Is your workplace a multicultural one? Today, whether or not we live in the country of our birth, many of us find ourselves in multicultural workplaces. If this is not your situation at present, in this era of globalisation, it could well be sometime in the near future. And it may be that not only is your workplace multicultural, but also your customers are a multicultural mix, e.g. tourists.
If you ‘google’ “multiculturalism”, one of the first results will be from Wikipedia, stating that multiculturalism (or ethnic diversity) is about communities containing multiple cultures. If you then scan through the other search results, it will quickly become apparent that multiculturalism is a rather sensitive subject to many. Quite frankly, there are some strong and diverse opinions about multiculturalism out there!
Historically, many countries are multicultural (e.g. India, Mexico, Singapore, the United States). In recent years, Australia and Canada have become global leaders in multiculturalism. Early in my adult life I lived in Singapore for two years, where my home was in a local community. Amongst the special memories I have of this time are:
- the many friendships that were formed,
- the wonderful arrays of foods that I could try,
- the diverse types of music that I heard in the community,
- the number of different religious holidays that we all celebrated,
- the levels of inter-racial tolerance and harmony that I witnessed, and
- the experience of belonging to a minority group within the wider community.
Looking back, I was incredibly privileged!
Multicultural workplace benefits can include the richness from making new friends, and also sharing ideas, experiences, opinions, and food! While the benefits from being in a multicultural workplace can be exciting and fulfilling, there may be times when values, beliefs, and even communication, can bring occasional difficulties. More on communication later.
A few weeks ago I came across an article about multiculturalism in the workplace. This is my first free nugget for this post. While it was written around what can happen in the way of ‘cultural minefields’ in large organisations, I believe it has relevance in a much broader sense. The author, Chris Fenney, is a Brit who has lived in and worked from Singapore for the past 11 years. The message Chris brings covers culture in organisational management practices and also cultural aspects of communication, conflict, completing tasks, decision making, and disclosure. The article is quite informative and should be around a 4-5 minute read; you will find it at:
The second free nugget for this post is a short video (2min:14sec) from Distant Lands Travel Store (Pasadena, USA) about how different hand gestures are interpreted by various nationalities. While this is not a comprehensive list (and many people will already be aware of these potential faux pas), it does highlight that our communication is both verbal and non-verbal. The video is at:
The third free nugget is another short video (1min:13sec) about how easily miscommunication can occur in cross-cultural conversation. As one who has an accent, there are certain words that give my friends and colleagues much amusement when I say them (sometimes, they will ‘bait’ me to say something, and then burst into laughter!). The video is a parody involving the accented conversations of EFL (English as a Foreign Language) speakers – it does require a broad-minded approach (Warning: Contains bad language – content may offend). Accented speech, whether it is mine or someone else’s, can lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding – the results can be anything from humorous to disastrous. This video is available at:
Coming next: Body language – power posers (in the meantime, enjoy the free nuggets!).