If you’re Latino and work with Caucasians, do you have to adjust your behavior to be “included”?
If you’re a German and work with Chinese, do you have to adjust your behavior to be effective?
If you’re from the millennial generation, working primarily with baby boomers, do you have to adjust your behavior to be accepted—and effective?
If you’re a black woman working mostly with Latino men, do you have to . . . .?
I could go on, but you get the picture. Whenever one person’s beliefs, attitudes, perspectives, and customary behaviors are largely different from another’s, whether the reason is for race, gender, country culture, generation or something else, adjustments have to be made if the minority person is going to be included in the workgroup and be an effective contributing member.
Such adjustments mean the minority individual has to have certain competencies to be able to make those adjustments. These include:
- interest in diverse people
- willingness to interact with those who are different
- emotional sensitivity
- emotional resilience
- being able to manage stress
All of the above and a few other competencies are necessary to be able to learn about those who are different, develop a healthy relationship with them, and maintain a solid emotional stability that provides the foundation for learning and relationship development.
But now let’s look at the flip side. What if you’re in the majority group. You’re part of the French sales team working with a Brazilian counterpart, the Caucasian workgroup that just hired a millennial Polynesian, . . . Your job as a majority member is to facilitate the integration of the minority member! That’s the “Inclusion” part of diversity and inclusion. Do you have the interest and skills to be inclusive? What are those skills?
Let’s take a close look. If the minority member does something unexpected (i.e., out of the norm), are you quick to judge (non-judgmentalness) or are you interested in learning why s/he acted that way (curiosity)? Which one will more likely help the newcomer feel comfortable in the new environment? What if you’re really not that interested in the newbie? How does that influence your willingness to interact with him or her (willingness to engage)? To really help the new person become adjusted and feel included in your majority group, you need to want to help (interest in different others) and actually be able to explain why that expression might not be appropriate and what the minority member might have done instead (willingness to interact).
Recognizing when the minority member might be embarrassed, upset or perplexed as s/he negotiates through the majority culture will be helpful to develop that relationship (emotional sensitivity). Certainly being self-aware and knowing what your culture’s and your personal norms are can help you explain things to the other and make you aware of how that person might be different from you. For example, it’s important to know how your workgroup values the use of time. You might focus heavily on careful scheduling and getting tasks accomplished. Conversely, the minority member’s culture (personal or country) might value using time to reflect, interact with others, carefully think through concepts before acting. If you have never really thought about why you and your work culture use your time the way you do, it will be harder to understand why you get impatient with the minority member. It will also be harder to be sensitive to their need to adjust and to be explained the “rules of the road” reflected by your workgroup.
Clearly, the competencies for an individual to adjust to the majority group are the same for the majority group members to be inclusive and help the minority member become effective. When both the minority member has the competencies to integrate and the majority members have the skills to facilitate the integration, the bumps and deviations in the process of adjusting and being included are significantly lessened. Everyone can focus more on the work group’s performance and less on conflict from diversity issues that have not been managed well.
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