Cultural Sensitivity

Reviewed Feb 25, 2017

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Summary

  • Avoid thinking in terms of stereotypes.
  • Abandon an “us” versus “others” outlook.
  • Make an effort to learn about other cultures.

Ronald is a customer service rep who works in an office where he says, “most of his co-workers are like me.” He relates well with his co-workers, but feels a bit awkward when dealing with people whose cultural backgrounds or ethnicity are different from his own, which makes doing his job a challenge sometimes. “How can I be myself without worrying I’ll say the wrong thing?” he asks himself.

Being culturally sensitive is more than just being polite—it involves welcoming diversity into the workplace and developing skills to work effectively with people who are different from you. Together your attitude and skills will not only help your company achieve its objectives, but can enhance your personal career success as well. Plus, being culturally sensitive will spill over into your life outside the office—enhancing relationships in your community, house of worship, and beyond.

Attitude

Look around your office. Are most of your co-workers like you? You may think so, but probably not. Although ethnicity, race, gender, age, mental and physical abilities and characteristics, and sexual orientation may stand out as obvious differences, think of all the other ways you are different from one another. Communication styles, educational background, family history, religious beliefs, and work experience are examples of the many subtle dimensions of diversity. In fact, this collective mix of differences gives companies a competitive edge.

To adopt an attitude that welcomes diversity, you need to avoid thinking in terms of stereotypes and abandon an “us” versus “others” outlook. If you believe you are part of the “main” group, you are likely to think your approach to or views on things is the “right” way. Realize that all people are different in some ways, and these differences color people’s perceptions, values, and ways of doing things. Accepting people’s differences brings increased potential for success in the workplace.

Skills

You can develop skills to help you become more culturally sensitive. Consider this advice:

  • Follow rules of proper office etiquette to avoid offending someone whose cultural background is different from your own—as well as all other co-workers. Not all topics are appropriate for office discussion. Similarly, be cautious when using humor.
  • Make an effort to learn about other cultures. People whose cultural background differs from your own may seem unpredictable at times—or their actions may be hard to understand. Although you cannot possibly expect to know all the culture-specific habits and customs that exist, you can become familiar with the cultures you are exposed to most often. You might consider attending a skills-training seminar, which can improve your interaction with co-workers and customers through role-plays, case study analysis, and simulations.
  • Use empathy to help you see things from another’s perspective. This skill is especially helpful in situations where your differences cause tension.
  • Keep a journal of how you respond to people who are different from you. Look for ways you can improve your interactions.
  • Confront co-workers who make offensive comments. Often, people who are not culturally sensitive do not even realize when their talk is inappropriate. Take such an offender aside privately and point out how such a remark is offensive. Try something like, “John, I know you weren’t serious when you said … but your comment could be considered offensive. I’m just looking out for your best interest.”
  • Base your decisions and actions on the bottom-line impact rather than personal preferences or traditions. Doing so will keep you open to other’s ideas.

Resources

Emily Post’s The Etiquette Advantage in Business, Third Edition: Personal Skills for Professional Success  by Peter Post, Anna Post, Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning. HarperCollins, 2014.

The Diversity and Inclusion Handbook by Sondra Thiederman. The Walk The Talk Company, 2013.

By Christine P. Martin
Source: Building a House for Diversity: How a Fable About a Giraffe and an Elephant Offers New Strategies for Today's Workforce by R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr. American Management Association, 1999; Implementing Diversity by Marilyn Loden. McGraw-Hill, 1996.

Summary

  • Avoid thinking in terms of stereotypes.
  • Abandon an “us” versus “others” outlook.
  • Make an effort to learn about other cultures.

Ronald is a customer service rep who works in an office where he says, “most of his co-workers are like me.” He relates well with his co-workers, but feels a bit awkward when dealing with people whose cultural backgrounds or ethnicity are different from his own, which makes doing his job a challenge sometimes. “How can I be myself without worrying I’ll say the wrong thing?” he asks himself.

Being culturally sensitive is more than just being polite—it involves welcoming diversity into the workplace and developing skills to work effectively with people who are different from you. Together your attitude and skills will not only help your company achieve its objectives, but can enhance your personal career success as well. Plus, being culturally sensitive will spill over into your life outside the office—enhancing relationships in your community, house of worship, and beyond.

Attitude

Look around your office. Are most of your co-workers like you? You may think so, but probably not. Although ethnicity, race, gender, age, mental and physical abilities and characteristics, and sexual orientation may stand out as obvious differences, think of all the other ways you are different from one another. Communication styles, educational background, family history, religious beliefs, and work experience are examples of the many subtle dimensions of diversity. In fact, this collective mix of differences gives companies a competitive edge.

To adopt an attitude that welcomes diversity, you need to avoid thinking in terms of stereotypes and abandon an “us” versus “others” outlook. If you believe you are part of the “main” group, you are likely to think your approach to or views on things is the “right” way. Realize that all people are different in some ways, and these differences color people’s perceptions, values, and ways of doing things. Accepting people’s differences brings increased potential for success in the workplace.

