different persons.  This is of particular importance because many of the cross-cultural communication problems we find in organizational life are due to a simple lack of cultural understanding.  Individuals with a significant level of diversity knowledge:

1.  Are able to describe the specific benefits and positive outcomes of creating culturally inclusive work settings.

2.  Are able to define concepts such as diversity, diversity empowerment, and diversity management.

3.  Understand concepts such as racism, sexism, ethnocentrism and sexual harassment, and the impact of these forces within an organization.

4.  Understand how the various dimensions of diversity (e.g., race, ethnicity, age, gender, religion, nationality and socioeconomic status) affect individuals and their experiences.

5.  Possess knowledge of diverse cultures and groups including information regarding communication styles and workstyle preferences.

6.  Continuously attempt to increase their knowledge of “the ways we may be different” as well as the “ways we are similar”.

In my next post, I will provide you with specific tips for improving your diversity knowledge.

NEXT POST – February 3, 2009

Enhancing Your Diversity Knowledge

Enhancing Your Self-Awareness

January 20, 2009


In my last post, I introduced the first diversity competency, self-awareness.  Self-awareness refers to a deep understanding of yourself as a human being.  Individuals who are self-aware value diversity, respect differences and attempt to learn about the culturally different.  Such individuals are aware of their personal strengths, weaknesses and styles.  They are also aware of personal biases and prejudices, and actively seek to reduce them.  Most importantly, being self-aware enables you to understand how your actions, values, styles and biases impact those around you, and gives you an indication of what you can do to improve your performance in diverse organizational settings.  So how do we improve our self-awareness?  There are several steps you can take:

1.  Clarify your cultural identity, values and attitudes, and how these impact your interactions with others.  You can do this in a class or workshop on topics such as diversity, multicultural communication and conflict resolution.  Such classes often have self-assessment inventories that can help you better understand your style or behavior (e.g., communication style, conflict resolution style).

2.  Formally seek feedback on your performance and develop a plan for addressing problem areas.  This is one of the best ways to enhance your self-awareness.  Just make sure you solicit feedback from someone you trust that has had a chance to observe your behavior.  You can also participate in a 360-degree feedback process, which is becoming more common in today’s workplace.  It will provide you with the opportunity to receive structured feedback from a variety of individuals who have a chance to interact with you on a regular basis.

3.  Identify your biases/stereotypes and create a plan for reducing them.  This is not easy for most of us to do.  No one wants to think of themselves as biased, but the fact is we all have biases and stereotypes.  The first step in reducing their impact is to be honest with yourself about it.  Identify your biases/stereotypes and try to understand where they come from.  You should also try to clarify how they impact your interactions with others (e.g., colleagues, customers, employees).  There is a very helpful tool for identifying hidden bias called an Implicit Association Test.  These tests are designed to help us identify biases that may negatively impact our interactions with others.  You can learn more about Implicit Association Tests and actually take one on line by visiting the Project Implicit website (the assessments are free and completely confidential). 

4.  Pay close attention to your daily actions and ask yourself, “How does my behavior impact the people around me?”  This is probably the easiest step, but it is also one of the most important you can take on an ongoing basis.  Always strive to understand how you are impacting those around you.  And remember, the best way to gain this understanding is to be empathetic and to try to understand others!

NEXT POST – January 27, 2009

The 8 Competencies of Diversity #2 – Diversity Knowledge

The 8 Competencies of Diversity #1 – Self-Awareness

January 13, 2009


Perhaps the greatest knowledge one can possess is knowledge of self.  To truly be in touch with our feelings, thoughts, ideas, beliefs, strengths and weaknesses represents a cognitive, psychological and spiritual state relatively few of us ever attain.  But to perform at our highest level, we must be in close connection with who we are as human beings and how we impact others.  Culturally competent individuals value diversity, respect differences and attempt to learn about the culturally different.  Such individuals are keenly aware of their biases and prejudices, and are committed to reducing them.  Specifically, self-aware individuals:

1.  Are cognizant of their values, beliefs, communication styles and work style preferences, and how these can impact interactions with others.

2.  Are aware of their biases, prejudices and stereotypes and how these impact their interactions with others, especially those who are culturally different.

