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How to cope in a multicultural environment

As we are fast becoming a happy bundle of multicultural societies, it is essential for us to be able to discern and evaluate good cultural traits against the “not so good” ones. This is a simple way to induce compatibility factors among different cultures. Mainly when we have to work in a multicultural environment.

How to cope in a multicultural environment

Although most of us would welcome and react really well to seemingly good – or compatible – cultural traits, what of the “not so good” traits? How would we react to them? But first, wouldn’t it be best if we tried to understand where the differences come from?

Understand the differences of a multicultural environment

Cultural differences come from all sorts of different places. Some happen due to geographical location, while others due to religious, political, economical or other localized features. Incidentally, those don’t really pose that much of a difficulty. They can be historically analyzed. They can be learnt. No long term issues here, right? But, where does the difficulty inherent to all cultural differences come from? Especially in a multicultural environment?

A life of experiences

We can generally find similar cultural traits among people that live in the same geographical area. Why is that? Well, if there is one thing we can learn from localized cultural features is that they exist for a reason. Usually a situation that brought people in a region closer together. One that may be deeply engraved in their memories and in their collective tradition or lifestyle.

Multicultural environment or not, what we can’t learn from analysis and history are personal experiences. Such experiences that for any practical reason have contributed in developing a certain behavior among a small group of people. One that solves a problem. The smaller ecosystems we call companies or corporations are a perfect example.

Oftentimes, companies can see this problem in their everyday activities. Larger corporations, especially long lived ones may go as far as developing a handbook explaining the nuances and reasons behind their behaviors of choice. A cultural red book sort of speak. How else might someone summarize a lifetime of experiences and choices?

Culture is a choice

Yes, that’s right! Or more accurately, a culture might be described as a set of behavioral rules. One resulting from choices made at certain points or important events in life. While this is a mostly practical feat, it actually extrapolates a theoretical basis on which someone can draw, to try and coexist in harmony with a group of people, by embracing said culture. A choice, indeed! One that is best implemented using a transition.

How can we learn the differences?

Since cultural differences can be learnt, for the most part, why not do just that? But how?

Exploratory spirit

Being inquisitive can be really helpful when trying to understand a culture that is based on different premises. Not assuming anything is the key to avoid drawing false conclusions. In learning a new culture, just ask and thou shalt learn. So how can you build your own little culture of trust?

Open mindset

Oftentimes, when learning a new culture, we may find ourselves in complete disagreement with some of its attributes. This “disagreement” is usually bias, originating from our own culture. In order for us to stop fearing change – or even understand why these attributes are so different in other cultures than they are in ours –

we need to keep an open mind inasmuch as listening before judging. That type of behavior should do the trick.

Fairness

This one should not be difficult. Once we’ve listened carefully how any given behavior in any culture has essentially occurred, we can be fair in judging it for ourselves.

Personal biases, regardless where they come from, are much easier to leave outside the door. And we can now deal with differences much more calmly and with the proper respect. And that’s just because we now have a better grasp at how it all works.

Patience

Differences are differences. Creating common ground upon which people can coexist in harmony is not an easy task. But you can definitely do it with patience. It may require quite a few edits before a working happy medium is found and sufficiently implemented. Once it is, though, you will notice the change immediately. Much less tension in communication and far less conflicts. Crisis management may be reduced to the absolute minimum.

Reap the benefits

If this whole effort has proven fruitful, you will notice a big difference. This way of thinking, evaluating and accepting differences, will become second nature to you, soon thereafter. Consequently, dealing with new cultures will become increasingly easier. That’s how you can gradually build an efficient multicultural environment; be it at work, at home, or any other type of community.

If it scares you, deal with it the lean way. And bear in mind, this newly found mindset comes with a free extra benefits.

Improved empathy

As we’ve discussed in the past, empathy is a soft skill, which can be developed. Understanding people and their behaviors can definitely help you understand their occasional emotional state, their way of thinking. Of course you’ll also be able to avoid agitation, conflicts and any unreasonable disagreements. That’s a feature that will prove more useful in a multicultural environment, rather than anything else.

Better emotional management

It goes without saying, we all get emotional from time to time. Especially when frustration of not understanding (or being understood) kicks in. Things unknown to us make us feel uneasy. Sometimes we get agitated, or angry, or furious about something.

Simply knowing how, why or when something happens reduces anxiety and agitation to the point where they are no longer a problem. In other words, being knowledgeable about something helps us keep calm and remain efficient at what it is we are doing. Just think about it!

What about work?

Whether we’re in a multicultural environment or a single-cultural environment, one thing is for sure; Whole geographical cultures can be studied in books. But cultural traits among colleagues are not as easy to analyze. There are, however, a few types of activities that will help you go there extra mile.

  • Lunch time. You’ll be surprised how a few casual discussions will help you understand someone and build better communication channels with them.
  • Extra curricular activities. Any activity involving a common goal will help people align their thought patterns and improve harmony among them.
  • Common training on business matters. Oh yes! Having the same process in mind to get things done is a hidden gem in effective collaboration. Without those dreaded conflicts, of course. Besides, there’s nothing like making sure your business model works best!

Try some of these suggestions for yourself. You’re bound to get something out of them. You can’t lose!

How to cope in a multicultural environment was last modified: May 22nd, 2019 by Panagiotis Sarantopoulos

Panagiotis Sarantopoulos Panagiotis Sarantopoulos

The Starttech Ventures Head of Content Marketing. Studied Science of Computing at the University of Huddersfield in UK, specialising in Animation for Multimedia Systems. He has worked as a Multimedia Author for IBM Hellas and as an Adobe Certified Instructor and Support Technician for Adobe Systems software at Anodos SA. He has also worked at various Advertising Agencies, as a Web/ActionScript developer.

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