Finding Common Ground
Culture (n): the customs, arts, social institutions and achievements of a particular nation, people or other social group.
When we think of someone else’s culture, what are the first things that come to mind? Chances are we think of their culture in terms of their race/ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.
But if we find ourselves making assumptions about our diverse colleagues based on their appearances, we should instead consider whether their experiences are representative of their entire group. When an organization is small or has few diverse professionals, those one or two people shouldn’t be burdened with defining the others who will follow them.
While some might revel in the challenge of being the first, others might feel uncomfortable knowing that their performance could determine whether the organization will strive to hire additional diverse professionals.
In public relations, we never paint our publics with a broad brush. The same should be true when we’re getting to know the culture of diverse professionals. Culture goes beyond a person’s race/ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Consider these examples:
• Personal interests: Whether it’s sports, television or movies, everyone has a form of entertainment they feel passionate about. When people come together to share in that passion, they often form their own subcultures with norms and behaviors that allow them to communicate with one another.
In public relations, taking time to learn about our colleagues’ interests can go a long way toward understanding them as people. Whether our colleagues are fans of “Star Wars,” Dodgers baseball or “The Great British Baking Show,” we should make an effort to understand their personal passions.
• Hobbies: When not enjoying entertaining performances, we usually find activities to entertain ourselves. Hobbies are another way to bring people with common interests together.
Hobby groups span a gamut of activities, from the physical (bodybuilding, marathon training, yoga) to the cerebral (board games, trivia, listening to music). We should learn what our colleagues like to do and try to find common interests with them.
• Philosophies: We all have beliefs that influence how we see our lives. Many people come together through religious activities and faith. Others practice spiritual behaviors that keep them centered in different ways.
Understanding our clients’ philosophies is beneficial when we draw up PR plans for them, and such insights also benefit our interactions with our colleagues. When we understand how a diverse professional thinks, we can improve our communication with that person.
• Local customs: When people are proud of where they come from, they’re happy to talk about their local culture. In their experiences and outlook, subtle differences exist between black professionals from Detroit and those from Los Angeles, for instance. The same is true for Native Americans of different tribes, Latinos from different countries or professionals from different provinces in China. Just as we don’t paint our clients’ audiences with a broad brush, it’s equally important that we familiarize ourselves with the regional perspectives of our diverse colleagues.
While it’s a good practice to understand our co-workers, we also have to realize that every professional has a different comfort level about sharing his or her culture. Rather than press too hard to know diverse colleagues on what might turn out to be a superficial level, it’s best to earn their trust naturally.
Building trust is always the goal in public relations, of course. It isn’t any different when engaging with our colleagues. Either way, our interest in others must be genuine.
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