In a previous update, we discussed recognising the business and operational need to manage cultural diversity following Brian’s presentation at a national conference in which he presented a paper dealing with managing cultural diversity in clients and customers. It soon became apparent to him that many employers have never turned their minds to this issue, but that there are great business reasons as to why they should do so.

The business need flows from having a culturally diverse population and the opportunities for growth that flow from managing those needs. The operation need flows from having policies, procedures and systems in place to deal with multicultural issues.

In this issue, we discuss:

Developing a broader knowledge base;
Strengthening communication skills; and
Dealing with culturally based issues.

Developing a broader knowledge base

“Managing Cultural Diversity” [1] sets out the requirements to achieve cultural competence. There requirements are cumulative:

1. Systemic cultural competence

This requires effective policies and procedures, monitoring mechanisms and sufficient resources to foster culturally competent behaviour and practice at all levels.

2. Organisational cultural competence

This requires skills and resources to meet client diversity and an organisational culture which values, supports and evaluates cultural competency as integral to core business.

3. Professional cultural competence

This depends on education and professional development and requires cultural competence standards to guide the working lives of individuals.

4. Individual cultural competence

This requires the maximisation of knowledge, attitudes and behaviours within an organisation that supports individuals to work with diverse colleagues and customers.

At the individual and team level, achieving cultural competence is an ongoing process of learning about cultures, cultural adaptation and cross-cultural communication. To ensure that we are ‘culturally competent’ we need to:

  • Be prepared. Learn about cross-cultural communication and other cultures.
  • Be aware of your own cultural values, assumptions and expectations.
  • Explain key differences when necessary. The most important ones are often invisible.
  • Help newcomer.

Cross cultural communication

“Managing Cultural Diversity” [2] sets out four basic elements of cross-cultural communication:

1. Verbal behaviour: What we say and how we say it.

This includes accents, tone of voice, volume, rate of speech and use of slang, idioms, proverbs.

2. Non-verbal behaviour: What we say when we’re not talking.

This includes ‘body language’ such as eye contact and ways of showing respect, ‘object language’ such as dress codes and ornaments and ‘environmental language’ such as house and office design.

3. Communication style: How we prefer to express ourselves.

This includes ways of getting our point across, assumptions about ways of speaking and interacting with each other.

4. Values, attitudes and prejudices: What we believe is right.

This element is the most complex and includes our deep beliefs and feelings about our own identity, about the world and how we judge other people.

Highlight these key words.

  • Verbal
  • Non-Verbal
  • Style
  • Values

Using these terms as a sort of short-hand memory device can help you to remember what you have learned about each element to help you to analyse and understand any cross-cultural encounter.

Dealing with culturally based issues

Within employment, it is important to have set the expectations with employees at induction and to have clear Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Sexual Harassment Policies.

Wise employers will also have an Anti-Bullying and Anti Workplace Harassment Policy.

A formal Grievance Procedure should also support these Policies.

In terms of client management, it is important to set discuss with the client any key cultural issues and how to manage any issues that arise.

For example, at the first meeting it may be prudent to consider and then discuss some or all of the following and not just make assumptions. They are taken from The Silent Language [3]:


Similarly, any dispute management systems will need to be cognisant of the above. Training will be critical. Any dispute management system will only work if the manager of the dispute is trained in dispute management and recognition of cultural and related issues.

[1] 2010 Australian Multicultural Foundation & Robert Bean Consulting, page 52.

[2] 2010 Australian Multicultural Foundation & Robert Bean Consulting, page 40-49.

[3] The Silent Language: Edward Hall, 1959, Cultures & Organisations: Geert Hofstede and Principles of Intercultural Communication: Porter and Samovar, as reproduced in “Managing Cultural Diversity”

Brian Williamson and the Team.