Ask Patty: Aligning Process and Purpose

July 2017

Dear Patty,

I am the team leader on a culturally diverse team. The team is having a hard time functioning effectively, and I think it may have something to do with the cross-cultural encounters that happen in the course of our work between teammates. Do you have any tips I could use to help my teammates communicate (and therefore work) more effectively with each other? Help, please!

Team Leader Tom


Dear Team Leader Tom,

You may want to teach your teammates the D.I.E. model for cross-cultural communication (I know, terrible acronym! I didn’t make it up, don’t blame me!). In this model, the D = Describe (what you see), the I = Interpret (what you think about what you see), and the E = Evaluate (what you feel about what you see). This model is useful because when we have a cross-cultural encounter we typically jump to interpretations and evaluations that are based on our own frame of reference and cultural background. It can be useful to slow the process down and begin with description.

Here’s how it works. Let’s say Raj doesn’t like Alia (evaluation), because he thinks she is standoffish and rude (interpretation), since she never eats lunch with the team (description). With the D.I.E. model, we would encourage Raj to first describe the behavior in as neutral terms as possible: “Alia does not eat lunch with the team.” Then, Raj would consider all the possible interpretations for the behavior, not just the one he has settled on. Why else might Alia not be eating with team? Then, Raj should check out Alia’s interpretation by describing (not interpreting or evaluating!) the behavior he sees and asking directly for more information. He could say, “Alia, I noticed you don’t eat lunch with the team. Could you tell me why?”

Then Raj can use Alia’s interpretation, along with his own, to determine how he feels about the behavior (evaluation). Let’s say that Alia responds, “Thanks for checking in, Raj. I’m feeling really overwhelmed by our workload, and I want to make sure I’m being a good teammate and doing my fair share of the work, so I’ve been working through lunch.” This may help Raj interpret Alia’s behavior differently than he would have without the benefit of her interpretation.

Raj can then take what he has learned during this encounter and apply it to future cross-cultural encounters. As we become aware of the many possible interpretations for behavior and check our interpretations more regularly, our cross-cultural encounters will be more effective. As you probably know, research shows that diverse teams are smarter and more effective, so my guess is that with a bit of coaching, your team will soar!

All the best,

Patty


This column offers tips and tools for building democratic workplaces, improving workplace culture & communication, and aligning how we do our work (process) with why we do our work (purpose). Patty is a fictional adjunct of The Blue Door Group, LLC — a real Philadelphia-based consulting firm focused on designing and teaching participatory process for learning, dialogue, and capacity-building. Do you have a question for Patty? Send it to info@bluedoorgroup.net and put “Ask Patty” in the subject line