Thursday, June 5, 2014

Inter-cultural communication: Diversity works together

Learning how to work in a diverse group

After a couple of months adapting to the rhythm of life in Ghana, I’d love to share some ‘small small’ advice with you about effective inter-cultural communication from my time with TradeAID on the ICS Programme. 

Yesterday I finished working on an Education Pack to be rolled out to local schools and community organisations in the Upper East Region as a way of spreading awareness about the potential benefits of Fair Trade for Bolgatanga and the Upper East. 

But this pack was not put together without testing the limits of my ability for good communication.

I’ll put my hand on my heart and say good, clear communication has been something I struggle with. This mainly stems from a lack of confidence, lack of conviction in my own ideas, being a bit shy about asking for help and advice, and the fear that the work I am doing is seen badly. I am concerned about bothering people. I’m quite independent and don’t take criticism easily, probably out of pride, who knows, this is part of who I am. But it is a part that I hoped to develop during my ICS placement. And slowly it is, I think. I’m tentatively becoming aware of how fundamental and basic good communication is, especially when working in diverse teams.

Some of the INCOME Project team members discussing
human rights in different cultures

What does ‘inter-cultural communication’ mean? 
We are all from different cultures. I don’t just mean nationality or race, I mean the way we are brought up, and the things we see as normal, natural, and routine. In 2014, our world is more connected than ever, more people are on the internet, have mobile phones, and move across borders. A variety of factors are speeding this process…. suffice it to say this is brilliant. But it does mean that more people face cultures which they do not consider to be ‘theirs’. Our reaction to this can determine the effectiveness of communication, which in itself impacts upon personal and working relationships. To wince and think ‘it’s not my culture’ is a natural reaction. But it’s not conducive to creativity and productivity in diverse teams. It’s easier to see the differences between cultures than to look harder for the similarities and shared goals. 

Johnny and McDavies working in the TradeAID office

So what did I learn whilst I was writing the Education Pack for TradeAID in Ghana?
  •  Focus on relationships
  • Meetings will start when the right people are there, not according to the clock. It’s normal.
  • Don’t rush into anything too quickly.
  • Make sure you’ve prepared for different outcomes, or for unexpected setbacks. Move onto Plan B.
  • Take your time to explain, and to listen to explanations given before moving forward.
  • Be flexible about solutions, and open minded about new ideas even if you don’t agree with them personally, see how relevant they are professionally.                    

In unexpected situations that can throw you off, a sense of humour is the last bit of advice I’d like to share with you. Embrace it. Watch and learn from those around you, if it’s normal it’s normal, and no less strange than what we get up to at home. If we have the above in mind it shouldn’t get in the way of communicating effectively or indeed feeling at home and having a good time; anywhere and in anybody else’s ‘culture’. Once you pluck up the courage to do something new, a bit different, maybe not in your culture or your comfort zone, you’ll be amazed at how incredibly rewarding and inspiring the results can be.

Desmond & Johnny in Ghanaian clothing after Group Reflection

Most importantly in my personal development is the confidence to ask for help when you need it, and knowing the right person, asking in the right way, and not being afraid. This is really difficult for me even when I am with people in my ‘culture’. I’ve discovered it’s not a weakness admitting the limits of your own knowledge or ability. It took so long for me to approach the national volunteers for support in the Education Pack but when I did (through a little coercion from Desmond and Emily the first time), it was immediately clear from their feedback what the next steps should be. Johnny, Desmond, Emily, and Conrad have been particularly helpful editing and approaching a local school to try and set up a pilot and get the activities and ideas I have written in motion at last. Carla, mate, you just can’t do everything by yourself. 

Now the Education Pack is finished. It would not have been possible without these guy’s efforts. So I’ll take the time to say thanks to you all as well. Always involve those around you in your work. If you’re stuck it doesn’t mean nothing is happening. If you want to progress, learn to be curious and look for the limits of what you know, and don’t be afraid to ask to fill in the gaps. The next time I work on a similar project I know exactly what to do.

Carla (aka 'African Mama'
as named by Sister Vida)

By Carla

1 comment:

  1. Really enjoyed reading this post - great to read such a personal response to how you're taking on challenges!