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Blending in or standing out

Solène Maud Anglaret | Area Manager in Melbourne

Living abroad for more than a decade has challenged my sense of belonging and definition of home time. Time and time again it has made me super passionate about the topics of identity, diversity, and multiculturalism.

Living and working in several countries, Solène has learned the benefits of cultural diversity.

Born and raised in France, I was only 18 years-old when I moved abroad for the first time. Since then, I’ve had the immense chance of living and working in six different countries (France, Norway, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and now Australia) and travelling to more than 50 so far – with another 100+ on the list! This experience has shown me that the benefits of cultural diversity are endless – and I’m not the only person to say it. In fact, diverse teams have proven to be more creative, more innovative, and more productive. But what does that mean for you? I encourage you to check out my top five tips on how to thrive in a multicultural work environment, based on what I’ve learnt along the way. I hope you’ll find them useful!

1. Awareness

The first thing I’d recommend when joining a multicultural team or moving to a whole new country is doing some research regarding the cultural expectations and norms when it comes punctuality, greetings, physical distance, humour, etc. 

Also, have a think about the five most common communication styles to better understand your personal culture and that of the people around you:

  1. Linear versus circular discussions 
  2. Direct versus indirect communication
  3. Detached (objectivity) versus attached (feeling)
  4. Concrete (examples) versus abstract (theories)
  5. Intellectual versus relational engagement

This way, you’ll be sure to avoid embarrassing moments, like what happened to me when I first moved to the USA, every time someone would ask me, “How’s it going?” I would respond, “Fine, thank you. And you?” I continued answering this way until I realised that it was just another way of saying “hello”.

2. Bias

Be mindful of your own biases. Think about your own culture as a suitcase filled with your own beliefs, values, prejudices, and habits. 

Everyone has biases and the more aware you are of them, the easier it will be to put them aside and focus on building meaningful relationships. A helpful test I’ve used to understand my own biases is Project Implicit. Give it a try, you might be surprised by what you discover!

3. Questions 

Show your genuine curiosity. Ask your colleagues as many questions as you can– about their favourite dishes, movies, hobbies, or more. Once you’ve asked, listen attentively. Remember to consider any potential language barrier and, if in doubt, ask questions to clarify.

I don’t know about you, but I’m naturally curious and LOVE asking questions! That’s how, after moving to Norway, I quickly learned the coolest views of Bergen, why it rains so much over there, and where to find the best local food in town. 

4. Judgment 

Put your judgment aside and listen to others’ perspectives. You don’t have to agree with everything, just take it all in and avoid looking for confirmation of cultural stereotypes. To learn, risk making mistakes and asking what might seem like obvious questions. If you do, then don’t hesitate to apologize for your clumsiness. 

I once attempted to say ‘panda’ in Mandarin, but instead ‘chest hair’ came out—the pronunciation is surprisingly close! But this was nothing that couldn’t be fixed with a flushed face and a sincere apology.

5. Celebration  

Every chance you get, celebrate diversity! The more you learn, the more adaptable you’ll become so that you can blend in or stand out as you wish depending on the context. Embracing diversity will take your creative ideas to the next level and will bring you exceptional connections and lifelong friendships. 

Embracing diversity will take your creative ideas to the next level!

All the people I’ve met along my journey so far have taught me so much and have made me feel at home everywhere in the world. That’s why I am so passionate about celebrating diversity in them, in you, and in me. 

Final thoughts…

Even after living abroad for more than a decade, I still feel as though I have so much left to learn about cultural diversity. What about you? How have you embraced and navigated multiculturalism in the workplace? Leave a comment below and share your story! 

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