by Sabina Metcalf
Finding a multicultural joke on Google, with which to start this post, has proved no easy feat – the sheer number of people who find offensive immigrant jokes funny is deeply discouraging. But here is a good one about cats and dogs, and a little unlucky mouse:
A mouse was being chased by a cat through the alleyways of a city. Turning a corner, the desperate mouse hid under a stack of crates. From there, the mouse contemplated its situation; eventually, it would have to leave its hiding place, but it did not know how to tell if the cat was gone. Suddenly, the barking of a dog interrupted its thoughts.
“If a dog is barking,” thought the mouse, “that must mean that the cat has fled, and it is safe to go out”. The mouse slinked out from beneath the crates, but immediately found itself face to face with the cat! “But I heard a dog barking!” insisted the mouse. “How is it that you are still here?”
“In a multicultural community,” replied the cat, “one must be bilingual.”
Multiculturalism is defined as the doctrine that several different cultures (rather than one national culture) can coexist peacefully and equitably in a single country. However, so bald a definition does not capture the contemporary application of the word: these days, every major city and increasingly every workplace, present a colorful blend of different cultures, customs, and values. The best way to meet the needs of an increasingly global economy and customer base is to capitalize on the diversity of your employees and create an environment that takes into account different perspectives, ideas, and solutions.
Here at MasterWord Services we have first-hand experience of running a multicultural workspace. Our project coordinators and managers come from a variety of backgrounds, from countries on three different continents: from Russia to Vietnam, from Canada to Honduras, from Kazakhstan to El Salvador. We find that this is not only vital to driving innovation in a business environment but it is also a key part of employee satisfaction and development.
Based on our experience, below I list 5 simple tips that would help you gain the maximum from your multicultural workplace:
- Explore new cultures: raise your cultural awareness, learn about other countries, and most importantly, talk to your colleagues and peers. Years of translating and interpreting experience helped me understand that the key to seamlessly steering your way through multicultural environments is to remain curious about our differences while at the same time acting on our commonalities.
- Embrace new experiences: realize that it takes dozens of communities and hundreds of years for each culture to evolve and develop its own values, morals, business practices, and ethics. As our multicultural environments expand, often our nonverbal differences such as social, educational, and economic discrepancies, power dynamics, and spiritual beliefs, become the leverage for our communication.
- Avoid generalizations: while recognizing that every culture has its own customs and traditions, first and foremost we are individuals. Whatever information you collect, it will never apply to every single member of that culture. As Stephen Hawking, a renowned British physicist and author, says: “we are all different, there is no such thing as a standard or run-of-the-mill human being, but we share the same human spirit. What is important is that we have the ability to create. This creativity can take many forms, from physical achievement to theoretical physics.”
- Consider cross-cultural training: an expert review by a trained practitioner (often coming from a translating or interpreting background) of your workplace or business dynamics really helps to develop awareness between individuals who do not have a common cultural framework. In addition, country-specific training helps equip teams that interact with overseas customers or visit other countries with useful tools for learning business protocol, etiquette or negotiation skills specific to that country.
- Involve professionals: we used to think of cross-cultural differences as a challenge that needed to be overcome by individuals from different cultural backgrounds or organizations forming global partnerships. Language differences are the most common issue potentially affecting communication, and we know that in building successful business relationships, linguists, namely translators and interpreters, act as a useful tool.
By embracing our differences, we develop our communication skills, make ourselves receptive to contrasting views, explore new cultures and languages, and build business and community relationships. Thriving organizations and corporations recognize the benefits of a diverse workforce and acknowledge how cross-cultural communication fosters creativity within the team. Every culture contributes its own insight into an issue, introducing new ideas and awakening inspiration.
After all, multiculturalism is not something to be avoided – it is what makes our world beautiful.