The 7 Don’ts of Multicultural Communication #6 – DON’T Ask Inappropriate Questions or Engage in Inappropriate Behaviors
Avoid asking inappropriate questions or engaging in inappropriate behaviors, especially of a personal nature. In a culturally diverse setting, it is best to stick to business at the beginning of a work relationship. This means you must take care not to ask improper questions or engage in inappropriate conversations. For example, don’t ask about another person’s grooming habits. Don’t ask if you can touch a co-worker’s hair. Don’t ask others about their child rearing practices (yes, I’ve heard questions like these many times). These types of questions can create tension and make people feel uncomfortable. In addition, some people may find these discussions unsuitable for the workplace. Once you have established a strong working relationship or friendship with someone, you may be able to have discussions of this nature. But until that happens, it is best to avoid these types of personal conversations.
Next Post: October 27, 2015 - The 7 Don’ts of Multicultural Communication #7
Don’t engage in behaviors that single out a culturally different person, especially if that person is in the minority at your workplace. This may seem obvious, but we often do this without realizing it. In fact, it’s a fairly common, and often well-intentioned, mistake. For example, I have observed many situations where people who are cultural minorities are asked to serve on a team, committee or council because of their race, gender, age or sexual orientation. The goal of the person making the request is to ensure different viewpoints are represented, which is an honorable and desirable pursuit. However, while it may be a great honor to be asked to serve, always be aware of the difficult position you can place someone in if you single them out. Please note I am not suggesting you refrain from asking for diverse participation. That is a noble and worthwhile goal, and can greatly improve performance in your organization. Just be prepared to address any difficulties that person may have in adapting to that situation.
Next Post: October 20, 2015 - The 7 Don’ts of Multicultural Communication #6
The 7 Don’ts of Multicultural Communication #4 – DON’T Assume a Culturally Different Person is Typical of All the Members of His or Her Cultural Group
A common byproduct of stereotyping is the tendency to think the behavior of one group member is typical of all group members and to only see in those group members what we expect to see. This has the potential to create many communication problems and unfortunately, often occurs without conscious thought (that’s the biggest problem with stereotyping - it happens without our recognition). Therefore, always strive to treat people as individuals and get to know your colleagues on an individual basis. Once again, decategorization (the conscious, cognitive process of reminding yourself to avoid assumptions by intentionally focusing on the unique nature of every individual) can be very helpful. Click here for more information on the decategorization process.
Next Post: October 13, 2015 - The 7 Don’ts of Multicultural Communication #5
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
The last of the 4 steps you can take to reduce stereotyping is by far the most important: identify one step you will take and commit to this step. There are at least three proactive steps you can pursue to reduce the impact of stereotyping in your life. The first, and most powerful, is to increase your contact with the stereotyped group. It has been well established in the research literature that face-to-face contact between members of different groups significantly reduces prejudice. The more positive interaction you have with members of the stereotyped group, the more likely you will eliminate this stereotype. The second step is to actively engage in (or interact with people who actively engage in) anti-biased behavior or statements. In other words, proactively talk about why specific stereotypes are wrong or inaccurate. Of course, you don’t need to tell anyone about your particular stereotypes, but the more you verbally debunk your generalizations, the quicker you will rid yourself of that stereotype. Along the same lines, actively challenging biased or stereotypical statements from others will have a positive effect on reducing your stereotypes. Finally, during communication, consciously 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 and have taken proactive steps to stop it. This provides you with a chance to really get to know the individual on a personal level, which will further debunk any stereotypes you may have of members of this particular group.
Next Post: Sept 8, 2015 - The Do's and Don'ts of Multicultural Communication: Part 1 - The Don'ts
In my last post, I described the second step you can take to reduce stereotyping, which is to identify the cause of your stereotypes. The third step you can take is to clarify how your stereotypes impact your interactions with others. Specifically, you must be clear about the actual and potential effects of your stereotypes. For example, if you are responsible for hiring within your company, how do your stereotypes impact your decision-making process? If you work in customer service, how do your stereotypes affect your interactions with customers from certain groups? In both cases there is a very good chance that your stereotypes cause you to make unconscious assumptions that may affect your behavior in one way or another. While this may be difficult to accept, you must be honest with yourself if you are going to be successful at reducing your stereotypes.
Next Post: June 16, 2014 - How to Reduce Stereotyping: Tip #4
In my last post, I introduced the first step you can take to reduce stereotyping, which is to identify your stereotypes. This requires you to be honest with yourself and to recognize that everyone stereotypes because it is a natural outgrowth of human communication and the way we process information. The second step you can take to reduce stereotyping is to determine the origin of your stereotypes. Think about the specific generalizations you make about the members of a particular group. Where do these generalizations come from? Many stereotypes come from the media, family members, friends and other people who are close to us. The more accurately you can determine their origin, the more likely you are to diminish the impact of these stereotypes.
Next Post: June 9, 2014 – How to Reduce Stereotyping: Tip #3
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.