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4 Ways to Increase Your Success Working Across Cultures

By Willow J. Anderson

Newfoundland and Labrador is more culturally diverse today than it was a few years ago. The rate of immigration is greater, and our Indigenous population is growing. First Light points out the province’s urban Indigenous population is now 18,000 people. Despite what some might assume, this cultural diversification is happening across this beautiful province, highlighting a greater need to increase our intercultural competency.

Intercultural competency is a person’s ability to work effectively with cultures different from their own. It’s not only about seeing and respecting differences. It’s about a person’s skill to put that knowledge into action.

Tips to help your journey toward being more interculturally competent:

Understand your cultural background.

We are cultural beings. We are deeply steeped in a culture, or several cultures. Sometimes, if we are deep in our own culture and haven’t had to question it, we can’t “see” it. As the saying goes “a fish doesn’t know it’s wet.” Reflecting on your cultural values, symbols, and norms, is the first step to becoming more interculturally competent.

Learn through respectful curiosity and cultural humility.

We can learn about cultural diversity right here at home. Indigenous friendship centres, Association for New Canadians, Memorial University’s Internationalization Office, and Tombolo host events regularly. Practice cultural humility by listening to those sharing with you and keeping your mind open to new and different things.

Memorial University has a holiday hosting program, for example, that links international students with local families to share a meal together. Sharing traditions is great way to spark conversation on how things look similar and different in another part of the world.

Practice respect.

There are many ways we can show respect. Honour others by using their real names, regardless of the effort it might take. Be patient when someone is struggling to express themselves in English, speak slowly and clearly, not loudly. Avoid pushing someone out of their comfort zone by imposing something that makes them uncomfortable. For example, in some cultures direct eye contact is uncommon and considered disrespectful. I know a professional who sets her office chairs perpendicular to each other before inviting those clients in for conversation.

Take time for self-reflection and self-forgiveness.

The most prepared and well-intentioned interculturalist is guaranteed to make mistakes. Goodness knows, I’ve made enough. When you have a confusing encounter, ask yourself, “Did I misunderstand the situation,” and “What cultural belief does my frustration reflect?” Be honest, learn from the situation, commit to doing better, and move on.

Cultural diversity, is, happily, our reality. The more time and effort we put into this area the more potential there is to improve our professional interactions, which can only better serve our businesses.


Willow J. Anderson

Mind the Gap Consulting™ assists organizations and individuals in navigating and optimizing diversity so that they might build their capacity to work more effectively within their organizations and externally with their clients and communities. Mind the Gap’s professional and customizable training, consulting, facilitation, and research help build diverse, effective, and collaborative workplaces where difference is a strength.

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