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Speak the language of integration

Sensitivity and common sense can help managers to unite a project team made up of different nationalities. By Matthew Hill

Managing people from other cultures can be fraught with fear and practical issues.

It is set against a background of negative media coverage and local concerns about job security and status.

Foreigners are also in a stressful position, not knowing much about the quirks of working and living in Britain.

The influx of construction workers from new EU states has proved controversial for many reasons - fear for UK jobs and the associated difficulties of working with people from different cultures.

In many cases the UK project teams are wary of change, resistant to outsiders and see the new workers as upsetting tradition and their rights.

A good first step for managers includes bringing UK workers’ private grumbles into the open. When some of these fears and prejudices are exposed their power is reduced.

Common arguments that are cited as reasons to resist employing overseas workers include the tradition of local “British” workers having performed various roles or having been involved in differing industries for generations.

Move from stereotypes

Myths about overseas workers can be split into two Đ those stories that have validity and those which do not.

True - some countries are not as concerned with health and safety as we are in the UK. False - some countries do not produce work of sufficient quality.

With the second example it makes sense to move from stereotypes to the person in front of you and judge what quality of work they will produce.

Many of the negative attitudes about managing foreigners on site are a direct reflection of the difficulties involved.

If a manager and his or her workforce grow up in the same place they will have common standards, a common understanding of language and relate to key work phrases in the same way.

These reference points make communication efficient and lead to jargon, shorthand and a private code - effective within the UK group, but which can exclude those from elsewhere.

Raising the standard of management communication so that it is plain to outsiders is hard and time consuming. This brings up a powerful management action point. Defining the meaning of key words and phrases so that they are generally understood.

This will result in commands and requests for information being more effective. A glossary of terms is one quick way of achieving this.

Also, laying down practical dos and don’ts at the beginning of a project is helpful.

It requires the UK manager to look at his or her site objectives and see what the real code of conduct should be (as opposed to the official version).

A successful outcome depends on the UK manager’s sensitivity to diversity and the help provided to both groups to tackle their fear, gaps in knowledge and old habits.

Managing people from other cultures can be fraught with fear and practical issues.

It is set against a background of negative media coverage and local concerns about job security and status.

Foreigners are also in a stressful position, not knowing much about the quirks of working and living in Britain.

The influx of construction workers from new EU states has proved controversial for many reasons - fear for UK jobs and the associated difficulties of working with people from different cultures.

In many cases the UK project teams are wary of change, resistant to outsiders and see the new workers as upsetting tradition and their rights.

A good first step for managers includes bringing UK workers’ private grumbles into the open. When some of these fears and prejudices are exposed their power is reduced.

Common arguments that are cited as reasons to resist employing overseas workers include the tradition of local “British” workers having performed various roles or having been involved in differing industries for generations.

Key actions

  1. Bring private grumbles into the open

  2. Judge individuals for the quality of work they will produce

  3. Raise the standard of management communication

  4. Create a glossary of terms

  5. Lay down practical dos and don’ts at the beginning of a project

Matthew Hill is senior intercultural trainer at Farnham Castle international briefing and conference centre