Skills

You can develop skills to help you become more culturally sensitive. Consider this advice:

  • Follow rules of proper office etiquette to avoid offending someone whose cultural background is different from your own—as well as all other co-workers. Not all topics are appropriate for office discussion. Similarly, be cautious when using humor.
  • Make an effort to learn about other cultures. People whose cultural background differs from your own may seem unpredictable at times—or their actions may be hard to understand. Although you cannot possibly expect to know all the culture-specific habits and customs that exist, you can become familiar with the cultures you are exposed to most often. You might consider attending a skills-training seminar, which can improve your interaction with co-workers and customers through role-plays, case study analysis, and simulations.
  • Use empathy to help you see things from another’s perspective. This skill is especially helpful in situations where your differences cause tension.
  • Keep a journal of how you respond to people who are different from you. Look for ways you can improve your interactions.
  • Confront co-workers who make offensive comments. Often, people who are not culturally sensitive do not even realize when their talk is inappropriate. Take such an offender aside privately and point out how such a remark is offensive. Try something like, “John, I know you weren’t serious when you said … but your comment could be considered offensive. I’m just looking out for your best interest.”
  • Base your decisions and actions on the bottom-line impact rather than personal preferences or traditions. Doing so will keep you open to other’s ideas.

Resources

Emily Post’s The Etiquette Advantage in Business, Third Edition: Personal Skills for Professional Success  by Peter Post, Anna Post, Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning. HarperCollins, 2014.

The Diversity and Inclusion Handbook by Sondra Thiederman. The Walk The Talk Company, 2013.

By Christine P. Martin
Source: Building a House for Diversity: How a Fable About a Giraffe and an Elephant Offers New Strategies for Today's Workforce by R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr. American Management Association, 1999; Implementing Diversity by Marilyn Loden. McGraw-Hill, 1996.

Summary

  • Avoid thinking in terms of stereotypes.
  • Abandon an “us” versus “others” outlook.
  • Make an effort to learn about other cultures.

Ronald is a customer service rep who works in an office where he says, “most of his co-workers are like me.” He relates well with his co-workers, but feels a bit awkward when dealing with people whose cultural backgrounds or ethnicity are different from his own, which makes doing his job a challenge sometimes. “How can I be myself without worrying I’ll say the wrong thing?” he asks himself.

Being culturally sensitive is more than just being polite—it involves welcoming diversity into the workplace and developing skills to work effectively with people who are different from you. Together your attitude and skills will not only help your company achieve its objectives, but can enhance your personal career success as well. Plus, being culturally sensitive will spill over into your life outside the office—enhancing relationships in your community, house of worship, and beyond.

Attitude

Look around your office. Are most of your co-workers like you? You may think so, but probably not. Although ethnicity, race, gender, age, mental and physical abilities and characteristics, and sexual orientation may stand out as obvious differences, think of all the other ways you are different from one another. Communication styles, educational background, family history, religious beliefs, and work experience are examples of the many subtle dimensions of diversity. In fact, this collective mix of differences gives companies a competitive edge.

To adopt an attitude that welcomes diversity, you need to avoid thinking in terms of stereotypes and abandon an “us” versus “others” outlook. If you believe you are part of the “main” group, you are likely to think your approach to or views on things is the “right” way. Realize that all people are different in some ways, and these differences color people’s perceptions, values, and ways of doing things. Accepting people’s differences brings increased potential for success in the workplace.

Skills

You can develop skills to help you become more culturally sensitive. Consider this advice:

  • Follow rules of proper office etiquette to avoid offending someone whose cultural background is different from your own—as well as all other co-workers. Not all topics are appropriate for office discussion. Similarly, be cautious when using humor.
  • Make an effort to learn about other cultures. People whose cultural background differs from your own may seem unpredictable at times—or their actions may be hard to understand. Although you cannot possibly expect to know all the culture-specific habits and customs that exist, you can become familiar with the cultures you are exposed to most often. You might consider attending a skills-training seminar, which can improve your interaction with co-workers and customers through role-plays, case study analysis, and simulations.
  • Use empathy to help you see things from another’s perspective. This skill is especially helpful in situations where your differences cause tension.
  • Keep a journal of how you respond to people who are different from you. Look for ways you can improve your interactions.
  • Confront co-workers who make offensive comments. Often, people who are not culturally sensitive do not even realize when their talk is inappropriate. Take such an offender aside privately and point out how such a remark is offensive. Try something like, “John, I know you weren’t serious when you said … but your comment could be considered offensive. I’m just looking out for your best interest.”
  • Base your decisions and actions on the bottom-line impact rather than personal preferences or traditions. Doing so will keep you open to other’s ideas.

Resources

Emily Post’s The Etiquette Advantage in Business, Third Edition: Personal Skills for Professional Success  by Peter Post, Anna Post, Lizzie Post and Daniel Post Senning. HarperCollins, 2014.

The Diversity and Inclusion Handbook by Sondra Thiederman. The Walk The Talk Company, 2013.

By Christine P. Martin
Source: Building a House for Diversity: How a Fable About a Giraffe and an Elephant Offers New Strategies for Today's Workforce by R. Roosevelt Thomas, Jr. American Management Association, 1999; Implementing Diversity by Marilyn Loden. McGraw-Hill, 1996.

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