Bridging the Culture Gap

February 26, 2013 at 9:56 am

On Monday, we held Dean’s Rounds on “Understanding the Impact of Cultural Diversity in the Academic World” and were enlightened by Lionel Laroche, PhD, P.Eng., a renowned author, educational speaker and consultant who has provided cross-cultural training and coaching to over 15,000 people in nine countries.

Organized by Dr. Samia Barakat, Associate Dean, Professionalism & Diversity and Dr. Bruce Martin, Associate Dean, Students, the presentation offered great insight into the immigrant experience in Canada.

For one, he noted that immigrants generally come to Canada with very high technical skills; but may not possess the soft skills we take for granted.

Laroche pointed out that Canadians begin public presentations as early as Kindergarten with “show and tell” and continue to practice public speaking throughout grade school and university. Many immigrants, however, will have not had any experience with public speaking until late in high school or university.

Laroche said immigrants may not recognize the importance of these soft skills in the evaluation process for career advancement or understand the Canadian way of measuring performance.

“In your profession, international medical graduates will tend to focus on improving technical skills, but it is just as important to also enhance the soft skills,” he said.

We all have an important role to play in improving cross-cultural communication and bridging the gap between cultures.

For instance, if you can’t understand a person who’s speaking English as a Second Language, it’s respectful to ask them just once to repeat or rephrase and seek to engage with them and read non-verbal cues.

“Awareness is 50 per cent of the solution [of successful cross-cultural communication],” Laroche said.

He also stressed the significance of ensuring people of different cultures understand what each is saying and that the message received is the intended one. It may be necessary to clarify one’s intention if the impact is not what was meant.

As well, Laroche advises monitoring one’s emotional state to identify negative feelings or triggers that could prevent a respectful cross-cultural interaction.

He also had audience members pair up and recount their morning activities using two synonyms to describe a single action. This slow, sometimes difficult conversation is what immigrants face on a daily basis when communicating in a foreign language.

This exercise gave all of us a taste of the challenges faced by our immigrant colleagues and how patience truly is a virtue in cross-cultural communication.

What can we do as a faculty to meet the needs of our culturally diverse workplace?