3.  Value diversity and respect cultural differences as assets in the group, team, organization and community.

4.  Respect and learn from what others have to say, even when it goes against their values, beliefs or ideas.

5.  Truly accept the fact that not everyone has to think, act or look a certain way to be valuable or successful in the organization.

6.  Regularly evaluate their strengths and weaknesses vis-à-vis the diversity competencies and create plans for self-improvement.

In my next post, I will provide you with specific suggestions for improving your self-awareness.

NEXT POST – January 20, 2009

Enhancing Your Self-Awareness

The 8 Competencies of Diversity

January 6, 2009


As a performance consultant, I have had the pleasure of facilitating hundreds of training classes on a variety of diversity and multicultural communication topics.  I have also had the opportunity to participate as a student in numerous diversity education programs.  While these programs are quite interesting and informative, they typically share a common weakness.  The facilitators of these sessions usually have difficulty making the connection between diversity and organizational performance.  This is unfortunate because diversity is a very important consideration when it comes to enhancing performance in today’s organizations.  Just as there are specific skill sets when it comes to performing well as a doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, teacher and truck driver, there are a specific set of competences that allow us to perform well in culturally diverse settings.  Without these skills and abilities, our chance of success greatly diminishes.  Specifically, the core diversity competencies include the following:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Diversity Knowledge
  3. Multicultural Communication
  4. Conflict Management
  5. Empowering Environments
  6. Professional Development
  7. Coaching and Mentoring (for managers)
  8. Recruitment and Selection (for managers)

In the coming weeks, I will describe each of these competencies in detail and I will provide you with specific tips, tools and resources you can use to enhance your performance in each competency area. 

NEXT POST – January 13, 2008

The 8 Competencies of Diversity: Self-Awareness

How to Communicate When Your Values are Different: Part 2

December 24, 2008


In my last post, I described three steps we can take to improve our interaction with people who have values different from our own: (1) focus on ‘business issues’ rather than ‘personal issues’; (2) clarify the value differences and (3) be empathetic and genuinely try to understand the other person.  Here are 2 additional steps that will improve your interactions:

1.  Be accepting of the other person.  Acceptance refers to a willingness to support and validate the other person, to have positive regard, and to remain non-judgmental, even in circumstances where you do not agree.  This is much easier said than done because we all have a tendency to judge others. And we often do so based on how much that person’s values are similar to our own. This is the essence of ethnocentrism.  The problem is, if you approach value differences in this way, you will be unsuccessful in addressing the issues you have with the other person.  It is imperative that you are willing to accept another individual’s right to be different. You don’t have to agree with the person’s way of thinking or doing things. Remember, acceptance does not mean agreement.  It means you accept the individual’s right to his or her own beliefs.

2.  Find some common ground between yourself and the other person.  A final step you can take to improve communication across value differences is to actively seek common ground between yourself and your speaking partner. We have a tendency to focus on our differences when more often than not, we have a great deal in common.  Identify those similarities and use this common ground to enhance and develop your professional relationship.  By connecting with the other person on this level, you will greatly increase your chances of effectively dealing with any value differences you may have.

NEXT POST – January 6, 2009

Have a Wonderful and Safe Holiday Season!!!

How to Communicate When Your Values are Different: Part 1

December 22, 2008


We’ve all had the experience of interacting with someone who has different values or beliefs. These differences can create communication problems, but there are several steps we can take to improve our relationships with people who have values different from our own.  Here are the first three:

1.  Focus on ‘business issues’ rather than ‘personal issues’. In my travels as a consultant, one of the most common causes of workplace conflict pertains to value differences. People have deeply held beliefs about a variety of topics and sometimes, are happy to share those beliefs. Of course, conflict can occur with those who have different belief systems. These conflicts can often be prevented if people focus on work issues and not issues of a more personal nature.  This is easier said than done because we bring who we are to our jobs. However, you can minimize conflict by limiting discussion of personal issues and by focusing your conversations on the business at hand.

2.  Clarify the value differences.  If the value differences you have with a colleague are having an impact on communication, clarify these differences and how they are affecting your interactions. In other words, be clear about how and why the value differences are creating problems. Come to a mutually satisfying agreement on how you will manage these differences by describing what each of you will do to improve the situation.

