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CULTURAL DIVERSITY CREATES CHALLENGES IN U.S. WORKPLACES

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It's easy for most of us to work with people like ourselves. But today's workplaces aren't homogeneous anymore.

U.S. Department of Labor statistics show white males are less than half of the country's work force. That means we're dealing with more women, minorities, people from different regions of the country and disabled people.Culturally diverse workplaces can produce some sticky situations. Here are some sugestions for getting through them:

- First, evaluate yourself. Look at your cultural background, social and economic standing, education, communication and learning styles. This will help you understand how you operate and underscore how everyone you work with is as complex as you.

- Now look at those you work with. What are their backgrounds, experiences, tendencies? Learn everything you can about the culture and experiences of those people. Good sources are libraries, cultural festivals and experienced travelers, teachers and students.

- Try to imagine what it would be like to be that person who is different from you. Treat the other person as though he or she were you.

- Be upfront and discuss your confusion with people who are different from you. Ask if your method of explaining assignments or giving feedback is helpful or if your manners are appropriate. Use non-judgmental questions such as: What does it mean when you say . . . ? What's it like for you when . . . ? Can you show me how you would do it?

- If someone you know uses an inappropriate name for you or others, speak up. Tell the person how those names make you feel and list acceptable alternatives. But do this without criticizing harshly or blaming.

- If you've called someone an inappropriate name, focus on apologizing instead of defending yourself.

- Don't assume you know what others want to be called. Ask what names people prefer, learn the correct pronunciation of their proper names and find out how to use given and family names in the proper order.

- Don't tell cultural or ethnic jokes. They're degrading.

- When faced with a language barrier, take the time and trouble to learn key phrases in the other language, such as hello, goodbye, please and thank you. This conveys respect for others' cultures.

- When dealing with someone with marginal English skills, speak slowly and simply and avoid slang. But don't speak as if the other person is a child or hard of hearing. Also, check frequently with the other person to see if your message is being understood.

- Watch out for other cultural differences such as the meaning of gestures, the importance of time, the proper amount of physical space between two people and acceptable touching. Ask questions about traits that puzzle you. Don't imitate those you don't understand. And apologize if you misuse or misinterpret them.