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Learning to Listen...

Updated: Dec 15, 2020

I sat in the virtual audience of a great panel discussion yesterday. During the keynote presentations, and the Q & A that followed, I observed a number of cross-cultural engagements: the obvious (the experience of Black professionals in Niagara) and the somewhat less than obvious (e.g. generational).

Niagara Now: A Community Conversation Series. The Black Experience: Navigating Race in the Workplace.

While sympathy is not the point of the conversations, it did sadden me to hear about their experiences. One professional woman shared: the interviewer didn't take one note during the interview, perhaps he had photographic memory!? I didn't get that position. Another shared she sees through the pretense -- the smiles that don't get to the eyes.

The experience made me peel back a layer or two of my unconscious (and, sad to say, often conscious) biases. But it also gave me hope and optimism mostly because of the vulnerability of the speakers. Humour without rancour. Disappointment without hate. Perhaps even a bit of just anger without vengeance.

The question, Now What? was "left on the table." I heard the call for "intentional action" and "re-education" about cultural and racial/ethnic issues. While I cannot document the speaker, I got the sense that current corporate Diversity and Inclusion programs are not enough; more has to be done to truly include those of ethnic/generational/gender and gender orientation differences. This led my thoughts to the book I am re-reading "Driven by Difference" by David Livermore. Let the following quote suggest at least part of "Now What?"

Driven By Difference. Fuel Innovation through Diversity. A light switch with many different coloured wires showing diversity.

What ultimately matters is not the source of diversity but the different values and perspectives that emerge from it. The more diversity you have within an organization, the more ideas there are for how things should be done. Many intercultural training programs focus on the superficial manifestations of cultural differences such as how to exchange business cards or appropriate gift giving. But the differences that most strongly influence innovation are the varied approaches for communicating, planning, and executing tasks. How do you align the values, expectations, and work styles of four generations, dozens of nationalities, and endless subcultures toward a universal vision and strategy for the organization? Answering that question is at the crux of our work on cultural intelligence because our interest has been to improve effectiveness working across cultural differences. And it’s central to the purpose of this book—using different cultural perspectives to drive innovation. Cultural intelligence allows individuals to adapt their motivations, work ethic, and communication styles while learning from the different value perspectives to create better solutions.

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