In this special bonus episode of The Forum Podcast, Luiza Dreasher (Mastering Cultural Differences) answers questions from listeners that attended our May 27, 2021 webinar Mastering Cultural Differences: Strategies for Leading a Global Workforce.
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Luiza answers questions from our listening audience around these talking points:
- Balancing assimilation.
- How to be culturally competent if culture happens on a continuum.
- How to communicate with several cultural styles at the same time.
- Resources for better understanding these cultural differences.
- How to best prepare for interacting respectfully with colleagues from other countries.
- How to help colleagues be more culturally competent.
For additional context and insight into this topic and conversation, watch the replay of Mastering Cultural Differences: Strategies for Leading a Global Workforce. Visit Luiza’s website.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
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[00:01:56] Ben Rue: Hello. Thank you for tuning in for today’s special Forum on Workplace Inclusion Podcast, Mastering Cultural Differences: Strategies For Leading a Global Workforce, continued with Luiza Dreasher of Mastering Cultural Differences. I am Ben Rue, program manager here at The Forum. This is a continuation of our May webinar, Mastering Cultural Differences For Leading a Global Workforce.
If you haven’t watched that yet, I would highly recommend you do. There were so many great questions that we weren’t able to get to during the webinar, so Luiza was gracious enough to come back and answer a few of those. Let’s get started.
[00:02:30] Ben: Welcome back, Luiza we’re so grateful to have you back here to answer some of these questions we weren’t able to get to during the webinar.
[00:02:37] Luiza Dreasher: Well, thank you so much for inviting me. It’s really a pleasure, Ben.
[00:02:43] Ben: Yes. Well, let’s just hop on in with the first question. Which is, have you lived and/or worked in several countries?
[00:02:53] Luiza: I love that question. Let me just give you a little bit of a background on myself. If you will recall, I was born and raised in Brazil. In a sense, this is an international experience for me. I always joke to my students that mine is the longest study abroad experience on record. I came here to pursue my graduate studies, and then life happened. I met my husband and we will be celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary this coming August.
[00:03:27] Ben: Wow. Congratulations.
[00:03:28] Luiza: Thank you. As far as international experiences, I worked and study abroad. I was coordinating language programs in Spain and Mexico, so I took groups of students to Spain. I would do that during the summer and later on in a different capacity, I was taking students to Brazil. I also had a short-term assignment in Ukraine where I was working with women scientists.
While there, I was teaching intercultural communication, as well as project management. Later in my life, it seems I was always involved in some international venture. Later as an assistant dean and director of international inclusion in Mitchell Hamlin School of Law, I took students to Japan and Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is not a country, obviously, but it has a unique legal system. That was the context under which I went to Puerto Rico, went there with the law students.
[00:04:39] Ben: It’s very different culturally. It is very, very different culturally.
[00:04:41] Luiza: Yes. [inaudible 00:04:42]
[00:04:42] Ben: It is a country on its own culturally. We’ve shown that you do have the credentials to be here talking about multi-culturalism. The next question that we got– this is a reference to a situation that you’ve mentioned during the webinar where someone can’t meet a deadline but in order to save face, they say that they can or they don’t say that they can’t meet the deadline, which impacts the outcome or customer satisfaction.
What is the best way to address that without making the person feel like they need to assimilate to a different culture?
[00:05:32] Luiza: Well, to answer that question, there are two concepts I would like to address and then I’ll share some strategies. The first concept that we need to understand is a reluctance on the part of certain groups of saying no because in some cultures, it is inappropriate to say no, especially to a supervisor. The tendency is to soften a negative answer. For example, individuals may answer a question with another question or they may say, “Maybe it’s possible. I’ll let you know,” even though they know it’s not possible.
There’s also the possibility that yes simply means, “Yes, I hear you not necessarily I agree with you.” The other concept the individual asking the question mentioned already is the importance of saving face. Saving face is a concept that is really frequently misunderstood in the west. In the US, we place nowhere near the emphasis on saving face as do most other cultures. For us in the US, telling the truth is more important. Honesty is the best policy.
For individuals who place more importance on saving face, preserving the relationship is far more important. These individuals tend to say whatever the person asking the question wants to hear. What do you do then? One of the things that I would recommend is you need to start really practice reading between the lines. Observe the non-verbals because most of what is communicated is done through non-verbal channels.
You need to be good at that, reading between the lines. What is he really trying to say? Then instead of asking yes or no questions, provide choices because you know ahead of time that it will be hard for that individual to say no to you. A better possibility is, for example, to ask, “How many days do you need to finish the project?” instead of, “Will the project be done by tomorrow?” because this would require a yes or no answer. If you give them choices, that would really have a better outcome for you.
Finally [clears throat], excuse me, I want to say that training goes both ways. As a supervisor, as a manager, you need to understand the cultural differences. There is no question about that but as part of their onboarding program, international employees also need to be coached on what is expected of them.
