Cross-cultural relationships

The similarities and differences that exist between you, co-workers and clients may have an impact on your work. Culture plays an important part in shaping a person’s behaviour, thought patterns and relationships with others. Cultural values, norms and beliefs provide a framework for people to make assumptions about and respond to their circumstances. Culture also strongly influences perceptions and expectations.

Cultural perceptions and expectations will directly impact on the way you work with each client and co-workers; failure to recognise cultural differences may cause potentially serious problems when you are dealing with others in the workplace.

Every society or culture has its own expectations of the role of service providers and clients. This influences:

  • the way a client relates to the service provider
  • the way workers relate to clients and co-workers
  • expected professional behaviour
  • the way in which a service is being provided
  • the people who may be involved in the process.

Areas where cultural expectations could affect relationships with clients and co-workers include:

  • Family involvement: Western society focuses on individualism and therefore any involvement of family members requires approval by the client. However, in cultures that encourage interdependency, the client and/or their family may have an expectation that family members are included in the process.
  • Body language: There can be significant differences between cultures in how people interpret facial expressions or what they consider to be an appropriate degree of personal space or eye contact.
  • Gender preferences: Some cultures may have particular rules regarding appropriate interactions between males and females. It is therefore important to consider the issue of gender preferences when planning service delivery.

It is very important that community services workers learn to be innovative and flexible when working with people from other cultural and linguistic backgrounds. For example, any service delivery may need to be developed and reviewed in collaboration with the client’s community as well as the client.

Discussion activity

Examine workplace practices: Discuss how specific practices in your workplace have changed, or could change, to better support diversity.

Examine workplace practices (Word Document 48KB)

Case study: Client interviews

Read the case study below and answer the question that follows. Enter your response into the text box provided.

Van Yung is a 45-year-old Vietnamese Chinese man who migrated to Australia three years ago.  He has been referred to a supported employment service where you are engaged as a case worker. You need to conduct an interview with Van Yung to acquire more information about his cultural background, work preference and skills. You need to prepare a list of questions you will ask during the interview that could help you better understand his cultural background and provide a more culturally appropriate service.

What questions might you ask Van Yung?


Last modified: Thursday, 3 November 2016, 11:46 AM