One of the reasons I love training is the chance to meet so many different people with different perspectives, which often challenge my own thinking and always teach me something new. This is intensified each time I run a public speaking workshop as participants often choose topics close to their heart when they're presenting.
Last week I was working with a small team. From what had been 2 people they'd built to 11, and shared a healthy respect and support for each other. I could see there was genuine understanding between them. Or so I thought.
One girl, originally from China, spoke about cultural differences and the difficulty of merging east and west.
The week before someone she worked with (someone in the room) was going out to get miso soup and asked China Girl if she wanted some. Although China was desperate for a bowl of miso, she knew it was impolite to say yes, and so she declined. Aussie Girl was perplexed; she knew China loved miso and also that China had no lunch with her that day.
It was only 2 weeks later during the workshop that she found out the reason why. In her Chinese culture you don’t say yes, especially if you are a woman who has been taught to be submissive and that you don’t count. You certainly don't accept when the person offering is your superior.
How many of this little incidents are there? I'm aware of many basic cultural differences, but I often assume wrongly that if you're in the western workforce, you've probably figured it out. As if we can just ask people to forget thousands of years of something worked into their bones.
Our differences in personality form the foundation of who we are but there are many complex layers that complete our diversity. Culture. Ethnicity. Sexuality. Ability. Gender. Experiences. Is there any wonder we have misunderstandings?
Respectful, healthy workplaces need open communication. But it's not enough to say - we pride ourselves on open communication if half your Asian population don't speak up.
Diversity in the workplace starts with education on both sides. Encourage your minority groups to do kitchen talks over a cuppa or a sandwich. If that's too scary, write an internal post or better yet, bring some food from your country, a winner when it comes to learning about differences.
Remember, you don't have to have everyone over for a sleepover. But if we understand more about each other's differences, and respect them, we can connect more effectively. And ultimately that means you have less stress, and you get more done.
Lynne Schinella is a conference speaker, trainer, coach and author. Her fruit keynote, Working with People You Just Don't Get, draws on the classic four personality types and explores why we’re different, how we're different and what we can do about it.
Check out her online training program for small teams.