[00:08:49] Ben: That is a really great point. Thank you for that. Now, the next question is; can one really be culturally competent if culture happens on a continuum?
[00:09:01] Luiza: It’s a great question. The way I and other scholars define cultural competence, cultural competence is a three-part process. First, you need to realize that differences exist. Believe it or not, some individuals do not. Next, you need to know what those differences are. You actually have to gain knowledge about that. Third, you need to be able to adjust your behavior accordingly.
It’s the proverbial when in Rome do, as the Romans do, but this is not a skill that you will acquire overnight. It’s not going to happen. It will require daily and persistent work on your part. Let’s say, for example, I give you a book on how to juggle [unintelligible 00:10:01] be Juggling 101, and then I tell you, “After you read it, we’ll come back and we expect a performance.” It’s not going to happen, very likely because just because you read about a technique, it does not mean you’ll be able to perform it. You will need to practice and practice and practice until you’re able to master that skill. It’s the exact same thing with cultural competence development.
You have to practice until you become good at it. It is what we call code-switching. It’s when you go seamlessly from one cultural orientation to another. At first, you may have to keep reminding yourself, but eventually, those switches will come naturally. Imagine, also, if you’re learning how to dance, and then you were dancing, but you’re still counting on your head, one, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three. Eventually, you will not have a need to count anymore.
The moves will come naturally to you. It’s the exact same thing with cultural competence development. Because cultures are always changing and evolving, we will always have to work at it. The way I see cultural competence is a process. It’s not a destination.
[00:11:34] Ben: That is a great way to think about it. Yes, I was thinking, yes, culture is constantly changing. They’re not stagnant, so you do have to be constantly involved and thinking about it.
[00:11:51] Luiza: Absolutely.
[00:11:52] Ben: Yes, and constantly practicing and always learning. I feel like the one constant in life is that you’re continually learning. Things are continually changing.
[00:12:03] Luiza: Yes, there are always new things. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years, Ben, and I’m still learning.
[00:12:13] Ben: Yes, I was going to say, cultures are constantly evolving. I personally love learning new things and love practicing new things.
[00:12:26] Luiza: Good. Great.
[00:12:31] Ben: Yes, it’s always evolving. Can you share how someone might have to handle several of these cultural differences at the same times or setting, as in having to communicate with several cultural– Having to communicate with several cultural styles at the same time, so a lot of code-switching at once?
[00:12:54] Luiza: Well, the days of a monocultural workplace are over. As I shared during the webinar, our society and by default, our workplaces, our organizations, our educational institutions, we’re all becoming increasingly more diverse, either because of demographic changes that are happening or because of globalization. Chances are you will have different cultures present in your workplace. If you work in a global organization, you will likely have team members from all over the world.
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer for this situation. You will have to learn about the distinct cultures that you work with because once you learn, you’re going to work better with that individual. Also, you have to become good at– what I mentioned earlier, code-switching, so you can behave appropriately with each group you work with, so you know exactly where they’re coming from.
Again, this is something that takes practice and effort, but it does happen. It will happen. You just have to keep working at it. Remember the dance metaphor I used. Eventually, you will no longer need to count the steps in your head. The more you do it, the more you practice, the better you’ll be at it.
[00:14:29] Ben: Thank you for that. You also mentioned which struck me as it’s a two-way street, about these other cultures should learn about your culture as well, like if you’re a manager. With onboarding, yes, you want to learn about their culture, but it is okay to encourage them or expect them to learn about the culture they’re coming into as well.
[00:14:56] Luiza: Oh, absolutely, so you can perform well. Your success will depend on it, on your ability to code switch, to change your behavior accordingly. That’s what will make you successful.
[00:15:16] Ben: Yes, understanding on all sides.
[00:15:19] Luiza: Absolutely.
[00:15:21] Ben: Well, thank you for that. I know this is going to be a good one. What are the good resources for better understanding these cultural differences? How can I best prepare myself for interacting respectfully with colleagues from other countries?
[00:15:40] Luiza: Well, I would start with my book, Mastering Cultural Differences. The reason I’m saying that is because I share in that book that this book is designed actually to answer this specific question, because I share why we need to master cultural differences. Also, throughout the book, there are many chapters where I cover important cultural differences impacting today’s workplaces.
I also have cultural incidents where I show how the theory of– where you can see the cultural difference in a real life situation, and how it impacts the workplace. I also include in a lot of tips on how you can work with those cultural differences. On the back of the book, you’ll find all the resources that I used while doing my research, as well as seven of my own articles that are available online.
If individuals want, email me and I’ll happily share the link with you. Now, how to best prepare? Start working on your cultural competence skills. In fact, chapter nine of my book, I focus on the skills you need to work effectively across differences, and how you can start developing your cultural competence skills. The key is just get started and keep moving in that direction.
