The Crosswords Challenge

Five across and 10 down. Peace or crosswords. Getting along in the workplace can be challenging. Which crosswords do you use? Are you one who is successful at using respectful communication and plays fairly, or are you one who causes earthquakes and upheaval with cross words crucifying morale?

Workplaces are made up of people of different beliefs, or ethnicities, personalities, abilities, religions, education levels, and backgrounds. Most HR policy manuals state that the workplace is to be a fair environment, all-inclusive of these. Hostile environments which include harassment, hate, or retaliation are not to be tolerated. It is surprising how these are rarely enforced. If anything, racism against blacks might be upheld. When employees are asked if a workplace is anti-discriminatory, immediately racism, specifically about blacks comes to mind. Any of these other categories are rarely thought of as EEOC categories.

Within workplaces, there are a number of issues where employees are seen as ‘different’ are treated differently, or as an outcast. These are not specific to any one work environment or company. They occur in all work environments including warehouse, retail, food service, school systems, and corporate. In any workplace, managers and human resource managers find it difficult to implement any sort of policy against hostile practices. At best, an employee might be offered a transfer to another team. Companies would rather wash their hands of the harassed rather than disrupt what they perceive as a current team. It is more cost-efficient to keep a ‘negative’ team that sets the standard for hostility rather than overhaul everyone and rehire for a more positive and productive environment. Another reason for keeping negative team players is that the negativity is seen as transformed into workable energy. Through ‘grunting and swearing’, you work harder. Finally, teams can find unity based on a negative theme. If even one person can spread hate for a new-hire to an entire team, together the majority wins because of numbers, while the new person is the odd-person out. The only way the new-hire is accepted is if they can win overall, which can be very difficult. There are only three options for the harassed: either win the fight and be accepted, stay as long as you can, or leave. Unless a person can prove that any incident has happened, with a third-party witness or recording, it is likely they will lose their job despite following HR laid out policies to report the situation. In many cases, this is next to impossible to obtain.

It takes outside-the-box thinking to be able to work successfully as a team member. Having managers who are successful at leading teams to accept diverse populations is a huge asset to a company. Striving for peace is key to making teams work. Managers and employees who excel at deflecting animosity toward new-hires and solve conflict quickly help save companies money. If a team doesn’t get along, morale slides and it reflects in productivity.

Coming from different background, employees have preconceived views of what they find as acceptable or not. Etiquette standards are different as well. All of these contribute to how a person interacts with others. In the cases of hostile environments, a view of a person supercedes professionalism of etiquette in the workplace, which says that all deserve equal respect and polite interaction.

Childish responses which are uncharacteristic of professionalism include labeling, or name-calling; gossip-spreading; creating stereotypes; passive-aggressive behaviors of causing unnecessary problems; extraordinary demands because the person is seen as different; and other methods of exclusion. While these may seem trivial, they can be extremely hurtful and damaging.

Likewise, certain cultures may have a different understanding of the importance of not using these. In some cultures, for example, it may not seem rude to call someone by made up nick-name derived from the perceived offensive quality. Calling a new-hire by a pet-name may be seen as a means of passage to a new environment, similar to going through ‘rush’ in college. It belittles the new person and tears them down. Rather than them finding a welcoming environment which they had initially embraced with enthusiasm with starting a new job, they find they are employed with a group of people who hate them and do not want them there. This happens too often in environments at work.

Some cultures also are more inclined to be direct in expressing their thoughts and opinions, no matter how personal. This also is a lack of professionalism and etiquette. These people may disagree with an aspect of a person and feel they have to express this. Expressing one’s opinion should always be done with tact, but even so there are topics which are inappropriate in the professional realm. Any highly personal topic such as what might be sexual in nature, beliefs, medical, income, family, should be avoided unless welcomed by the individual as open for discussion, and usually it would be better if they talked about it outside of paid work-time. It also is bad etiquette to discuss these topics in fact or speculation with other people. These topics can cause the person to feel violated, embarrassed, exposed, vulnerable and hurt. This should not be part of any workplace.

From experience, I have noticed that teams that Mexicans are more likely to speak openly of another person’s personal situations even if it is hurtful or embarrassing to the person. They find it funny. Even if a person tries to explain to them how rude it is, they do not understand. In their culture there is no reason not to. As a white coming into a Mexican’s workspace, it is seen as a threat. They feel very protective of the work that they have been able to claim and as a unit will join together to protect it, even if there is not a threat. Blacks, especially black women, are more likely to be bold, loud, and gossip. They prefer to be experts on other people’s lives and first to report and be in the know-all. They are also the first to be offended when someone counters them, and the loudest with anything they disagree with. They try to oust based on discrimination. Coming from a heritage of racism and discrimination, they are the first to cause it to other populations. Of course, these are not speaking of all in these groups, but are probably the most challenging of any to work with.

