1. Why did you write this book?
A lot of the literature and training programs dealing with culture and work are based on a model in which a few executives working for a multinational organization relocate to work abroad. However, the patterns of global mobility have changed and as a result workplaces are increasingly diverse and most of us have to deal with some type of intercultural interactions on a regular basis right at home.
The increased cultural diversity in the workplace means more ambiguity regarding how culture and cultural differences play out. In other words, working in a multicultural research team in which members live and work in their home country is different from working with a high number of recent immigrants or travelling around the world for short stints. Each of these different situations will create different intercultural dynamics.
Intercultural interactions happen on short notice and we may not have time to prepare. In the model of the expatriate going abroad, there was a significant preparation time to learn the language and culture. In a highly multicultural environment, however, we may get into intercultural interactions without warning and may have no knowledge of the other person’s culture.
2. What is the most important thing you want readers to take away from this book?
At an organizational level, a key takeaway is that leveraging diversity in the workplace requires providing employees with the tools to succeed in a multicultural environment. At an individual level, a key takeaway is that reflective practice is an essential element in developing the skills to succeed in a multicultural environment. A key argument underlying Working in a Multicultural World is that dealing with cultural ambiguity does not call for learning more about other cultures (even though that is a good thing), but learning more about ourselves. We can develop an acute awareness of how our culture influences our thoughts, perspectives, and behaviors, and based on this awareness, develop the skills to communicate our own views and perspectives in constructive ways that facilitate understanding and collaboration.
3. Name one or two books in our field that influenced you the most, that you think all interculturalists should be familiar with? Why?
I find Joseph Shaules’ The Intercultural Mind: Connecting Culture, Cognition and Global Living (2015, Intercultural Press) particularly insightful. I appreciate the cognitive approach to understanding the challenges of intercultural encounters as that approach recognizes the role of our own thinking in the process.
4. What is one of the most significant, most memorable cross-cultural experiences you have had?
I think the most significant experience as far as guiding me towards writing this book happened when I was a graduate student in the US, and I experienced people’s attempt to map me against their stereotypes of what a Brazilian person is supposed to be and do. I am originally from Brazil, did my graduate education in the US, worked in Belgium, and moved to Canada about 10 years ago. As I learned about the common approach of learning about other cultures through cultural dimensions, I felt very uncomfortable because those descriptions did not capture my experience of being a Brazilian person, studying in the US, in a highly multicultural classroom. I felt that intercultural training needed to account for more dimensions than just culture. It has taken me several years to figure that out until I came to the model I introduce in Working in a Multicultural World.
5. If you could pass on only one insight/one lesson learned to others about crossing cultures, what would you say?
Becoming interculturally competent is not about learning more about other cultures but about learning more about ourselves, which is way harder! If we really want to work with others, we need to take the time to understand who we are as cultural beings and explore how our own culture limits our ability to notice, interpret, and behave.
6. Have you noticed any differences in the way people from the United States and people from Canada think about or deal with cross-cultural differences?
Canadians take great pride in multiculturalism and tend to see cultural differences more positively – at least at the start. The initial attitude towards different cultures is one of openness, tolerance and curiosity. However, the down side of this attitude of openness to other cultures is that sometimes cultural issues may not be perceived as important as everybody assumes tolerance and open mindedness are all that is needed. The reality is that to leverage cultural diversity, we need more than just putting people from different cultures in a room with an open attitude. We need to develop the skills to seek different perspectives and use them in ways that help us solve problems in more creative ways.
7. Are there one or two Canadian interculturalists, besides yourself, or maybe one or two books by Canadian intercultural types, that we US folks should know about?
Canada is home to John Berry, who has done very influential work on acculturation:
Also, Wendy Adair has done some important work on intercultural negotiations: