Developing Your Staff's Cross Cultural IQ

By John Hogan Director of Education & Cultural Diversity, Best Western | April 24, 2010

When we travel in familiar places, we are usually comfortable with the customs, habits and every day interactions. Our comfort zones often change when we are visiting new and perhaps more exotic locations or providing services to people from those places.

I serve on the American Hotel & Lodging Association's Multicultural Advisory Committee. This alliance of representatives from hotels and related hospitality businesses meets several times a year to discuss ways to break down artificial barriers to communication. Additional efforts are ongoing throughout the year as these competitors share best practices and explore ways to develop a cross-cultural understanding of guests and staff.

Part of this group's activities included developing the basis for understanding, including a "Diversity Glossary of Terms". In particular, 'Culture' - The total social behavior patterns, beliefs, and traits passed within a specific group of people. 'Assimilation' - Being absorbed into the culture of an existing group; conforming to one culture.

In 1992, a dozen European countries entered into an economic agreement linking their trading fortunes together. In late 1993, an international agreement in North America allowed for the easier flow of services and goods among the nations of Canada, the United States and Mexico. While the World Trade Organization is not universally embraced, developing countries like China have lobbied for years to be included. Even though legal business agreements may allow for some ease in formal truncations, people must still interact on a daily basis.

Successfully addressing that interaction does not always happen by chance. According to the article "International Migration" published in August 1994 in the American Psychologist, Loyd Roglier quoted statistics that the foreign-born population in the United Sates alone reached a number approaching 20 million people in 1990. At that time, he identified more than 100 countries that comprised that figures and that was fifteen years ago!

Cross cultural understanding means making the extra effort to recognize and respect ethnicity. By definition, ethnicity refers to groups of people who are historically, racially or otherwise directly related. Further insight would find common culture, language, perhaps religion and ethical perspectives as defining characteristics.

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