Communication techniques that consider cultural sensitivities, values and practices

Your work with colleagues and clients from other cultures can be very interesting. It can also be very challenging on occasion when their beliefs and attitudes are very different from your own.

Individual differences and beliefs affect everything we do and say. We may not even be aware of these differences. Often we base our expectations of others on our own experiences. If you have not had experience with people outside your own culture, you may find your expectations of how others should act are misguided.

Think about some of the attitudes, ideas and beliefs that people from other cultures have that are different to yours.

You may have developed a set of attitudes about the behaviour and rights of people from other countries; in this case, your frame of reference could well influence the way you work with others. When you work in the service industry, you need to be aware of your values.

cultural frame of reference is the way people from the same cultural group see their world; it is their world view.

An essential part of the functioning of a team is being aware of cultural practices and/or differences and using effective communication techniques to further understanding.
To effectively contribute to best practice in an organisation workers need to consider that values are beliefs and attitudes they may have about:

  • how things should be in the world
  • how people should act in certain circumstances
  • how the important aspects of life are handled, e.g. money, family, relationships, power, male and female roles.

These beliefs and attitudes are extremely important and personal. Values are formed and absorbed by people as they develop through childhood. Customary ways of behaving and responding to situations can vary considerably from one society to another.

You should not see these customs as right or wrong; you should learn to understand the reasons behind them. Such customs or patterns of behaviour are very important, especially in the aged community or in migrants who may find comfort in continuing practices remembered from their country of origin. You should always:

  • be respectful of cultural practices, attitudes and beliefs. e.g removing shoes before entering a home
  • show consideration, e.g. think of the needs of others from their point of view
  • be polite, e.g. use the preferred title and the appropriate tone of voice, listen to others address each other
  • show genuine interest
  • respect a person’s right to privacy and confidentiality.

When addressing a person from another culture, you may need to consider:

  • different ways of speaking or titles that may be preferred
  • male and female roles clearly defined along cultural boundaries
  • different speech patterns / language
  • codes of behaviour
  • clothing
  • gender-specific tasks to complete
  • non-verbal communication and body language eg eye contact, use of touching etc
  • use of physical space.

If in doubt, ask someone; otherwise you may cause offence without being aware of the fact.

There are most likely workplace guidelines for you to follow in your work in cross-cultural situations. You can refer to your supervisor if there are any problems arising for you from your clients’ or co-workers’ customs and spiritual beliefs which you feel you cannot deal with.

Communication Tips (Word Document 27KB)’, based on information in O’Sullivan, K 1994, Understanding Ways – Communicating Between Cultures, Hale & Iremonger.

Cultural considerations when working with Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander people

The following clip provides valuable information to consider when you are working with Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander people.

Download the transcript of this audio clip.

transcript (Word Document 30KB)

Working with culturally diverse clients and co-workers

The following audio clip outlines key points to consider regarding the concept of culture and cultural diversity in the workplace.

Note: this audio clip was originally developed for another unit and contains references to topics in that unit.

Download the transcript of this audio clip.

transcript (Word Document 49KB)

Activity 3.3: Communicating with a person from a different culture

Activity 3.3 (Word Document 59KB)

Examples of cooperative behaviours

Another important ground rule for staff working together in a team is that members will behave in a cooperative manner.  Examples of cooperative behaviour include:

  • showing verbal and non-verbal respect and consideration
  • listening to others
  • acknowledging your understanding of what others have said
  • considering the needs of others before acting and speaking
  • consulting with relevant others before taking action
  • sharing relevant information, materials and equipment
  • negotiating with others to ensure that all set tasks are completed within time limits.

Examples of uncooperative behaviour

In contrast, behaviour that is unlikely to promote cooperation includes:

  • not sharing information
  • not contributing ideas
  • working independently or in isolation
  • being unwilling to listen to others
  • being unwilling to accept the opinions of others
  • completing tasks in ways that do not complement the work of others.

What types of information need to be shared within the support team?
An important part of working cooperatively in a group is sharing information.  The types of information shared will vary, depending on the purpose and membership of the group. However, it is likely to include:

  • your current activities, particularly those that relate to others within the team
  • relevant incidents and achievements by clients
  • feedback that could assist the group or organisation to improve quality of service
  • any training or support needs for yourself that you may be aware of
  • any concerns or queries you may have
  • changes to previously agreed actions
  • any information you may have which could facilitate working towards the group’s goals.

