When I took over as Executive Director of a not-for-profit trade association a few years ago, I quickly uncovered some deep financial problems that preceded my arrival but demanded my immediate attention. To fill the gap of day-to-day staff management while I focused on organizational issues, I delegated ‘being nice’ to the Managing Director. He was nice, I was busy, and it was a win-win situation. Or so I thought. But at the end of the day, while the financial situation of the organization turned around, I was left with a staff that didn’t really trust or like me.
The point is, we can’t delegate our personal relationships, and, as relates to intercultural communications, we can’t delegate difficult conversations and still expect to have strong, trusting relationships, whether it is with co-workers, clients, or in our personal lives.
This is why I ‘cut’ the following question I was writing on someone else’s blog for someone else to answer, and pasted it on my own blog:
“I’d love to see a post about the articles on NPR today and yesterday citing concern about anticipated Civil Rights Violations on Election Day in November. The concern is that minorities in some areas will face intimidation and deception, preventing them from voting. The Government’s response is to assign prosecutors to monitor the polling places. Some Civil Rights groups say this could be construed as further intimidation because of a history of distrust in some communities based on past interaction between minorities and prosecutors.”
From where I sit in White Middle Class America in 2008, this seems impossible. I think, “There’s no way this can be true.” But as an intercultural communicator, facilitating communication along lines of difference, I also know that my perspective is just one way of seeing things, and that understanding and valuing other perspectives is critical.
To walk the talk, it’s about setting specific, tangible action steps to achieve a goal. Here is what I can do today to get started:
I will send this post by 5 pm Friday to 10 people I know* and specifically ask them if they think this is a valid concern, any personal experience they’ve had with this, and ask them to please either post an answer on the blog or respond to me directly, knowing that I will post their reply.
My advice to others when engaging in communication across lines of difference is to admit your own experience (or lack thereof) with the topic, and then to show sincere interest and invite a response from the other person’s perspective. If you don’t ask, you won’t know. So I’m asking…
*My plan is for the sample to include: 1 Arab American, 3 African American, 3 Latino-American, 1 Asian-American, and 2 other, for a varied sampling of opinions. That said, noone is expected to represent the opinion of an entire ethnic/cultural group, and chances are all will be comparable in other factors…education level, urban/rural, etc. But I have to start somewhere.