The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal

Cross-cultural misunderstandings: How can you help your managers resolve them?

Imagine you arrive in a new country, it’s your first day at work and you are asked to do a certain task. You want to demonstrate your skills. But you might be embarrassed to say that you didn’t understand something or to ask your boss to repeat the instructions. It is therefore up to the latter to take the lead. How? A start is for managers to become aware of this situation, which can affect any immigrated professional. This is just what the “Cross-Cultural Lunch and Learn” activity—organized by the Interconnection Program—proposes. Go behind the scenes of this workshop.

It’s noon. In Maxxam’s meeting room, about ten managers are settling around the table, lunch in hand. It’s time for the Cross-Cultural Lunch and Learn, a new activity proposed by the Interconnection Program in association with the Institut de recherche sur l’intégration professionnelle des immigrants (IRIPI). “This activity is the result of a joint discussion with the institute about the challenges facing businesses when managing their cultural diversity,” explained Élise Le Dref, Head of Internships at the Interconnection Program, who came to support Lindon and Nabila, the two hosts of this session. “We realized that the most common problematic situations were linked to a lack of cross-cultural understanding. This is what we will discuss today through an easy-to-understand example and practical tools to resolve misunderstandings.”

What is cultural diversity?

The activity lasts an hour and is designed to be interactive. “We always start by asking people what “cultural diversity” and “cross-cultural” mean to them. Just this small discussion can bring a lot to the conversation,” says Lindon. Around the table, the managers give their answers, starting with simple and obvious ideas and quickly moving on to more precise statements refined by contributions from each person:

  • People from outside of Canada
  • People with different life experiences, values and culture
  • The desire to create something together
  • A potential that broadens a business’s horizons thanks to a new approach and unprecedented ideas

From the start, one key point that comes up is that diversity refers to a strength built on differences. It is essential to understand these to minimize the risk of misunderstandings.

Putting yourself in another’s shoes

The key is to have good communication with your employee by putting things into perspective. “You need to put yourself in the other person’s shoes,” explained Nabila. This is the conclusion of the scenario presented by the two advisors in a short video. Maxxam’s managers, who work with many Interconnection Program interns and newcomers, agree. “Unfortunately, a common prejudice—applicable to any new employee, immigrant or not—is to measure someone’s intelligence based on their communication and interaction skills. However, what seems clear to us might not be for those we speak to, especially when it’s across countries or even across companies. Methods vary,” says Kristina, a supervisor. That’s why it is important to do a follow-up with the employee and make sure they are comfortable with their assigned tasks.

Awareness being raised on both sides

It’s 1 p.m. The activity is over. The group leaves with a guide to help them resolve any future misunderstandings. Some people stay for a final word. “It’s important for multicultural businesses to be aware of ways to integrate immigrated employees, by setting up tools and giving information to managers,” says Kelly Moreno, Head of HR at Maxxam. It’s also necessary to explain or reiterate the characteristics of corporate life in Quebec for newcomers before they start the job, as suggested by Maria Carmen, a supervisor who was at today’s workshop.

» Do you want to hold a Cross-Cultural Lunch and Learn at your business?
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