Intercultural Responsiveness

A Blog By Tom Altepeter

Nuts & Bolts: Part 3

This is the third installment of a series making an appearance occasionally in this blog designed to give some specific guidance regarding how to work with an organization on intercultural responsiveness. The first two installments can be found here: Nuts & Bolts: Part 2 and here: Nuts & Bolts: Part 1

Most people in any organization will find themselves in the area of minimization. While they may see themselves further along in the continuum, the reality is that until a great deal of time is spent over a long period of time, one will not be consistently demonstrating much beyond minimization or acceptance. Furthermore, there will be individuals who are most definitely in denial, defense, and/or reversal. With this in mind, it’s absolutely critical to meet people where they’re at. In short, this means a group initially needs to hear much more about how they are alike than how they are different. Highlighting differences ramps up denial and defense feelings very quickly, and those in denial and defense will check out and/or even destruct the work being accomplished.

With the goal certainly not being to maintain minimization, how does one approach meeting people where they’re at while also slowly but surely pushing people in a direction of recognizing, accepting, and ultimately valuing, responding to, and even celebrating differences? Well, here are some basic steps:

* Focus first on the importance of being a team and/or a family. Most people can or desire to identify with working together for the common good for one another and those they serve.

* Next, key in on those more subtle and even “safe” characteristics that make us unique and provide a well rounded team and/or family. This is where activities can happen that relate to personality types or learning styles.

* Finally, spend some time truly assessing your own culture. This is where things will start to get more difficult, and resistance may start entering the picture. Allow people space and time to individually reflect, and then share out only as they feel comfortable. Marilyn Loden and Julie Rosener provide a nice framework looking at both internal and external dimensions of culture. When taking the first step of assessing culture, we need to truly view and understand ourselves as cultural beings. Use these dimensions to help people connect with this important understanding:
- Internal dimensions (gender, age, race, ethnicity, mental and physical abilities, and sexual orientation)
- External dimensions (geographic location, income, education, religion, family status, experiences, habits, and values)

Ultimately, you’ll move to assessing culture organizationally, and then step into work related to valuing diversity, managing dynamics of difference, adapting to diversity (valuing others without giving up who you are), and institutionalizing cultural knowledge (being responsive and changing systems). However, go slow. Change needs to happen, and it will.

Patience, grasshopper.

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