Unbelievable

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“Why can’t we all get along?” This is the cry I hear from people who want to talk about cultural diversity, religion, management or anything else I happen to be speaking. Many times it’s exactly these individuals who are the ones who don’t really want to get along with another. If there was an issue – maybe it’s them who was causing it? A better question to ask then is “What’s stopping you from getting along with someone else?” or “Why aren’t you getting along with others?” Of course, those are harder questions to ask and to have answered, so we end up speaking in generalities about groups instead of individuals.

This is the situation I found myself in last weekend. The issue proposed to me by someone close to me was “Why do you talk about sensitive matters? Why do you have to present a direct contrast between Islam and Christianity? Why do you have to blog about it and why do you have to address audiences about this?”

In my professional background in the realm of Human Resources, that’s all I deal with: sensitive matters. Human Resources professionals deal mainly with issues of employment, hiring, firing. With Diversity, matters of age, race, gender, ethnicity and religion are constantly being brought up by organizations. It’s what I am paid to talk about. I understand very clearly that it makes many people nervous and downright angry to talk about some of these things.

The media and our society today has done a great job defining what is okay to talk about and what is not okay. In my line of work, I deal with the fact that people cannot leave their religion behind while they work 9 to 5, nor can they ignore their age and any discrimination that may come with that or sex, or ethnicity. That’s the reason why I make it my life’s passion and work to talk about it, write about it and live it out.

I love talking about God. I don’t like or want to leave him in the car while I go to a meeting or discuss a subject matter at a corporate meeting or even at a public university. He is a large part of my story, my background, my calling to speak and also He influences every decision I make. I am not able to separate out my religion from my career or family. The person in question found this to be UNBELIEVABLE. I am not sure if she found it to be unbelievable that I place my trust in God for all these matters or that I will not stop talking about Him.

Political Correctness has done more harm than good. Dale Carnegie said “seek first to understand and then be understood.” Why then do we say we will just not talk about all the things that are protected by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), such as race, age gender, ethnicity & religion? We take the things of the workplace and apply them to our everyday life, missing opportunities to see how other people believe, how they live, what is their background and what makes up the content of their character.

It’s beautiful to be able to live in a country that allows for freedom of speech, of expression and of religion. We are able to have a mosque, a church, a Hindu temple and a Jewish temple in the same town – even on the same block! You do not find this type of diversity in many places. It’s a rich way to learn about others’ beliefs and to help them understand your own. The key is to approach one another with respect and not tell them to stop talking. Extinguishing dialogue will lead to darkness and misunderstanding – death of relationships. It does not allow people to freely share views and present a fresh, new way to approach century-old grudges.

Since we live in a free society, why should we not utilize these hard-won freedoms that someone else died for? Why should we stop the dialogue, pretend that culture, ethnicity and religion – differing opinions don’t exist? Why not take an opportunity to open your mind, open your heart, open your ears, and open your eyes to see the beauty of diversity that exists all around you?

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May we be people who live in God’s light, sharing openly about His love, His light and the freedoms only He can bring in our life. May we share the good news of the Gospel to a hurting world that thinks this is the only reality there is.

“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” ~Ephesians 5: 8-11

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Bridges, Balconies and Burqas

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There are always two sides to any story. What we don’t often see is that there is a third side to the story – the community and the observers to the two parties’ argument or conversation. Conflict at its most basic is merely a differing perspective. There isn’t anything wrong with seeing things differently. That is Diversity and it enriches our perspectives. Conflict is something that comes up where one or more parties cannot understand or recognize the other person’s perspective.

This is true for religion, the global situation and negotiations between nations, at our workplace and also in our families. When we feel personally threatened, there is a friction that can come up. The story behind the situation can get lost, while we focus only on our own gains, our own viewpoint and our own needs, the perspective begins to become lopsided.

Building a bridge involves a balanced approach. There are careful measurements and an overall vision that sets the stage for the process. In order to build, both sides need to be worked on at the same time so that they can meet delicately in the middle.

While I’ve never built a bridge (physical one, not metaphorically speaking), I have crocheted socks. How in the world can crocheting of a pair of socks look like building a bridge? They both need to be worked on at the same time, by someone from the outside. This is another way to look at conflicts and negotiation. Action of one entity upon two other entities = third side (or the third party) is not a new idea.

In psychology, the third side or perspective is called the “Mediating Variable.” It helps two things that seem to be linked together to be explained in a better way. In conflict negotiation or mediation, unless you have a third party involved that can help to explain the situation clearly and ask the right questions, it is very difficult to get to a suitable resolution. Authors Heifetz and Linsky have called this to be a “Balcony Perspective.” If you are one of the actors on the stage, it will be very difficult for you to see the whole picture because you only know your part and maybe the part of the person before you and after you so you can be cued in. However, if you choose instead to see the drama unfold from the balcony view, you will be able to not only understand what is going on in front of you but also what the others are doing in the background. The entire scene becomes crystal clear all of a sudden. The same is also true for conflict and negotiation.

So before you jump into a blame game or rush into judgment of a situation, STOP. Take a ladder and climb up to the balcony. Take a fresh perspective of the scene unfolding in front of you. You might just be able to see things you have never seen before or things you were taking for granted in your everyday rush to be heard and to be placed in the #1 seat.

In my walk with Christ, I have found that building bridges between my past and helping people to understand what it was like to grow up in an entirely different culture (Middle East & Asia), with a different religion (Islam), and different family values, there is a lot of ground to cover. There is great fear driven from the media that causes people to become angry towards a certain group. I have met several women who was moderately Christian at the time  (not really attending church regularly and couldn’t really say much about having a relationship with Christ), who told me that she was angered by  Muslims here in the United States and elsewhere.

