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Cultural Awareness in the Multicultural workplace

"Understand the differences; act on the commonalities." - Andrew Masondo, African National Congress

The nature of our workplaces has changed. We have moved away from the monochromic make-up of our offices to one that is now coloured by team members from all over the world. With this new multicultural make-up come differences in cultures which in turn bring differences in areas such as communication styles, approach to time, managerial styles and a plethora of other cross cultural differences.

Cultural awareness is now crucial if multicultural teams within businesses are going to maximise their potential. Although cross cultural differences do not always cause obvious problems, it is their more subtle manifestations that can and do lead to a lack of clear communication and poor performance.

Why is Cultural awareness necessary?


Cultural awareness is important to help members of a multicultural team identify where things may be going wrong or how to best leverage their differences. Without some sort of formal cross cultural awareness training it is difficult for multicultural teams to identify areas that need attention.

Cultural differences manifest in many ways. Within a multicultural team, a person's cultural background will impact how they act and behave. There will be differences in areas such as communication, attitude to towards conflict, approaches to task completion and decision making styles. Unless people come to realise these differences between them through cultural awareness, problems can continue and even intensify.

Cultural awareness in a multicultural workplace

Building real cross cultural synergy is only accomplished through properly considered cultural awareness training. However, below are some tips for people working in multicultural workplaces who wish to implement some basics.

Build your cultural knowledge: Try and learn a bit more about other cultures and countries. Information is easily found on the internet and in books. You can also ask your colleagues. Start to build some sort of cultural awareness.

Treat people as individuals: Information in other cultures is usually based on generalisations. This means that the information will not apply to every single member of that culture. Be aware of this and try and deal with people as individuals.

Implement your cultural knowledge: If you have discovered some useful information about a culture that is represented in your multicultural team put it to the test. It is only by putting these things into action that you will come to see the benefits and learn more.

Withhold assumptions: Try to avoid jumping to conclusions about people. One of the first rules of cultural awareness is refraining from assuming one way is wrong and one is right.

Avoid blame: Blame is simply not constructive. When you see a situation break-down rather than apportion blame, pick the situation apart with your 'cultural awareness glasses' on and see what the cultural mechanics were. This helps resolve issues and act as a precedent for the future.

Listen actively: Active listening is another cornerstone of cultural awareness. Rather than listening to people you should really pay attention to the words used, the way it is said, the context and also read between the lines.

Relay your knowledge: Work with colleagues in your multicultural team to relay knowledge to one another. Help build up the skills set of the team.

Although not an exhaustive set of tips on cultural awareness, these simple pointers offer some sort of guidance on how to go about realising change in the multicultural workplace.


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