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By Mari D. González
Inter-ethnic relations have been taboo in the U.S. because assimilation has been expected from immigrants and minorities. Assimilation has mainly occurred among people from countries with less cultural and linguistic distances (Anglo-Saxon, Ireland, France)—for whom the term expatriates are used—or among people who are not seen as “others.”
In the last decade due to fast technological advancements such as the Internet, social media, and cell phones, many immigrants are not assimilating. While there is a great level of acculturation to the American way of doing business—mostly by college graduates, immigrants and ex-pats bring and keep their own worldviews, perspectives, and values representative of their first language and culture of origin.
Minorities in the U.S. who live in silos have strengthened their diversities. The more an ethnic group is segregated, excluded, or other-ed, the less it assimilates. Diversity is a positive aspect. It enriches any company, organization, or team. Silicon Valley, Tech Venture Capitalist, Paul Graham explains, “The United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population; it stands to reason that most of the world’s best new ideas will be thought up by people who weren’t born here.”
The challenge is when communication styles clash let alone the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes. It results in misunderstandings, frustration, decreased productivity, and lower morale. We all have seen this!
By Mari D. González
I conducted a series of training sessions last year for a company whose employees are close to 50 percent Latinos of which about 30 percent are not fully bilingual. The communication across cultures is as challenging for English-dominants as it is for Spanish-dominants.
Several Asian-American employees also work for this company. Their communication style is different from Americans as well as from Latinos which enriched our training activities and discussions.
At the end of the mixed-group training sessions, I asked participants to brainstorm on what they had learned and what has worked for them in the past that they can apply when communicating with someone outside their primary culture and language.
My question was, based on what you have learned during training and from your own personal experience, what do you recommend when working with people from different cultures?
I wanted the “takeaways” to come from them instead of me. This is what they came up with:
- Have a positive attitude.
- Do not be afraid to ask questions.
- Use “yes or no” questions.
- When unclear, ask again, paraphrase and repeat.
- When something is critical, communicate face-to-face.
- Use non-verbal communication such as hand gestures.
- Ask for help when needed; simply say “I need help.”
- Talk slowly, not necessarily louder.
- Avoid the use of slang.
- Show it instead of telling it.
- Use pictures and visual aids if possible.
- Give a warning upfront if your second language skills are limited.