I recently listened to a TED talk by international consultant Jacqueline Oliveira. She had some very interesting observations about building trust in cross-cultural institutions. As our higher ed workplaces become more diverse, it was a great reminder that trust is shaped and colored by culture.
Oliveira said that trust is a belief in the virtue, ethics, and honesty of another person. But she also pointed out that we don’t see beliefs, we see behaviors. Trust is related to our actions that show:
- Competence – doing our jobs right
- Integrity – sticking to a code of behavior
- Caring – demonstrating that we care for our colleagues
“There are so many behaviors – some different, some similar, some contrary – all driven by these three attributes,” she says. “Imagine your multi-cultural colleagues behaving in ways that they were taught from childhood, and then being marginalized or even disciplined for behaving in this way.”
We rarely think about what we mean when we say someone is behaving in a trustworthy manner. It’s just the way things ought to be. When working with colleagues from different backgrounds we can increase trust by:
- Asking. What are the behaviors that show competence, integrity, and caring for you? It can lead to a rich discussion about culture.
- Writing it down. Keep the information somewhere where everyone can see it. When issues of trust arise, go back and review the list.
- Being flexible and willing to change.
Building trust can be complicated. Building trust across cultures is even more so. But the result is a stronger workplace where everyone feels included.
Dee Anne Bonebright