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Tips for connecting with a colleague from a different culture

Please note that this is an automated transcript.

Welcome to The Bicultural Podcast. In today’s episode, I would like to share with you some tips and ideas for connecting with colleagues from a different culture.

To start with, we need to recognize that when we interact with different people, we may not always know their cultural background. It is only by getting to know someone we start to uncover the cultural layers within an individual. For example, if they live in England, speak fluent English and have regional English accent, we assume that how they behave and think has only been influenced by the English majority culture. However, as we get to know them, it turns out that they worked and lived in over ten countries, worked with 20 different cultures and raised their kids outside England. Similarly, you may meet someone who was born outside of England, but I spent most of their life in England and now is marrying someone from a different culture. And here you can see that uncovering someone’s cultural layers can be quite difficult. And as Taiye Selasi would say, it’s not about where you’re from, it’s where you’re local. It is also difficult to judge the influence of a particular culture on someone’s behavior and thinking. So we also need to recognize that we have our own cultural layers, and these may not be as clear as we think, and maybe we haven’t thought about those before.

A big part of creating a meaningful relationship with a colleague from another culture is to be aware of your own cultural identity. Taiye Selassie’s model of rituals, relationships, and restrictions are really helpful in identifying our own cultural identity. So let’s start thinking about your own rituals.

What habits and cultural practices do you do on a regular basis?

So you may think of, OK, I drink tea a lot, but what kind of tea? Is it English or Gray tea or is it Persian tea or is it some fruit tea, or do you not drink tea at all and you drink coffee instead? Where do these practices come from? If you think of your parents and that’s how you were influenced, where did they get the practices from? And then how did these practices influence your work and private life? What things do you take on board, which then change your perception on how you see your work or your private life and all these rituals linked to a particular culture? And this is a really fun exercise for you to do. So it’s really interesting to see how our behaviors have been shaped by different cultures and things that we take on board and things that we do on a regular basis, because it’s surprising how we love things that are common to us, and we’re creatures of habit.

Secondly, now let’s look at your relationships.

Who do you speak to on a regular basis? So here, make a list of people who you regularly speak to in your work life, and then a list of people who you regularly speak to in your private life. And then make a note on each of their cultural backgrounds. Now, this already indicates to you your perceptions of their cultural layers, but that’s absolutely fine because it gives you an indication about whose cultural background you’re exposed to and kind of your perceptions as well. It’s also really interesting to think about whether you’re connecting with people who have quite a monocultural experiences or are they multicultural. It’s really interesting to reflect on that as well.

And finally, let’s look at restrictions.

Have external circumstances influenced you to move away from the country which you were originally called home? Are you restricted by your nationality where you can live? So a lot of people, for example who live in the UK, they have a British passport and may have not experienced this last question and its effects. But it’s a very important one to consider because that person, person that you’re interacting with, your colleague may have had different experiences. So a colleague may have or had refugee status, and hence their cultural journey may be a bit more complex than other people that you’ve met in the past. And also they may not feel comfortable talking about that journey with you quite yet. And this leads me onto something different. It leads me on to discussing phases within the cultural journey, which may impact the way you connect with your colleague.

So the phases within the cultural journey may be relevant to you as well as a consideration yourself when interacting with your colleague. So to explain this as simple as I can, I will use the UK culture to represent the culture in which the individual has moved to and now is living in. So someone called Barry proposed the following phases within the cultural journey.

So you have assimilation, which is when someone only adopts the UK culture. Then you have integration, which is when someone maintains the heritage culture and adopts the UK culture. Then you have separation, which is when someone only maintains their heritage culture. And then you have being marginalized, which is when someone is getting rejected by members of both cultures.

So where do you or your colleagues sit within these phases of the cultural journey? Making note of that, you can see that connecting with a colleague from another culture can be complex and this episode is a starting point to help you improve your relationship. If you’re from a monocultural background listening to this, don’t be afraid to get things wrong. Individuals from a bicultural or multicultural background may be already aware of these things that I’ve already covered, but it’s always good to remember mind yourself of these things when you become frustrated with an interaction because our bias and our own cultural lens sometimes make us interpret a situation and that still happens to me as well. So the more you experience life and interact with different people, the more you learn from them. So say getting to know your colleague and connecting with them as your own cultural journey. And be open to learning about their culture and be open to sharing things from your own cultural background.

So as I conclude this podcast episode, I’d like to share two things with you said.

Number one, if you have stories to tell on cultures and would like to be a guest on this podcast, then please get in touch with me. You can find my contact details in the episode notes. I’d love to hear from you. I need to hear your stories.

Number two, if you or someone who you know works with refugees and people seeking asylum and would like some free support, then check out the project that I’m volunteering with. It’s called Refugees and People Seeking Asylum Project by SIETAR UK and SIETAR is spelled S-I-E-T-A-R and I will also include the details in the episode notes.

So I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and I look forward to having you join me in the next episode. Bye for now.

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