As a community worker in remote and rural areas you are bound to encounter people from a variety of cultural groups. It is important that you prepare yourself beforehand with an understanding of what culture is and how different people’s beliefs and practices can impact on communication, negotiation and problem solving. Trying to deal with people in crisis without knowledge of cultural difference and practices can lead to more problems. Take time to consider cultural differences and to reflect your own attitude and beliefs.
To work effectively in culturally diverse environments, consider the following:
- Be aware of your own cultural background/experiences, attitudes, values, and biases that might influence your ability to assist clients from diverse cultural populations. It is essential that you correct any prejudices and biases you may have regarding different cultural groups.
- Educate yourself wherever possible to enhance your understanding and to address the needs of culturally diverse clients. This may involve learning about cultural, social, psychological, political, economic, and historical material specific to the particular ethnic group being served.
- Recognise that ethnicity and culture may have an impact on a client’s behaviour.
- Assist clients to become aware of their own cultural values and norms, and facilitate discovery of ways clients can apply this awareness to their own lives and to society at large, as well as within the organisation.
- Respect the client’s religious and/or spiritual beliefs and values.
- Work to eliminate biases, prejudices, and discriminatory practices.
- Provide information in a language that the client can understand.
- Provide information in writing, along with oral explanations.
(Adapted from Pine et al 1990)
Working with culturally diverse clients and co-workers
The following audio clip outlines key points to consider regarding the concept of culture and cultural diversity in the workplace.
Note: this audio clip was originally developed for another unit and contains references to topics in that unit.
Download the transcript of this audio clip.
Culturally sensitive communication techniques
Give the person the time and space to express and share their story, which could include cultural heritage, language and religion
Find out about social/community mores and practices relevant to the client and their situation
Address them personally, even if an interpreter or mentor is supporting them
Ensure they are comfortable with you as the communicator (e.g. personal space, environment, dress, gender)
Give them extra time and support to participate in decision making processes.
When communicating with a client from another cultural background about behaviour change, it is very important to give them as much time and support as they need to participate in identifying the problem and solution for themselves. It may require you to advocate on their behalf and/or to seek an appropriate mentor for them to keep them empowered in the process.
Cultural considerations when working with Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander people
The following clip provides valuable information to consider when you are working with Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander people.
Download the transcript of this audio clip.
Two teenage clients begin scuffling in the office of a community organisation, and a youth worker is endeavouring to sort out the situation. One of the clients, Joseph, from Samoa, is accused of hitting the other boy, Carson. When asked why he had hit Carson, Joseph said, ‘He insulted me. He insulted my family. He said my father was stupid. I had to hit him’.
The youth worker told him that this was not an acceptable reason for hitting anyone.
‘It is for me’, said Joseph with great anger. ‘I have to hit him when he says something like that. I would feel really bad if I didn’t punish him for it.’
Discuss this conflict situation considering the following points:
- It is true what Joseph says: in Samoan culture it is not acceptable for people to insult members of your family, and you must punish anyone who does. But that is in Samoa. It is not acceptable in Australia, but it is a very hard behavioural change to make.
- Some non-Samoan Australian teenagers learn quickly that the best way to press buttons with Samoan young people is to say derogatory things about their family.
- Samoan youth need to realise that they are being manipulated, and resist the usual reactions.
- Workers can assist Samoan clients to become conscious of when they are being manipulated by other young people.
(Adapted from material developed by Multicultural Affairs Queensland)
It is essential that you use an interpreter or bilingual consultant when a client does not use English proficiently. The role of the interpreter is to relay information accurately without adding personal interpretation or opinion. This is why it is essential to choose a qualified interpreter. To locate an accredited interpreter you can call the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) on 131450 anywhere in Australia.
When using an interpreter it is necessary to speak clearly and in plain English, and to pause frequently. By pausing, this will ensure that the interpreter can keep up and will enable them to clarify any points or provide feedback.
The interpreter should be seated close to the client and if there is more than one interpreter being used, group clients around the appropriate interpreter. (Office of Multicultural Affairs 1994).