As more immigrants and refugees resettle in America, workplaces across the country are more diverse than ever.

Many companies are recognizing the added value these individuals bring to the U.S. economy, and have moved beyond tolerating diversity, to fully embracing it.

But filling your company with employees of different color, language and background can be challenging in many key areas.

Effective communication is fundamental to an efficient workplace, but made even more challenging by varying culture styles.

Unity is imperative to move towards common vision, but a struggle when paradigms mean different values.

Conflict is inevitable in any company, but can be exacerbated by conscious or unconscious prejudices and biases.

This is why, in this day and age, it is imperative for businesses to be trained in and practice cultural responsiveness, sometimes called cultural sensitivity.

Cultural responsiveness is “the ability to learn from and relate respectfully with people of your own culture as well as those from other cultures.” In other words, being aware of, and respecting, the point-of-view of others of others who are different than you.

Whether you’re an owner or an employee in a diverse workplace, or you’re looking to integrate refugee workers into your company, here are five simple ways to become more culturally responsive.


1.) Understand the difference between an immigrant and a refugee. 

An immigrant is defined as “a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.” This can include a variety of reasons. Some migrate to be closer to family; others to obtain political or religious freedom; some to pursue prosperity.  Regardless of reason, the term “immigrant” infers a choice.

A refugee is defined as “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or disaster.” There are currently dozens of countries, across the world, ravaged by civil war, experiencing widespread drought and starvation, and suffering at the hand of oppressive rulers. “Refugee” infers zero choice, other than to stay and suffer, or leave and live.


2. Don’t leave anything to chance. 

Communication is key. Be direct with instruction, and don’t assume that the other person immediately understands. Overstate tasks, and ask questions to access comprehension. Avoid demeaning tones, and be patient with questions.

It’s better to over-communicate on the front-end than have to make amends for lost time, resources, or relationship on the back-end.


3. Get to know them on a personal level. Value them as a person, not just as an employee, or a co-worker. A common leadership saying is, “People don’t care about how much you know until they know about how much you care.”

Did you know that 85% of immigrants (including refugees) in the U.S. have never been inside an American home? The more we close ourselves off, the more we perpetuate our conscious and unconscious prejudices.

Regardless of culture, every human being has the same basic needs of love and belonging. Ask about their country, their experiences, their families and education. Find commonalities, and most important, listen.


4. Understand honor-shame culture. 

Whether you are aware or not, the Western world operates under a “guilt-innocence culture”. Basically, people who break the law, or do wrong, are guilty and seek justice or forgiveness to make right their wrong.

This culture greatly differs from the “shame-honor culture” that dominates much of the eastern world. While westerners ask, “Is what I do acceptable?”, individuals from shame-honor cultures ask, “Is who I am acceptable?”

It is crucial to understand these differences in the workplace, in order to understand others’ actions and responses. For instance, someone from an honor-shame culture would rather not show up than be late and embarrass (shame) his or herself. On the flip side, they will jump through hoops and work hard to bring honor to their family and people group.


5. Praise publicly and challenge privately. 

This is a great general rule of thumb for any leader, but especially when dealing with those who operate under the honor-shame mindset. When dealing with conflict, undone or incorrect tasks and other common workplace experiences, it is of utmost importance to protect the honor of your employee. Correction is necessary, but shame is optional. Calmly meet, privately, with the person to address the problem.

Oppositely, when you recognize an employee or co-worker going above and beyond the call of duty, take the time to commend them in front of others. This will go a long way in your relationship—a person who feels valued will be productive and lifelong team members.