They say the path to hell is paved with good intentions and it could be said that the path to failure is also paved with “nice” policies. My work every day involves organizations that don’t realize that the attitudes they hold in the workplace are actually undermining their efforts to be more welcoming to a variety of cultures. Whether it be among their staff or in reaching a broader cultural clientele, we can no longer just “be nice to everyone” and hope that things turn out. Being nice – just like common sense – is not universal across cultures. Here are some of the intentions that need to be tweaked in order to score real cultural connections:
Treat everyone equally. There is a difference between equitable and equal. When we treat everyone equally, we give everyone the exact same food rather than taking into considerations the needs of the individual. Treating everyone equitably, for example, would be to ensure everyone’s nutritional needs were met.
Speak loud and slow. This is merely dumbing down the communication. Just because someone may not speak your language does not mean they are mentally handicapped. Making the effort to bridge the gap by learning another language opens opportunities that cannot be opened any other way.
Focusing on common ground. On the surface this approach sounds good, but it also tends to bleach out the cultural strengths each person brings to the table. In order to receive the maximum contribution from each stakeholder, we need to allow them to shine in the way they know best.
Accept everyone. Behind this intention lies the idea that I am doing the tolerating rather than I am the one doing the changing. In stead of paying lip service to diversity and claiming to accept people no matter what their quirks are, successful companies reach out and implement accommodations proactively to help their people feel more welcome.
Grin and bear it. This kind of white knuckling can only last so long. It is akin to a child closing their eyes and hoping the broccoli will disappear. Companies that bury their heads in the sand are only delaying an inevitable tide that they can either choose to ride with exhilaration or get swamped.
Handouts. Giving someone something for free is just another focus on weakness rather than strengths. It is essentially giving a woman a fish without teaching her how to fish. If we invest in truly helping a person change on the inside so that they can make changes in their environments on the outside, positive results follow suit.
Imbedded in each one of these so-called “good intentions” is a tendency toward inaction or waiting for the other to change. It comes back to the famous dictum, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Part of those changes may mean reaching out and asking the uncomfortable question “What can I do to improve?” That often means hiring someone to point out things we cannot see for ourselves. If you have the courage to make that call for your organization, reach out to: Broad Imagination and I would be happy to help you achieve your organization’s diversity goals.