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Applying Cultural Agility to DEIB

Updated: Jun 5

Part 2 of 2

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Culture is all around us. It is the lens through which we see the world. This means more often than not, we don't see culture head-on. Instead, we see its impact. So, how can we create organizational cultures where everyone can recognize and choose the parts of their culture they want to bring with them into the organizational culture?

Intercultural Agility tools such as the 12 Dimensions of Culture will give your employees and coworkers neutral language as they navigate issues of culture and diversity. This neutral language is common ground and gives everyone equal, solid footing, opening pathways for healthy, engaged, understanding conversations.

Furthermore, as leaders, we need to take the time to address our perceptions about people and situations so that we will be better able to enter their stories with understanding and curiosity instead of judgment. Gaining an understanding of others will change the way we relate to them. When we get to know each other and begin to like each other, the rules of engagement change, and we cannot keep our walls up for long. Breaking down those walls and making space for everyone’s story helps create a third cultural space.

This neutral space is where there isn’t one culture ruling over others within the organization, it is where a completely new culture is created, where all have the opportunity to thrive. Though it may be difficult, challenging our perceptions and assumptions will help us to build deep, trust-filled relationships that are well worth the time and effort it takes.

Perhaps you have been a leader for many years. Perhaps you have thrived in a particular cultural setting, but now, things are changing. As you address your perceptions you can become aware of the worldview that you bring to your engagements with employees, clients, and other stakeholders and its limitations. You may come to realize that to be truly inclusive, you have to go beyond your worldview and allow for differing perspectives. You may also find that a growing appreciation for those differences will allow you to leverage diversity as a means of creating depth within your organization.

Our brains are wired for interpretation. We look at people and situations and ‘jump to conclusions’ without knowing all the facts that apply. It takes effort on our part to slow our conversations down and ask questions to gain a deeper understanding. Because the work of inclusion is so difficult and painful, we need to spend a lot of time equipping people with the tools they need to enter conversations with neutral language and fewer perceptions.

As counterintuitive as it seems, slowing down in the DEIB space is what will build momentum. We need to have a long-term approach to real transformation. If we slow conversations down and focus on one person at a time, choosing to build curiosity instead of assuming to know what is right, we will still reach our bottom-line goals, with the added depth of rich, trust-based relationships.

Approaching each employee and coworker as a uniquely wired cultural being and taking the time to slow conversations down with neutral language will have unquantifiable benefits for your organization:

- It will make people feel seen and understood, which could lead to greater trust in relationships

- It will deepen conversations and show deeper respect for others

- It will rebuild humanity and make friendship possible

- It will allow us to deal with people with more empathy and increase the chances of finding common ground with people different from us

- It will build bridges beyond prejudice and begin to address deep inequities

How can we infuse Intercultural Agility into what’s already being done in the DEIB space?

Most organizations have a mission, vision, and values that they work from. The question is, how do you make goals tangible and then gain buy-in from everybody? An aspect of Intercultural Agility is understanding the different worldviews people have, and aiming to bring honor and empower employees even in the goals that you share. In addition, communicating goals in different ways will cause them to resonate with more stakeholders, allowing them to identify with the goals and internalize them to the benefit of the organization.

Making Intercultural Agility part of our learning strategy will help us understand that we need to go beyond the differences that we see and engage people from their perspective and where they are coming from. Preferring people is key. We cannot amplify the differences between us and build relationships at the same time. Intercultural Agility tools allow us to find the things we have in common and having this as a starting point in building relationships will help us build unity even in the most diverse settings.

Final Thoughts:

Now, you’re set. Not set for a quick fix but equipped for a journey of learning. You have the power to reveal unspeakable beauty in the communities around you, and Intercultural Agility enhances that power. At every turn, ask yourself, “Am I allowing my perceptions to cloud my judgment? Am I building relational bridges? Do I seek to understand before being understood?” The true change you seek is about creating opportunities for people to connect because when we connect, the rules change in a positive direction.

Relationships move at the speed of trust. Taking the time to slowly learn the unique culture of each employee will be key in infusing trust into your interactions, and then, slowly but surely, relationships will deepen, and we can be together in a room full of differences.

Read Part 1 here.

This article was adapted from a panel webinar. If you enjoyed this article consider watching the full panel webinar. Sign up to receive it here.

Let’s talk today about Diversity, Equity & Inclusion in your organization, and how we can help you to create intercultural workplaces where people thrive! Contact us today.


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