Diverse people unite. I was reminded that this is the motto on the South African Coat of Arms. Interestingly, it is also very applicable to Switzerland – considering the initial joining of Germans, French and Italians with 7 prime ministers and a rotating presidency, 4 languages and 26 cantons (or provinces) in a country roughly twice the size of Gauteng! Intercultural awareness is about being genuinely curios about our differences and making every attempt to build on our similarities.
It is great fun saying “When in Rome, we do as the Romans” when we are able to travel for pleasure, but not so much when we need to resolve team performance issues, or even conflict, in a multi-cultural workplace. Or impressing a client from a very different culture to our own. And bringing together a diverse team of professionals may not be the silver bullet we expect… unless we care enough about the individuals with each of their unique cultural and social identities.
Where do we start? As with most leadership challenges, it has to start with our self-awareness and social awareness. Assessing our own strengths in dealing with others as well as assessing potential blind spots or biases we may have. Ask for feedback from someone we trust about the perceptions we currently create and the state of our communication skills – especially questioning and listening skills, realising that these may have shifted during our adjusted way of working in lockdown. And being hopeful! Because people mostly want to find ways to succeed.
My experience has been that the key to intercultural awareness for global prosperity is mutual respect.