3.  Be empathetic and genuinely try to understand the other person.  When value differences arise, it is important that you make a sincere effort to understand where the other person is coming from.  Empathy can be described as stepping into another person’s shoes and experiencing the world from his or her perspective.  You don’t have to agree with the other person’s beliefs, but you should try to understand them (and help the person understand your beliefs as well).

NEXT POST – December 24, 2008

How to Communicate When Your Values are Different: Part 2

How to Communicate When English is NOT the Primary Language: Part 2

December 8, 2008


Greetings, in my last post, I described three steps we can take to improve communication with people who have difficulty speaking English: (1) have patience with the person; (2) make sure the noise level is low; and (3) use active listening to check for understanding.  Here are 4 additional actions that will improve your communication effectiveness:

1.  Speak Clearly and Concisely but Not in a Patronizing Manner.  One of the biggest mistakes that people make in cross-cultural communication is to “talk down” to someone because of their difficulty with English.  This can happen unintentionally so be aware of how you are responding, both verbally and non-verbally, to your speaking partner.

2.  Pay Close Attention to Nonverbal Clues.  Because of their difficulty with verbal communication, a person may communicate a significant part of the message by nonverbal means.  This can include the person’s facial expressions, tone of voice, posture and body language.

3.  Try Not to Finish the Person’s Sentences.  Sometimes this is difficult to do because you want the person to “spit it out” and tell you what’s on his or her mind.  However, your speaking partner may have trouble finding the right words. It is more effective to be patient, and let the person finish at his or her pace.

4.  Reduce Your Rate of Speech and Repeat or Rephrase Statements.  If necessary, speak more slowly, and repeat or rephrase statements until your communication partner understands.  Likewise, ask your partner to repeat statements if you don’t understand.

NEXT POST – December 12, 2008 

Working with Persons with Disabilities

How to Communicate When English is NOT the Primary Language: Part 1

December 3, 2008


There are millions of Americans for whom English is not the primary language.  According to the 2000 Census, over 380 languages are spoken in the U.S.  17% of the U.S. population speaks a language other than English in the home.  This can certainly create some communication problems within the workplace, but there are several things you can do to communicate more effectively with a person who has some difficulty speaking English: 

1.  Have Patience with the Person.  Give your speaking partner a chance to get his or her message across.  Keep in mind that the person is speaking a language that is not his or her native tongue so additional time may be necessary.  Also, if you are having trouble understanding the person’s words (e.g., due to an accent), listen closely for several minutes without interrupting.  This can greatly aid your comprehension of the message.  

2.  Make Sure the Noise Level is Low.  Noise is one of the biggest barriers to effective communication and can create many distractions.  Try to find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes so that you can focus on your speaking partner’s message.

3.  Use Active Listening to Check for Understanding.  Active listening may be the most powerful tool there is for effective communication.  It consists of the listener’s attempt to give back (or reflect which is why this is also called reflective listening) what has been stated by the speaker.  This serves two very important purposes.  First, it allows the listener to further clarify what the speaker is saying.  Second, it clearly demonstrates to the speaker that he/she is being heard and understood.  Both you and your speaking partner should “reflect” back to each other what the other has said to confirm comprehension of the message.

 NEXT POST – December 8, 2008

How to Communicate When English is NOT the Primary Language: Part 2

8 Things NEVER to Say to Women Executives

November 21, 2008


In today’s post, I am highlighting an article by Zayda Rivera that describes 8 things you should never say to women executives (or women at any organizational level for that matter).  In addition to pointing out several inappropriate and problematic behaviors when it comes to interacting with women, particularly women in management positions, this article really demonstrates how many of these behaviors and statements are genuinely innocent and are not intended to harm anyone, but can create many problems nonetheless:

1.  Any kind of sexual comment.

2.  “You don’t really want that promotion. You’ll never see your kids.”

3.  “You’ll get the job because you’re a woman” or “You must be the token woman”

4.  “What’s the matter, is it that time of the month?”

5.  “You’re very attractive [or pretty, or beautiful, etc.]”

6.  “You look great for your age” or “Do you use Botox?”

7.  “You do that so well … for a girl.”

8.  “When are you due?”

Another nice feature of this article is that it offer several audio clips to further demonstrate and describe the problematic nature of these statements.  You can review the full article at www.diversityinc.com/thingsnottosay. 

NEXT POST – November 25, 2008