As all of my family is Muslim, I could have immediately taken great offense at what she said – they have as much of a right to be here as he does, even if they were not born here, but are U.S. Citizens. After taking a deep breath (= going to the balcony), I asked her a few questions: How many Muslim people have you talked to here (answer: none), how many Muslim people have you tried to reach or build a relationship with so you could understand them better (answer: none), how do you know what they believe other than the media (answer: I am well-educated), and finally – why do you feel this way? The last question made her pause. I told him that my family would not feel the same about her, so what was going on? She answered in one word “FEAR.”

This is no different than what happens at work. We take a stand on something and get mad about it, without taking into account someone else’s underlying concerns or addressing the issues below the iceberg. Ninety percent of the time, you will find that the issue at the face of the situation is not the real issue. The real stuff is lying below what the person is saying to you.

Going back to another woman who was fearful, God had a very funny way of taking care of that situation. I hosted a baby shower for a Saudi woman who was new to the country. I didn’t even know who she was, but that a group of Christian women wanted to have a shower but the location fell through. I offered up our home and we had over 30 women attend. The guest of honor came to my front door with her entourage of 8 women- all dressed from head to toe in their black burqa (or hijab). My friend came out from the kitchen and I heard a sharp intake and gasp of a breath. I have to admit – it was kind of a scary sight to have people you don’t know who show up to your door and you cannot see their faces (kind of like Halloween, but not on Halloween…).

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As the women were ensured that no men would be in attendance, they started to take off their veils and covers. Underneath were these sweet-faced 18-20 year old girls dressed in cute trendy dresses, short hair, full make-up. So adorable! I could see a huge wide grin spread across my friend’s face. After the fun party, she and I got to talk. She had tears in her eyes because she felt like the Lord had taken her to a balcony to see a new perspective she would never have considered. What a JOY to have that perception and fear lifted off in one night. That is the way bridges are built…

May we seek ways to bring peace to our homes, families, workplaces, and nation in this way, for blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God (Matthew 5:9). 

 

 

Managing Across Cultures

cultureYesterday, I taught a course on Cultural Intelligence for the State of Oklahoma Office of Management & Enterprise (OMES). Just as your own Intelligence Quotient (IQ) can be measured, so can your Cultural Quotient (CQ). Harvard Business Review defines it as “Cultural intelligence: an outsider’s seemingly natural ability to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures the way that person’s compatriots would.”

The biggest thing I noticed when was an immigrant to the United States is that this is such an amazing country with many cultures living side by side. Oklahoma City has a Vietnamese district of restaurants and a large grocery market. There is also a large Southeast Indian, Persian, Hispanic and of course, a rich Native American culture. The universities in the area have flourishing International Studies programs. All of these are reasons why in 2016,  Oklahoma City was named one of the nine metropolitan areas for creating an inclusive culture! Surprised? Don’t be! There aren’t many areas in the US that don’t have a cultural impact (inclusion and race). I usually tell my students that you don’t have to go further than your local Wal Mart to find the varied diversity in any US city. If you are even more curious, go to the Ethnic Food aisle at Wal Mart and see how many languages are being spoken there.

Americans don’t give ourselves credit for taking inventory of how much we already know about a particular culture. Growing up with friends from different areas, educational level, socioeconomic status and even generational differences all account for cultural diversity. However when the term “Diversity” is mentioned, we focus on black and white – we are the ones who make it about race only, missing out on the rest of the things that make diversity exciting.

One can easily measure their level of cultural knowledge by taking a Cultural Intelligence quiz online (there are several free ones available – just do a search!). It’s a quick test that takes a look at the four quadrants of Cultural Intelligence (Drive, Cognition, Meta-Cognition and Action). A high score is NOT what you are after on this test. It’s more to show you where you can improve in each area. This is the first step in developing and increasing your cultural knowledge. Application and adaptation are the next two steps.

CQ is quickly becoming a need for managers and leaders. Knowing how to work across cultures to increase productivity is KEY in any workplace or organization. It’s important to note here that the term “culture” also include generational differences. This is one of the main areas I have had to address over the last few years, as the Baby Boomer population decreases and the Millennials increase in the workplace.

The main question that arose from the Cultural Intelligence session yesterday was how far do you go to accommodate another culture before you blur the lines between who you are and the values you hold?

This is a good question to consider. It is truly based upon your own values, beliefs and also your organizational culture and beliefs. If those are in alignment, then the decision making comes easily. If they are not congruent, then there can be dissonance. As a manager, it’s very important to allow for “reasonable accommodation” for an employee’s ethnicity, religion, or other consideration. Flexible time and PTO help to give tremendous creativity on how that time is used. The issue becomes more blurry when ethics come into play. I believe it’s important to stress that when a leader focuses in on one person’s needs or issue (due to inclusion or diversity needs), that that they don’t alienate the other 99 in the office. So taking the big picture into account is a good way to start. Solving issues in a team is also another approach. This will actually allow others to learn more about the culture and do creative problem solving together. The only caveat to this is if the employee wants the issue to remain confidential, so before taking a team approach, ask employee permission.

The bottom line in any diversity or inclusion initiative is to address each employee with dignity and respect. That is a common ingredient that crosses global, ethnic, and cultural boundaries. If we stop for a minute to think about what is getting ready to come out of our mouth and take time to analyze the situation, then CQ is already at work. The knee-jerk reaction rarely works when all these factors are involved. Take a moment, think, analyze and give benefit of the doubt to the other party. That is something that will help a manager not just handle cross-cultural issues but most communication issues.