Tools to manage cultural differences in the workplace: Dr Lionel Laroche

Published on: 15 Sept 2017

Dr Lionel Laroche, a cross-cultural trainer and consultant, gave an incredibly informative and entertaining webinar earlier to ENSEMBLE listeners this week. Filled with funny, first-hand stories, he explained the challenges immigrants face when they come to Canada to work in mining. It’s so obvious to me now (now that I’ve heard him explain it!) that how and where we are educated as children has a fundamental impact on how we interact with others and participate in the workplace.

To help explain this, Lionel asked if we remembered how we first learned to wait in line. In countries like Canada, we learn to wait in line as kindergarten-age children, moving from classroom to classroom or lining up to go out and play. We accepted this as ‘normal’, knowing that lining up was rewarded as good behavior, and, if we were lining up for food in the cafeteria, there was always enough for everyone. The same is true in Australia, where I grew up, and is especially true in the UK. Have you every lined up for a bus in London or Edinburgh?!

But, Lionel pointed out, in countries where there are more people than resources, like China, an orderly line does not exist. If you wait patiently behind the person in front of you, you may miss out. Neither system is necessarily right or wrong, it’s just different. And we don’t often change these behaviors when we cross a border to go on holidays or emigrate for work. Our instinct is to behave how we do to at home, because it’s what feels normal to us.

At our core, Lionel explained, we all have a number of traits that make us human, such as seeking food, shelter, and companionship. Cultural traits are imprinted on top of this: we adopt most, if not all, of the behavioral traits we see in the people around us as we are growing up. Finally, there are our individual traits, the ones that make us who we are.

Can we change?

Read the full story on MiHR’s ENSEMBLE Network