OFFICE POLITICS 101: Can I be more sensitive to multicultural co-workers?
Q: We have employees from a wide variety of different cultures in our office and I am required to work with most of them. Everyone is friendly but I sometimes wonder if I could be more sensitive or communicative. Do you have any suggestions?
There’s no doubt that today’s workplace is inhabited by many employees representing myriad backgrounds. And, given the rate of international immigration, this trend will almost certainly continue.
New immigrants bring significant skills to our country, and without their contributions – given our relatively low birthrate – our economy would likely suffer.
People from other cultures arrive here often with limited English language skills and an imperfect knowledge of Canadian social customs.
Although they are anxious to be accepted and be actively involved at work, it can be a challenge to fully integrate.
You and I, no doubt, would face similar challenges if we were to suddenly accept employment in another country with a significantly different culture and history.
It is encouraging that you would like to be more sensitive and communicative; although it is a complex matter, there are a few guidelines you might wish to consider:
Accept people as individuals first, and members of an ethnic group second; we all want to be valued but not simply because we are representative of a particular culture.
Second, don’t be in a hurry to engage people in deep conversation.
Many cultures require more time to feel comfortable in social settings and you’ll need to be sensitive to boundaries.
Third, relations between males and females could require a greater level of understanding: if you are a male, you might find that some of your female co-workers will not feel at ease with you socially.
Such intimacy in certain cultures will be frowned upon.
And, fourth, be aware of body language and personal space.
Touch and eye contact can communicate unintentional messages to people from different ethnic backgrounds.
Don’t stand or sit too close to people to avoid making them feel uncomfortable.
Remember, though, that everyone – whatever the culture – likes to be recognized and appreciated.
As an unofficial ambassador, your sincere interest will go far in showing you are hospitable
Welcoming co-workers of many backgrounds is a laudable ambition.
Office morale will be greatly enhanced when everyone feels as if they are members of a team notwithstanding their ethnic origins.
• Simon Gibson is an experienced university professor, marketing executive and corporate writer. He has a PhD in education from Simon Fraser University and a degree in journalism from Carleton University. Submit your confidential questions relating to work and office life to firstname.lastname@example.org.