ERIC Identifier: ED377311
Publication Date: 1994-00-00
Author: Lankard, Bettina A.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Cultural Diversity and Teamwork. ERIC Digest No. 152.
The practice of working in teams is becoming more prevalent in all types of
organizations. Interdepartmental teams are formed to engage workers in
collaborative efforts to resolve problems, integrate new programs and/or
processes, and engage in long-range planning. Interdisciplinary,
cross-functional teams are formed to bring together all stakeholders in an
organization to improve communication, increase involvement, improve quality and
efficiency, and increase productivity (Sutcliffe and Pollock 1992). Merely
putting people in teams, however, does not guarantee that the teams will be
effective. Getting people to work together--to listen to every member, to
consider all viewpoints, and to exercise courtesy and respect for each
other--has always been a challenge. In today's society, when cultural diversity
is common in schools and workplaces, good communication has become an even
greater challenge. This ERIC Digest examines cultural beliefs, attitudes, and
practices as they influence communication style. It presents strategies that can
be used by vocational and career educators to prepare students for future
interactions in a culturally diverse workplace.
THE CHALLENGE OF COMMUNICATION
between generations, genders, races, and cultures have been the subject of some
recent best sellers, such as YOU JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND: CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN
MEN AND WOMEN (Deborah Tannen) and THE JOY LUCK CLUB (Amy Tan). These books
illustrate that "what I say is not necessarily what you hear...even when you are
listening." The problem with communication is that people harbor certain
beliefs, assumptions, attitudes, and values that cause them to interpret
messages as they listen to the words. Their hypotheses about what is happening
and what might happen are based on personal experiences or familiar cultural
patterns that influence their actions. For example, if experience leads a person
to believe that someone who doesn't look him or her in the eye is unfriendly or
untruthful, that person's response to the individual will reflect that belief.
In a society characterized by pluralism, where the meanings of various behaviors
and practices are as diverse as the people demonstrating them, incorrect
assumptions easily lead to miscommunication.
Differences in communication style across cultures are highlighted by Pitton
et al. (1993) in a synthesis of culturally specific nonverbal behaviors. In
their report, the authors make generalizations about certain cultures--that some
groups find direct eye contact preferable or acceptable, whereas others consider
it intrusive, inappropriate, and even shameful. Pitton et al. suggest that some
cultures emphasize the emotional quality of a conversation more than the words
or context of the message, whereas other cultures consider the expression of
emotion to be inappropriate. These culturally learned tendencies can influence
communication among members of a diverse group. For example, members of more
reserved cultures may be less inclined to speak out in a group discussion, or,
when they do, to speak in low or soft voices, thus allowing the strong,
assertive, and loud voices to dominate the conversation (Pitton et al. 1993).
Gender differences are also reflected in the communication styles of men and
women. Wood (1993) touches on this subject, describing women's voices as the
voices of caring and men's voices as voices of fairness. "The voice of caring
emphasizes the responsibilities people have by virtue of their relationship with
each other....The voice of fairness assumes that what we 'owe' to others and are
entitled to expect from others depends on our rights" (p. 85). This
orientation--caring versus fairness--may explain what men and women find most
frustrating in their conversations with each other: the male's penchant for
giving advice rather than attending to feelings and the female's focus on
feelings rather than judicious problem solving.
STRATEGIES FOR DEALING WITH DIVERSITY
When there are so
many variables in a diverse culture--demographic variables such as age, sex,
socioeconomic status, and geographic location and ethnographic variables such as
nationality, race, ethnicity, language, and religion--how can educators prepare
students so that they will be able to interact with each other and work together
in teams? The following strategies are recommended.
Nurture Students' Respect for Other Viewpoints. Wood (1993) defines respect
as "recognizing that a perspective other than your own can be legitimate, equal
in validity to the way you view the world. Respect does not require personal
acceptance of another's position, yet it goes beyond mere toleration" (p. 86).
Leading students to consider different cultural perspectives may result in
feelings of discomfort until they come to understand that "agreement about what
we know does not imply that we need to agree about what it means" (Fried 1993,
p. 126). The instructor can facilitate understanding by assuming the role of
inquiry guide rather than information authority and encouraging students to
discuss their discomfort and explain its origin.
Develop Students' Critical Thinking Skills. To communicate effectively in the
midst of diversity, students need to understand how to "organize data; and
analyze, synthesize, and draw conclusions while recognizing the 'power that
emotions, values, and personal experience have in shaping one's interpretation
of information'" (ibid., p. 126). Fried identifies three sets of skills students
need to learn in this regard: (1) separating facts from cultural assumptions and
beliefs about those facts; (2) shifting perspective; and (3) differentiating
between personal discomfort and intellectual disagreement. Fried recommends that
students be "encouraged to explore their own beliefs and cultural assumptions
about an event and their effect on interpretation of course material" (p. 127).
