No one wants to be seen as incompetent. I don’t want to be seen as incompetent and I’m guessing you don’t either. Generally, that instinct serves us well in the workplace. We work hard to do our jobs well. We invest and engage in professional development to stay current with our industry or preferably, ahead of the curve.
Our instinct to be seen as competent can work against us, when we are dealing with cultural competence. Cultural competence is our ability to interact effectively, across lines of difference. (Funny, there’s “competence”, right there in the name. You would think this is a no-brainer.)
“Can I work on cultural competence on my own?”
The question is more than understandable. Every day at The Kaleidoscope Group, we work with well-intentioned individuals who want to “get it right”. More than that, though, they don’t want to get it wrong. They don’t want to say the wrong thing to a colleague. They don’t want to offend a potential client. They don’t want, to cut to the chase and “get it wrong”.
Surely, they imagine, “There is a book I can read, a module I can stream, something that will get me culturally competent.” The reality is reminiscent of the old joke about the young man who rushes up to an old man on the streets of Manhattan. Hurriedly, he asks, “Excuse me, sir, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The old man answers, “Practice. Practice. Practice.”
There is no shortcut to cultural competence that bypasses human interaction. There is no shortcut to cultural competence that bypasses “the work”. And, unfortunately, for those of us who want to present themselves as competent at all times, there is no shortcut to cultural competence that bypasses the risk of making mistakes.
“I just really need to not step in it.”
Imagine a baby boomer. Let’s call her Beth. Beth gives her colleague, Josh, who is a millennial, some feedback about promptness. The response she receives: “That’s the problem with old people. You think that way you’ve done it is the only way it can be done.” Suffice it to say, Beth is less than satisfied with the interaction. So, she heads off to find books to read, books on millennials, books on boomers, books on generational diversity.
While education and awareness definitely have their place in addressing diversity, cultural competency is our ability to interact across lines of difference. Cultural competency is not our ability to ponder interaction across lines of difference, nor is it our ability to pontificate on the topic. The key element is: Interaction.
No set of buzzwords or (inauthentic) strategies, culled from the pages of “How to Win Friends and Pretend You’re Culturally Competent”, is going to shift Beth’s ability to engage Josh.
Real People. Real Conversations. Real Issues. Real Change.
That principle is at the core of everything we do as we shepherd clients along their particular Diversity & Inclusion journeys. And the fact is that when things “get real”, they can also get messy. Running off to read books, in solitude, may be a neat approach, but it is not the most impactful approach. When it comes to cultural competence, the most significant growth is in our interactions. And those interactions have to happen between real people.
If she chooses to engage, Beth contributes to her own development and Josh’s development. Josh may even learn that “That’s the problem with [fill in the blank] people…” is rarely the best way to engage across lines of difference. No it won’t be neat or easy, but what is worthwhile hardly ever is.
Why does Beth believe promptness is important? What does Josh value? How is the mission of the team and/or organization served (or not) by being “on time”? While there may never be total agreement regarding a given issue, the conversation, the interaction, provides an opportunity to “Practice. Practice. Practice.” and develop the very cultural competence that will make future dialogues more fruitful and, yes, easier.
It’s not about not “stepping in it”; it’s about having
the comfort and the confidence to step out and look
at the “stepping in” as a lesson.
CEO of The Kaleidoscope Group
If we are going to build inclusive environments, filled with culturally competent people, we will have to learn to accept and manage moments of incompetence, fledgling steps taken during the journey. Organizations and teams that make room for the subsequent messes, while committing to cleaning up the messes and learning the lesson, will be the organizations that catapult forward, consistently getting the most out of their people.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
If you want to “go fast” with cultural competence…soloed shortcuts will do. Go alone.
If you want to “go far” with cultural competence…only real people will do. Go together.
The Kaleidoscope Group