As a manager, you need to keep your employees motivated and cooperative consistently. If you’ve spent time in a workforce consisting of people coming from vastly different cultures and backgrounds, then you’ve probably also experienced confusion about how to accomplish those aims despite having little insight into what makes these people tick. How can you understand someone with whom you share no common background in a multicultural work environment?
More importantly, how can you smooth over those differences, take advantage of the benefits of diversity, and make sure that the members of your multicultural workforce feel like they are valuable contributors to your organization’s overall success?
Obviously, these issues must be surmountable because businesses would be a lot more hesitant about putting multicultural workforces together if they were impossible to overcome. Unfortunately, it seems like the best teacher for help picking up these solutions is time and experience working with people from different cultures and backgrounds.
We might also be able to glean insight into the solution by looking at how others have tried and failed in the past. Even if this is only because disasters tend to be both highly entertaining and thus highly memorable while business-as-usual is ignored and forgotten in a mere matter of days.
A Story from Personal Experience
I once worked with a manager in charge of a team with a number of people from different cultures. He was a well-intentioned man who took care to make sure everyone in the team felt like they belonged in an avuncular sort of way, making sure to ask our opinions on what we were doing during meetings and incorporating good suggestions into the planning process.
Yet, he was also prone to letting the moment take hold of him and running headlong into problems because he spoke before he could put some cold, sober thought behind his speech.
Once, the said manager got into trouble when handling one of the people on our team who had recently come from East Asia. He tried his best to integrate the employee neatly into our team but ran into serious difficulties because he didn’t understand that the man was deeply hesitant to communicate in a direct manner.
For instance, this man often nodded during the manager’s interaction with him to demonstrate his continuing attentiveness (a common behavior in his culture), but that was mistaken by the manager for agreement and understanding of what was going on when the team member didn’t have a clue. Similarly, the manager mistook the man’s reluctance to state his opinion in a direct and straightforward manner for passiveness, something that frustrated him to no end.
How to Be an Effective Manager in a Multicultural Work Environment
- First, take the time to learn about the cultures and backgrounds of the people who make up your workforce. Try to understand what the influences that have made them into who they are while broadening your own understanding of the world. Be sure to apply this to everyone who comes from a different background than yours because understanding people better will help make you a more effective leader.
- Don’t be afraid to ask people to clarify what they mean if you are unsure what they are trying to get across. Most people are good natured enough that they are not going to think less of you for taking them into consideration so long as they understand that you are sincere and honest in your intentions. Even if asking questions reveals ignorance on your part, taking steps to correct that ignorance is still better than continuing to grope about blindly in the metaphoric dark.
- Be respectful of the people with you on your multicultural work environment. Remember that no one and no single culture is correct about all things, meaning that you should be willing to accept differences in work methods and behaviors in your team. Ultimately, your task is not to set the members of your multicultural workforce straight but to help everyone understand one another so that they can work smoothly together to accomplish your goals. Empathy and the ability to see things from other perspectives are key to this process.
- Similarly, take steps to work on your ability to be flexible and accommodate differences in your multicultural workforce. For example, if you have employees who must take time each day to spend in prayer, try setting up a quiet, out-of-the-way room to both accommodate their needs and avoid disrupting others. Not only will this help grease the gears of your workforce, but a flexible mindset will also help you adapt faster to changing circumstances in your business environment.
- Finally, discard any useless pride on your part. Pride can be an excellent motivator and thus something to be encouraged in both you and your workforce, but that can change if it grows past the point of excess. If you ever find that it is getting in the way of you being able to think clearly, do not hesitate to excise it or suppress it deep enough so that it is no longer a problem. Too much pride can keep you from acknowledging that other people can also have worthwhile viewpoints.
How do you cope within a multicultural work environment? Share your tips below!
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