Cultural Sensitivity in the Workplace

This topic makes me a bit uncomfortable. I think it’s because I don’t understand where the sensitivity part stops and the “get over yourself'” part begins.

I have very little experience in this area – apart from being sensitive to the general needs of everyone.  I did go out with someone from another culture once and I know that I excused a lot of what I considered to be poor behaviour on his part due to the cultural differences.  Looking back, I probably could have been a bit tougher on him.

I had an experience recently where someone from another culture (non-Western) used a particular term for his own culture  that someone else (not from that culture) took offence to.  It happened in a learning session so I got the feedback.  What do I do with that?  Do I treat it differently than I normally would because of the cultural sensitivity?  Who are we (Westerners) to dictate to non-Westerners what they can and cannot call themselves? 

Are we at a place where we are so culturally sensitive that we are actually doing other cultures a disservice?  Are we treating them as precious, fragile things that need to be wrapped in cotton wool?  Isn’t that just as damaging as racism?

I’d be interested in your experiences and thoughts on this one…



4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Vicki
    Mar 26, 2011 @ 10:59:34

    I think this is an extremely relevant question. I grew up with a lot of racism so I know what it is like. I also know what it is like for my cultural group to have taken on what used to be derogatory terms as terms of endearment amongst each other. An outsider cannot use the same word. And have grown up with all of this, I feel that the current trend to let people get away with things because of cultural difference has created an imbalance. You can point things out without being offensive and explain that things are done differently here. The thing that people forget is, if the situation was reversed and you were in another country, you would be told if something were unacceptable or considered bad behaviour. It also seems that the cultures people are not wanting to offend have no qualms about telling others when something is unacceptable to them and their culture. Shouldn’t that go both ways? Can we not tell people when something is unacceptable no matter who they are? Shouldn’t the rules be the same for everyone? I think they should.


    • judythesweetspot
      Mar 28, 2011 @ 07:33:20

      Thanks Vicki – it’s great to get your response as you have direct experience with cultural difference. I think if you display a general approach of sensitivity to the needs of people you are on the right track. I do still struggle with where the line is…


  2. Heather
    Mar 27, 2011 @ 21:51:56

    well, I’m not an advocate of Charlie Sheens behaviour but….. I do enjoy watching Two & Half Men only because it is so incredibly politically incorrect which in today’s society is refreshing. I think we need to take ourselves a bit less seriously. Just my opinion.


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