Cultural Friction Among Staff

  • Posted In: Q&A
  • Question

    I have heard of a situation where there is some difficulty brewing (friction, lack of unity, etc.) among interpreters related to each others cultures.  Can anyone can share ideas, resources, or experiences concerning intraorganizational cultural understanding, competency, and awareness? I realize that provider and patient cultural competency tools could be used, but is there anything more specific to co-workers?



    Not knowing the circumstances, I hope the following is relevant: A starting point is looking at how the situation is framed. If framed as an opportunity for learning, growth, and strengthening the team, rather than as a problem, it is much easier for people to engage with less defensiveness.  Making an opportunity for open communication and for the people involved to share responsibility for their relationship can make a big difference. Some practices I have found useful are:
    1.    Listening with the intent to understand the other person’s perspective.  Reflecting back what was heard so that the person knows they are truly heard.
    2.    Checking out assumptions. Understanding that the intended message may be completely different than the message that was received. Asking questions to understand the intent.
    3.    Distinguishing between intent and impact. Understanding that the impact of a behavior may be different than the intent. Both are important.  If possible, assume positive intent and focus on the impact.
    4.    Identifying needs - What is it that each person needs? How can the team work together to meet everyone's needs?

    Laurin Mayeno
    Mayeno Consulting
    Just because we work in the world of intercultural health doesn't mean we don't come with our own biases.  We should assume that we all carry bias as humans; very few of us are unencumbered by them.  And because of our line of work, its easy to believe that we don't have bias given our values and social justice orientation.  This sometimes makes intercultural interpreters challenging groups in which to address bias.  I'd suggest approaching these types of issues from an unconscious bias perspective, which, if done well, acknowledges bias as a characteristic of being human and draws on social cognition, neuropsychology, and neurophysiology research. What makes this approach more palatable and powerful is that it's outside of the perspective of good people or bad people. If we become aware of our biases towards each other's cultural groups, we have improved the possibility of making decisions that can begin to mitigate a difficult situation.  We've been doing work in unconscious bias for the past 4 years and it’s typically very well received and powerfully transformative.

    Leslie Traub
    Cook Ross Inc.

    Here's a few questions to assess cultural competence, just off the top of my head:
    1.    Have you been exposed to classes or trainings in cultural competence?
    2.    Are you aware of your own biases? What would be an example?
    3.    How do you feel about working with people of other races, religions, age, sexual orientations?
    4.    How would you deal with a co-worker who has made a biased or prejudicial remark towards a co-worker or patient?
    5.    How would you prepare yourself to work with a co-worker or patient from a different culture than yours?
    6.    What types of questions would you ask another person who's culturally different than yourself to make it more comfortable for you and/or them?

    Deb Iverson
    Advanced Diabetes Nurse Specialist/Educator, Transcultural Nurse Specialist

    We do a self-assessment session to explore this topic . . . the fact that we all have "culture" and that our culture is always speaking to us.  We go for the "not wrong . . . just different" approach for most areas of conflict. We use maps, stories, and present the "ends of the spectrum" in terms of self identity, worth, relationships, time, communication, etc.  We make time for participants to explore where and how they learned their most cherished values (and make the point that others have learned and cherish their values, too).  We end with a few fun minutes asking participants to identify the ethnocentrism in certain "common" statements: "The British drive on the wrong side of the road," "How much are these francs in real money?"  and "Why can't you date someone 'normal'?" We give participants additional exercises to do on their own.

    Irene Egan
    VNA of Greater Lowell
    A few years ago, when we launched many of our CLAS initiatives, I encouraged all staff to visit this terrific website from the American Anthropological Association: The interactive exercises found there are very beneficial when it comes to self awareness.  It wasn't required for our staff, and I don't have any idea how many (if any) actually visited the site, but I personally found it very enlightening even though I thought I had a pretty good handle on my own biases, prejudices, and perspectives.  It could be used as an individually conducted before any group discussions take place. It could also serve as a jumping-off point for an intraorganizational conversation.  To keep discussions from becoming divisive or threatening, you probably won't want to ask anyone to share personal results and findings, just their reactions.  Hope you find this resource valuable. 

    Suzanne H. Boegli, MBA, RHIT
    Quality Improvement Project Coordinator III
    Paramount Care, Inc.

    I would recommend a good facilitated group discussion. The facilitator has to be someone who has no fear and is able to discuss difficult topics. This can be accomplished under several topical discussions. I am facilitating one tomorrow called “How well do you stereotype?” Some other topics I've used for discussions include assumptions and judgments; first impressions, and discover your own cultural traits. Group participation is essential.

    Pamela Thorpe
    Coordinator of Cultural Services and Special Projects
    Mary Washington Hospital


    Find Resources