As far as my book, it’s still 50% off. All you have to do is just follow the link. We start there, but email me if you’d like a couple of my shorter articles. I’ll be more than happy to do that.
[00:17:38] Ben: Thank you for that, and for sharing that. You mentioned on the back of the book that you shared resources that you used. Could you share a few of those resources that you used?
[00:17:52] Luiza: Oh, God, there’s close to 100 of them. I would say individuals that are very well-known in the intercultural world, I would say Hofstede. If you look for his publications, several of his publications, that will be a great start. Anything that Edward T. Hall wrote, that’s classic. It’s a great way to start. He’s very likely the father of the intercultural world and his books are great and fun to read.
There is also resources, anything that Milton Bennett and Janet Bennett have written. Those are classic pieces that you should start reading them. If you Google those names; Hofstede, Bennett, and Edward T. Hall, you will be in great shape.
[00:19:09] Ben: Wonderful, thank you so much. Thank you for those wonderful suggestions and for writing this book to help so many people with this, what can be a very difficult subject and very difficult thing to do.
[00:19:25] Luiza: I wanted it to be practical with lots of tips. As my publisher said, imagine someone who’s very busy reading the book in an airplane from point A to point B, they don’t have much time. That’s why there are tips and case studies. It’s why you need it and what you need to do to get there.
[00:19:51] Ben: Thank you. The why is more and more evident every day. You mentioned with globalization and just the changing demographics of the workplace, this is such an important topic to be able to communicate and work effectively and respectively with your colleagues from different cultures.
[00:20:12] Luiza: Absolutely. I don’t think we have any choice anymore.
[00:20:16] Ben: Yes.
[00:20:18] Luiza: We all need to be cultural competent individuals if we want to work well because our workplaces, they are more diverse now and that’s a fact. Diversity is a fact of business. That’s not going to change
[00:20:37] Ben: It’s a fact of life now, too. It’s a skill that spills well past the workplace and into communities because the neighborhoods are diversifying all over the country and the world. This is just such an amazing skill to have and such a very necessary skill. Which is why, again, I’m so happy that you came back and gave us a chance to answer some of these questions that we weren’t able to get to, so thank you for that.
I’m a little bit bummed that this is the last question, but I think that’s the perfect question to end on. It is; how can I help my peers be more culturally competent?
[00:21:21] Luiza: Again, that’s another great question. It will really depend on where they are developmentally. First, cultural competence development starts within. in other words, the very first step that we need to take is to develop our own self-awareness.
[00:21:45] Ben: That’s such a great point.
[00:21:45] Luiza: You need to know what your biases are, what you believe in, what your values are, what are your stereotypes, your prejudice, your privileges, because we all have privileges. It could be, in age, in the language, in our ability level, so you need to have a good sense of that. You also need to understand how these characteristics, how these identity pieces will impact your thinking and your behavior.
To develop cultural competence, there are actually six stages that we go through. Each stage will require a different set of interventions. I wrote an article for NACADA. NACADA is the National Academic Advising Association. It was focusing on how to prepare advisors to work effectively across differences. In other words, the target audience was individuals who are developing training, who were helping advisors become more culturally competent.
In the article, I described for each stage, there are different interventions that we can take. If individuals would like, you can email me and I’ll be more than happy to send you a copy of that article because that’s a step-by-step process. Showing if you’re in stage one, these are the things that you can do as opposed to individuals who are in stage five. These are the interventions that you can use, so feel free to email me requesting a copy of the NACADA article and I’ll be more than happy to share that.
[00:23:51] Ben: Thank you so much, Luiza. That’s such a great point about really looking inward and making sure– I think of the phrase, your house is clean before going to judge others. Before we can help our peers with our cultural competence, we have to make sure that we ourselves are culturally competent.
[00:24:16] Luiza: Absolutely. Self-awareness is number one, you have to start there.
[00:24:22] Ben: It’s a great place to start. I think a great place to end this conversation anyway. It doesn’t end there, but it does end this conversation. I just want again to thank you so much for coming back, Luiza. It was such a pleasure to talk to you as always and thank you for sharing all these wonderful resources.
I am going to share Luiza’s email and also going to be sharing the link that she described or the link that she mentioned for the book and for that discount. Definitely keep an eye out for that and again, thank you so much, Luiza, for coming back.
[00:25:03] Luiza: It was such a pleasure. I am really honored and thank you for inviting me back.
[00:25:11] Ben: Oh, of course. Our pleasure. Thank you again, have a great day. Thank you so much, Luiza, for coming back for this wonderful podcast and answering these important questions and thank you to our listeners for joining. If you’d like to learn more about Mastering Cultural Differences, you can email Luiza directly email@example.com.
We’ve also included the link to her website into the description. New episodes of The Forum Podcast are available at forumworkplaceinclusion.org/podcast. Episodes can also be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Anchor, and Stitcher. Thank you again for listening. Have a great day.
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