Unresolved cultural and racial tension is expensive on multiple levels.

  • Are you worried about keeping good workers?
  • Have some residents moved out?
  • Are you concerned that your staff are not friendly enough
  • Do they see their differences more than similarities?
  • Do some think others are at times “pulling the race card”?

    There are solutions.

Your workforce will grow and thrive in direct proportion to the quality of communication between groups of people who work there who have real and perceived differences.   Take the time to give your people the awareness and skills they need to be culturally competent-enough.  Build the resources into your budgets. Your people are your greatest assets.   Find the support you need to do it in excellence.

Here are 10 key points you might consider before embarking on conversational projects:

  1. Expect to make some mistakes.   This is hard work, fraught with challenges on multiple levels.
  2. Frame the work you want to do carefully. Go slow at first.  Know that you are moving into a potential minefield of feelings and biases when doing this work.  One company put the phrase “white privilege” in the title.  It did not go so well.  Some titles we’ve used are these: “One Mission: Many Voices” and “Working Together to Find Common Ground” and “Courageous Conversations for Nice Minnesotans”   Do your best to use language that is as neutral and inclusive as possible.
  3. Include a variety of workers in the planning and information gathering before calling a larger group together.  Aim at diversity of gender, race, position and/or ethnicity.  If possible have managers and direct service staff involved together with outside support.
  4. Ask tough questions:  e.g. do the demographics of our better-paid workers accurately reflect the demographics of our less-paid workers?
  5. Have people from different cultures take active leadership during the events. This works especially well if they have training and a natural gift for facilitation.  It also works if they are people who function well in multiple cultures.
  6. Educate the “pink-people” (e.g. Caucasians) and “brown-people” (e.g. African-born people, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, Indians, etc) to be more aware and understanding of other cultures: their values, beliefs, patterns of communication and especially the meanings of their non-verbal cues.
  7. Teach people how to re-frame the words and behavior of others.  Invite them to consider being so quick to label another person or comment as “disrespectful” but simply as coming from someone with “a different set of social rules”.    Someone who interprets a finger to the mouth and a “shhhhh” as disrespectful can be educated to know that in most US cultures that expression is not disrespectful but rather an invitation for someone to lower their volume.
  8. Allow space for people in leadership to define what level of assimilation is expected from those who are born in another land or from a different culture. They may feel on their heels as managers and this is a challenging posture from which to manage. They do not need to become culturally competent in every culture represented by those who are from a different country or ethnic origin.  But they do need to decide what sort of behavior is acceptable and what is not.
  9. Achieve a reasonable give and take of communication styles. Newer Americans do not need to do every single thing the same way as those who have been here for generations.  Those who have been here a long time also have something to learn from those who have arrived more recently.
  10. Extra Credit: build small ladders of support that make it easier for people from the less-mainstream cultures to become managers, directors and executives.  This is one of the biggest ways to help integrate the workforce and reduce stress:  have a variety of people in roles of leadership.

These are things we are doing, with companies like yours, to help workers find ways to communicate effectively and respectfully in the midst of significant, interpersonal, racial, ethnic and gender-based differences.  It is making a difference.  Reach out for the support you need today!

by Tom Esch
President of Esch Consulting, LLC


“Tom Esch’s facilitation skills are unparalleled. The results have given us a richer appreciation for who we are as a company.”   Sara Aschenbrener, Lifesprk