When it comes to the different ethnicities in the Dallas area, we generally think of populations as whites, blacks, Asians, Mexicans, and Indians. Whites can come from a number of countries but are all seen as white. Using the word white is like using the word “coke” to describe all the varieties of soda. There are white-collared whites and blue-collared whites, male and female. White females tend of both white and blue collared status, will spread gossip, make cutting remarks and use labeling names. Typically as a white’s social status rises the communication may be done with greater finesse, but inappropriate and unkind remarks are still made. Blacks can be divided between African American who are typically more loud-spoken, Nigerian who are typically more cultured both in dress and speech, white-collared blacks that are found in the business workplace or other similar offices, and blue-collared blacks who are found in non-office environments. There also is a difference between the black male and black female. Black females are typically very outspoken, loud, confrontational and rude. Asians are more soft-spoken but can be just as chatty and spread gossip and name calling as much the Mexicans. Indians, while they also follow the same characteristics of these groups, overall tend to have the greatest politeness of any ethnicity. Many of them believe in ‘good karma’, of doing good to others will in turn have good returned to them. They also have a better command over the English language than even many native English speakers, and correct better than any other with the respectfulness they use as they speak. Finally, there is the LBGT population, who in themselves have seemed to have won the fight of discrimination in many ways as society now has opened a full month in honor of them with National Pride Month. Most LBGT will typically be more accepting of others, as will those with disabilities, as they have insecurities of their own of being accepted. Of course, these are just my experiences in over 65 work environments, and there are exceptions in all situations. Not everyone has the ability to defend themselves, leaving them even more at a disadvantage. They may be aware of etiquette but are left so speechless at these hurling comments that detract from work, that they are tongue-tied or respond inappropriately back. In the end, it is time and energy that is needlessly wasted when everyone can be respectful. These cultures who refuse to follow rules of etiquette make workplaces challenging. It’s everyone job to work on improving etiquette and having more open mindedness of accepting others.

Before any reader gets mad. I want to validate these comments with information found online. An interesting page is at Blackenterprise.com which writes about the difference in communication between blacks and whites. Understanding other cultures and these tendencies helps streamline business and makes people feel more accepted. Practicing good etiquette and respect is essential. Here are some interesting observations:

Differences in Communication Between Blacks and Whites

  • What blacks perceive as truth and have an opinion about they are more likely to share aloud. 
  • Whites typically value peace above speaking their mind.
  • Trust is often based on a person’s culture and social group.
  • Middle class white women are taught to ‘be nice’ and people-pleasers.
  • Black women are taught to be strong and self-reliant and competitive.
  • Black children are highly competitive.
  • Black men will tend to “be careful and hold back” in work situations.
  • White men joke to get along and to ease the tension.
  • White women share stories to get along and build relationships to get ahead.
  • To get ahead black women go down a checklist of obtaining qualifications.

Cultural Differences that Can Affect Business Relationships:

  • Task oriented vs. Relationship oriented. Focusing on the task at hand or spending time building relationships with associates and clients.
  • Time vs. Relationships. Being on time, making quick decisions based on a schedule vs. building relationships.
  • Contract differences. Contracts may be very detailed orientated such as in American culture, whereas Asian cultures prefer contracts with principles listed which are imperative to the business relationship.
  • Gestures. Greetings may be expressed differently in cultures worldwide.
  • Equality vs. Hierarchy. Hierarchy matters in Chinese culture, and equality more in American cultures. If hierarchy is not honored, it can result in feelings of humiliation that affect business negotiations. Formality in address is also important in Asian cultures whereas in American and Australian culture the acceptable address may be more casual.
  • Open communication vs. Silence. Some cultures such as the American and Dutch cultures speak more openly while the Chinese may prefer sitting in silence for long periods of time.
  • Emotion vs. Non-emotion. Latin cultures may show more expression vs. Asian cultures.
  • Leader Decision vs. Group Decision. In American culture, business decisions typically come from a leader. In Chinese cultures it is more likely that the decision is from an entire group of people.
  • Risk vs. Low Risk. Risk may play a factor especially in American culture where 70% of Americans said they are willing to take a risk.

    Ivey Business Journal

The problem in the workplace of not getting along is detrimental to teams and companies. So what is the easiest advice to workers as to how to get along? Employees need to realize the problem and see it as an importance to rectify. The simplest solution is by affirmation and by being positive. When people feel validated, they are less likely to hate. Our society is already formed by a culture of negativity as we communicate negatively and with hate. Some populations actually feel love this way and will respond with hate if spoken to with kindness and affirmation. Even using kind words many times is ineffective and is countered. When I questioned a black woman about this, she told me the reason was to build up resistance. If a person is hated with every comment, they will not feel the hate as much when it is used as true hate. It is a defensive mechanism against true hate speech. While this may work, I don’t think this is the best solution. The better solution is to counter all hate and negative speech and actions with etiquette, respect, and open mindedness toward other people.

Being adaptable to other people is very important professionally and in everyday life. Finding commonality rather than differences makes it easier for people to get along and feel accepted. For people who travel internationally for business or work cross-continentally, they are more likely to adapt to those they work with. It can be fascinating to learn more about other people, and a way to open your mind to other ways of life, even if you don’t necessarily believe the same way.

Lose the Crosswords and switch to the Wordsearch.



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