By sharing their insights with each other, students will gain a greater
understanding of the value of each person's frame of reference in interpreting
information. With increased experience and self-disclosure, students will begin
to distinguish among facts, beliefs, values, and personal experience, learning
when to challenge and disagree and when to exercise understanding and
Affirm the Presence and Validity of Different Learning Styles. Anderson and
Adams (1992) identify two types of learners: relational learners and analytical
learners. Relational learners "place an emphasis on affective and reality-based
learning, a broad and personal approach to the processing of information, a
search for relevance and personal meaning in what is taught, and a need for
qualitative feedback" (p. 22). Analytical learners place an emphasis on the
information itself, exhibit sequential and structural thinking, are more task
oriented academically, and more easily learn material that is inanimate and
impersonal. In a multicultural classroom, successful teachers tend to use a
variety of teaching strategies to accommodate the different learning styles of
Encourage Equitable Participation in the Classroom. Studies analyzing
classroom dynamics show that teachers interact more with male students than
female students and with white males more than minority males. The studies also
show that "compared to white males, all female students and minority males are
more likely to be quiet in class and less likely to assume a powerful role in
discussion" (Sadker and Sadker 1992, p. 50). To encourage equitable
participation in the classroom, Sadker and Sadker suggest the following teacher
--Code the class in order to track how many times each
student is called on and make the participation more equal.
the wait time after each question. Studies show that all students benefit from
more wait time, especially those who are less assertive and reluctant to
a facilitator rather than a gatekeeper of classroom interaction. Distribute the
leadership for ensuring participation of all.
student seating to encourage the distribution of attention from the white and
male clusters in the classroom.
Emphasize the Importance of Teamwork in a Multicultural Society. Working in
teams of culturally diverse individuals is an activity today's youth will
encounter as they enter the work force. "Organizations are realizing that a
focus on teamwork, employee participation, and empowerment can lead to a more
efficient and innovative organization and thus to a sustainable competitive
advantage" (Bond and Pyle 1994, p. 10). Young people need to be made aware that
their career success may very well depend on their ability to work together with
culturally diverse populations.
Not only are businesses recognizing the changing demographics of the labor
force, but they are also aware of the implications of a changing customer
profile on their operations. Ted Childs, director of work force diversity at
IBM, said, "We think it is important for our customers to look inside [the
company] and see people like them. If they can't, it seems to me that the
prospect of them becoming or staying our customer declines" (Rice 1994, p. 79).
Businesses also realize the problem-solving strength of culturally diverse work
teams. According to Ernest H. Drew, CEO of Hoechst Celanese, at a 1990
conference for Hoechst's top 125 officers (mostly white males) and 50 or so
lower-level women and minorities, "the group split into problem-solving teams,
some mixed by race and sex, others all white and male, to discuss how corporate
culture affected the business and what changes might be made to improve results.
When the teams presented their reports, it was obvious to Drew that the diverse
teams had the broader solutions" (Rice 1994, p. 79).
Educators are also concerned with issues of minority representation in the
staffing of their institutions. By 2000, it is estimated that minority students
will comprise 33 percent of the school population. A great percentage of these
minority students (40-55 percent) will enroll in vocational programs in
community colleges. These students will need teachers from their own racial or
ethnic groups who understand their practices and behaviors and who can serve as
role models for their educational achievement and success (Lankard 1994).
Although the multicultural composition of the United States poses a challenge
to educators, the value of such education is significant. As Pierce (1993)
notes, "The overarching purpose of educating for diversity, both in and out of
the workplace, is to facilitate movement on the cultural competence continuum
toward advanced cultural competence and to prepare learners to challenge and
restructure institutions of society to become more inclusive, just, and
democratic" (pp. 4-5).
Anderson, J., and Adams, M. "Acknowledging the
Learning Styles of Diverse Student Populations." NEW DIRECTIONS FOR TEACHING AND
LEARNING no. 49 (Spring 1992): 19-32. (EJ 443 231)
Bond, M., and Pyle, J. "Workforce Diversity: Status, Controversies, and an
Interdisciplinary Approach." Paper presented at the American Psychological
Association Convention, Lowell, MA, August 1994.
Fried, J. "Bridging Emotion and Intellect: Classroom Diversity in Progress."
COLLEGE TEACHING 41, no. 4 (Fall 1993): 123-128. (EJ 477 866)
Lankard, B. A. RECRUITMENT AND RETENTION OF MINORITY TEACHERS IN VOCATIONAL
EDUCATION. ERIC DIGEST NO. 144. Columbus: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career,
and Vocational Education, 1994. (ED 368 889)
Pierce, G. "The Centrality of Critical Thinking in Educating for Diversity."
Paper presented at the 13th Annual International Conference on Critical Thinking
and Education Reform, Sonoma, CA, 1993. (ED 361 362)
Pitton, D.; Warring, D.; Frank, K.; and Hunter, S. MULTICULTURAL MESSAGES: NONVERBAL COMMUNICATION IN THE CLASSROOM. 1993. (ED 362 519)
Rice, F. "How to Make Diversity Pay." FORTUNE, August 8, 1994, pp. 79-86.
Sadker, M., and Sadker, D. "Ensuring Equitable Participation in College
Classes." NEW DIRECTIONS FOR TEACHING AND LEARNING no. 49 (Spring 1992): 49-56.
(EJ 443 233)
Sutcliffe, W., and Pollock, J. "Can the Total Quality Management Approach
Used in Industry Be Transferred to Institutions of Higher Education?" VOCATIONAL
ASPECT OF EDUCATION 44, no. 1 (1992): 11-27. (EJ 444 026)
Wood, J. "Bringing Different Voices into the Classroom." NWSA JOURNAL 5, no.
1 (Spring 1993): 82-93.