The 7 Don’ts of Multicultural Communication #3 – DON’T Assume a Culturally Different Person is an Expert about His or Her Cultural Group
A common mistake I have often observed in diverse work settings is asking a culturally different person to speak as a representative of his or her cultural group (especially if that person is a ‘minority’). It is usually done innocently yet still poses two problems. First, it puts the person on-the-spot, which may create a significant level of discomfort. This in turn, will diminish the effectiveness of the cross-cultural interaction. 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. No matter how knowledgeable or well-spoken that person may be. It is fine to get to know more about your colleagues and this may entail learning about one’s cultural background; however, never assume a person can speak for anyone but him or herself.
Next Post: October 6, 2015 - The 7 Don’ts of Multicultural Communication #4
Consciously strive to avoid making assumptions about others, especially people 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. One way to do this is to decategorize using self-talk. Decategorization is the conscious, cognitive process of reminding yourself to avoid assumptions by intentionally focusing on the unique nature of every individual. For instance, prior to meeting someone new, you can decategorize by saying to yourself, “I’m going to get to know this person on an individual basis...I’m not going to make any generalizations or assumptions.” The reason this works so well is that you have recognized, in your own mind, your potential for stereotyping (i.e., making assumptions) and have taken proactive steps to stop it.
Next Post: September 29, 2015 - The 7 Don’ts of Multicultural Communication #3
In other words, never talk down to another human being or treat another person in a condescending manner. This is one of the quickest ways to damage communication, reduce trust and impair interpersonal relationships. It's also a very effective way to lose respect within your organization, especially if you are in a leadership position. You should consciously strive to treat everyone with dignity and respect no matter where they are on the organizational chart. This may sound simple but in reality, we tend to treat people based on our perceptions of who they are and how they should be treated. This is one of the unfortunate byproducts of stereotyping. For instance, you don’t speak to a 5-year old child the same way you speak to a 35-year old adult. Of course, this makes perfectly good sense. It would seem odd if you spoke to a young child and an adult in the same manner! However, this unconscious interpersonal differentiation can have negative repercussions as well. For instance, many of us speak differently to an office secretary than we do to a senior vice president. Similarly, during my 6 years as a college professor, I quickly learned to use "Dr. Holmes" whenever I phoned a university department because the quality of service was significantly higher than when I used "Tyrone". I wasn't treated poorly when I was Tyrone but I received more professional deference and respect when I was Dr. Holmes. Bottom-line, be aware of how you speak to others and never treat anyone in a patronizing or condescending manner.
Next Post: September 22, 2015 - The 7 Don’ts of Multicultural Communication #2
When people from diverse cultural backgrounds interact within an organization, the chances of saying or doing something that can offend another person increases significantly. 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. In coming weeks, I will post specific tips describing what we should and should not do to improve communication and develop positive relationships in diverse organizational settings. I will start with the Don’ts, which include the following:
Next Post: September 15, 2015 - The 7 Don’ts of Multicultural Communication #1
Dr. Tyrone A. Holmes is an author, speaker, coach and consultant. He helps his clients develop the skills needed to communicate, resolve conflict, solve problems and improve performance in diverse organizational settings.