Cultural Diversity, Diversity Conferences
 

Article
 

Cultural Competency
By Fernan R. Cepero
Vice President, Human Resources
YMCA

How skilled are you at working with people from other cultures? A multicultural workforce is becoming the norm, not the exception, so it's important to be able to interact with people from other cultures and countries.

In order to improve your cross-cultural skills, you need to demonstrate openness, genuineness, and integrity. Multicultural skills are acquired over time, not overnight. Since most of us tend to avoid anything that is unfamiliar, it takes a true commitment to educate ourselves and broaden our "comfort zone." Take the following steps:

  • Make an effort to interpret and understand body language as well as words, and become conscious of your own body language and what it might be communicating. Learn to recognize when people are becoming confused or are withdrawing from a conversation. (Perhaps the topic is unfamiliar or unpleasant, and you are inadvertently shutting down communication.)

  • Learn to dialogue, not debate. The dictionary defines "dialogue" as an open and frank discussion of ideas. It is an attempt to seek mutual understanding and harmony. A "debate" is defined as a discussion of opposing viewpoints, or an argument in which one side wins. In seeking to build a solid working relationship, your goal should always be to reach a common understanding, not to argue a point. Even if there is a "right" way and a "wrong" way to do a task, you won't get very far by debating a point until you're proven right. You'll gain more by dialoguing until you reach a common understanding and a common goal.

  • Be open to change. When working with people from other countries, remember that the "American way" isn't the only way. You may need to remind yourself that "different" is not the same as "wrong."

  • Share your ideas and yourself. If your goal is to move toward more thorough knowledge and understanding of diverse cultures, your primary learning modality should be personal interaction. Your increased awareness and openness will translate into improved interpersonal relations and a better work environment for everyone.

  • Focus on skills and qualifications, not on the way people dress or the way they talk. Look below the surface. Take the time to ask questions about cultural customs, and get to know others as individuals. Each ethnic, racial, and religious group is made up of individuals who have some things in common but who are also different from one another.

  • Get involved in social and business organizations that include culturally diverse persons. Religious institutions, social service organizations, community associations, trade associations, and alumni organizations are all good choices.

  • Read and travel to expand your awareness. Most stereotypes and prejudices are based on ignorance. Many people fear what they don't understand. When you understand more about other cultures, you can work comfortably with a wider range of people.

By valuing differences and working effectively with people from other countries, you are demonstrating the type of leadership needed to be successful.

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