Activity 3.4: Sharing information

Activity 3.4 (Word Document 59KB)

Methods of sharing information

Information may be shared with others by formal or informal means.  Formal means may include staff meetings or memos; informal means may include telephone conversations or a brief discussion in the lunchroom.  The choice of formal or informal sharing of information should be determined by:

  • The type of information, e.g. administrative detail versus confidential client details. Names of clients may be exchanged verbally amongst staff but care must be taken with sensitive client information.
  • The urgency and importance of the information. For example, a notification of child abuse would need to be recorded in detail.
  • The number of people who need to receive the information. For example, if all staff need to know about an issue, then a memo or circular to all staff may be most appropriate.
  • The need for a response or follow up action. For example, advocacy taken on behalf of a client with a government department.

Activity 3.5: Methods of sharing information

Activity 3.5 (Word Document 59KB)

Problem-solving skills

As a support worker, you will need to demonstrate problem-solving skills on a regular basis, both with individual clients and when working with your support team.  It will be necessary for managing your time and resources effectively, and for helping clients and their families identify and meet their individual needs.  In using problem-solving strategies, you need to understand your role and responsibilities clearly, and to know when you need to seek assistance or advice from your supervisor or another team member.  The basic steps to problem solving are as follows:

  1. Define the problem.
  2. Seek assistance if required.
  3. Identify options for solving the problem.
  4. Gather information on options if required.
  5. Make a decision on the best option.
  6. Act on the decision.
  7. Review the outcome.
  8. Record the decision and outcome.

Activity 3.6: Problem-solving

Activity 3.6 (Word Document 59KB)

Dealing with conflict in the workplace

Conflict may be defined as a difference of opinion between two or more people or groups, so that each tries to influence the outcome according to their own preferences.  It may also be considered as a difference between the values, opinions, beliefs and priorities of certain individuals or groups.
Conflict can be positive and benefit a work group or organisation, as it can increase awareness of the different needs and values of others, stimulate creativity and promote positive change.  However, if it is not handled effectively, conflict may create serious problems and hinder the support team’s progress.
Basic considerations for minimising conflict are:

  • ensuring that you are clear about your role and responsibilities within an organisation and work group, and the standards your work should meet
  • focusing on problems or situations, rather than the individuals involved
  • actively listening to others
  • communicating clearly
  • maintaining a positive approach
  • looking forward to solutions rather than dwelling on past events.
  • have an agreed process for resolving conflict.

Conflict and problem-solving in the workplace

When a number of people work together in a group situation, there is always potential for conflict as each individual holds different values, beliefs, attitudes, backgrounds and skills.
Conflicts are likely to occur when:

  • individuals work together to achieve a shared goal
  • their work roles complement each other
  • resources are shared.

When conflicts arise, it is necessary to negotiate a solution, one which all parties involved are happy with and which allows you to continue to work together (a win–win situation).
Involving team members in discussion of problems is one way of ensuring the solution reached is creative and owned by team members. Hayden (1998) suggests that there is a role for shared decision-making in teams, particularly in children's services.
The five steps Hayden (1998, p. 4) outlines in shared decision-making are:

  1. Identify the problem and who owns it.
  2. Realise that those who are most affected by the problem will be influenced by the decision made.
  3. Brainstorm solutions or gather ideas together.
  4. Collate the suggestions.
  5. Ensure consensus is reached, that is, most team members agree with the decision.

Hayden suggests there are many advantages to this approach to decision- making. They include:

  • Worker esteem. Participants feel their ideas and input are valued.
  • Group ownership. The results of the decision are more likely to be successful.
  • Better decisions. Many perspectives are put forward, rather than just one.
  • Strong commitment to decisions. The team is likely to support the decision, as they have felt part of the process.

Staff meetings are one forum where shared decision-making can take place. Staff meetings allow team members to interact openly and discuss achievements, issues or problems that have arisen. 
There are many benefits to holding regular staff meetings. They include the following:

  • All team members receive the same information about occurrences in the workplace.
  • Problems can be freely discussed.
  • Other staff can provide feedback.
  • Social bridges are built between members.
  • Time is available to plan together and distribute tasks.
  • Creative ideas are generated and can be tested out.
  • All team members are given the opportunity to contribute to decision- making.

Activity 3.7: Staff meeting

Activity 3.7 (Word Document 59KB)

Activity 3.8: Handling conflict

Activity 3.8 (Word Document 59KB)

Last modified: Friday, 8 November 2013, 5:03 PM