Cultural Awareness and Skills of Intercultural Communication...

These are now vital ‘tools for the job’ in all public services - eg, for

- managers of a diverse team/workforce, to ensure full compliance with the Equality Act - in recruiting, performance measuring and appraising, handling grievances or harassment, and to identify and resolve any internal team tensions;

- NHS doctors and clinical staff, to win and hold trust of patients from minority ethnic groups, and to avoid misdiagnosis or less effective treatment;

- front-line administrative and reception staff, to reduce hassle and stress, and deliver user-friendly service that establishes rapport, and gives equality of access for a diverse population, whether face-to-face or on the phone.

The workshop below has been used for managers and front-line staff at 56 NHS Trusts and over 70 local authority service departments. It does not confront people – it helps confront the professional issues. It does not tell anyone what to think – it sets an agenda of workplace issues worth thinking about.


1. Introduction to purpose, aims, methods and expected outcomes of workshop.

2. Dealing with unfamiliar names: differing naming systems in UK; spelling problems; best ways to handle pronunciation difficulties; ways of asking names as a first step to building trust and respect.

3. Questionnaire: Review of policy on Diversity and legal requirements under Equality Act covering both employment and monitoring of services to fulfil public duties. De-brief on why sensitivity to varying religions, languages, family traditions, and ways of communicating, is professionally essential.

4. Exchange of experiences of interactions with minority ethnic groups (including as appropriate, refugees and asylum seekers). What does it mean to respect a colleague or client/user's cultural identity and to establish rapport across cultures?

5. Practical Understanding of the Equality Act and Codes: not just what the law says, but more importantly, what it means: what facts of work practice (even if unintentionally) could potentially found a case. (With analysis of DVD showing facts of a real NHS Employment Tribunal case).

6. Cultural Differences: are they seen as ‘problems’ to be ‘dealt with’ or as interesting and valued sources of enrichment for all? Religious festivals and practices. Varying family and social traditions. How different cultures express stress/emotions differently. How different first languages influence people’s ways of thinking and styles of communicating in English.

7. What to do if people do not speak English, or only partly speak English? Ways of using interpreters successfully; and professional skills for successfully communicating in English with anyone for whom it is not their first language.

8. What should I do when foreign-born staff members or clients/patients can speak English relatively fluently but I am still irritatingly uncertain whether we are actually understanding each other?

This is the main agenda: how best to establish good understanding, rapport and trust in communicating with someone from a cultural background different from our own. When we find someone’s manner apparently unco-operative - whether simply passive and unforthcoming, or at the other extreme, abrupt, demanding or rude - this is frequently a symptom of breakdown of intercultural communication.

Using documentary DVD evidence we examine how misunderstandings of meanings, and misperceptions of intentions, commonly happen – quite unconsciously – in public services because of the influence of people’s first language on their speaking style in English, or of cultural differences of body language, of politeness forms, of ways of structuring answers to questions, or assumptions and expectations about public services, and the roles and powers of staff within them.

Without such communication skills both managers and front-line staff are liable unintentionally, but unlawfully, to discriminate. It is crucial legally to be able to identify when cultural misunderstandings are happening; and to be equipped to repair such misunderstandings; or (best of all) to prevent them arising in the first place.

9. [Optional:] Tackling the damaging effects of (unwitting) stereotypical thinking at work. We all treat others the way we see them. So what ‘cultural luggage’ do we bring to how we regard differences of language and (minority ethnic) backgrounds? The influence of image-making effects of the media.

10. Action Planning: 32-point checklist of practical activities for on-going informal team development both for improving quality of service delivery, and for ‘owning’ and ‘operationalising’ their organisation's Diversity policies.

11. Resources Display: DVDs, books, posters, calendars, handouts, etc. for helping demonstrate respect and user-friendliness towards varying cultural backgrounds.

12. Evaluation – verbal, plus written Response Sheets, with full Report.