From the Northeastern Section of the ACS, focusing on career management and development

September 2021
« Jul    
Conflicts at Work. Apparent Cultural barriers discussion
Filed under: Mentoring, First Year on Job, Leadership, Observ. Trends
Posted by: site admin @ 8:35 am

At a recent conference on Communications Skills, a
member working in a multi-cultural, interdisciplinary
group asked for help.
It was an interesting problem, that had underlying causes
and a “change of direction” outcome.

Several perspectives were sought in order to weigh in
on how to assess, improve the situation and move in
a positive direction.  [I have to complement Bill Suits,
an ACS career consultant, for detective work on this and
filling in some missing gaps.]

A workshop participant described her(is) situation that
co-workers do not engage in small talk, do not have
common interests with her (going with one gender)or
if they do they do not share, and they exclude her because
of her cultural differences. 

In fact, many of the co-workers are from one non-English
background and  revert to conversing in a different language
often, only speak about work pressures and abruptly leave
when she tries to bring up other things.  Ouch!

I brought this up with Roy Simmons, Rich Bretz, Joel
Shulman and Bill Suits for their impressions and ideas.

This is not an uncommon situation, on the face of it.

One faculty member, it was reported “has a very
international group of graduate students, including
several from China and several from India.  This faculty
member forbids her students from conversing in any
language other than English when they are in the lab.
That fosters better communication among the students.”

Another mentioned:  “I have seen reputations destroyed
when a simple misunderstanding was blown out of
because the hurt party went to a supervisor
before speaking to the other person.  We coach that
when we have an interpersonal conflict with a coworker
we should sit down with the person and work out a
win/win solution

Roy continued:  “One of the best intercultural
experiences I’ve ever had was the time I spent sharing
a room at an ACS meeting in Toronto with a Chinese
co-worker when we were grad students.  We had a blast in
Chinatown, my friend was happy to share his Chinese
culture with me, and I learned the proper use of chopsticks.”

“Consider approaching the individual that she thinks
would be most receptive to her concerns.  If the
exclusion is intentional and deliberate, it should be
addressed but the potential friendship that [name
withheld] forms will be much stronger if she reaches

Gossip and hushed whispers do more harm than good
in many settings.  While the rumor mill will persist in
organizations, T. Snyder offers:
  - if you don’t know the problem or cause, how will
you ever figure out improvements?  Investigate it.
  - gather information and withhold judgment until
all sides are in.  Keep it confidential, avoid pinning blame.
  - In rumor mills, the people spreading the rumor acquire
power and influence over others that don’t.  Acknowledge the
rumor publicly and seek information on people’s own terms.

Bill Suits was instrumental in ferreting out that the nub
of the problem is “frustration, because she is behind
schedule in her work and so are all the others and the
   help the supervisor communicate his goals
   participate in helping to set realistic goals in the
understaffed environment”

Reiterating Roy, Bill offered “find common interests with
her co-workers, … starting with one person.”

Surprisingly, there was a reorganization with a change of
supervisor during the week of the conference
and the
supervisor was changed.  The company is at the crest of a
growing movement toward globalization… with over half
being non-Americans.

Bill’s easy conversational manner in the workshop, talking
about football, brought out this growing cross-cultural wave
.  As the member nicely pointed out that “he helped
develop some new ideas aiming to create work environments
that integrate individuals from diverse background into a
productive work place that delivers job satisfaction,… “



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