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Managing Intercultural Conflicts in The Workplace

On Friday, February 17th, our stop was the Baldwin Wallace University Center for Innovation and Growth where we attended a program about managing intercultural conflicts in the workplace that was put on by a collaboration of the Greater Cleveland Partnership's Commission on Economic Inclusion, Cleveland Society for Human Resource Management (CSHRM), and CSU's Diversity Management Program.

At first we thought this program which was billed as a "diversity event"  might be about different ethnic cultures learning to work together but we soon learned that it pertained to something even more pressing which was the great polarizing falloutof the 2016U.S. Presidential election and how the Trump Administration's controversial policies are creating "normalized incivility in the workplace" which is a topic that "will not go away" and human resource managers need to be guided as to how to deal with it. Likewise, it was said that the GCP's outreach showed that this topic was high on the list of the one's that need to be addressed at this time because the election and the current administration are a "flashpoint" that has brought a lot of suppressed feelings/passions on both sides to the surface.

The program itself was coordinated by Ms. Damaris Price, Senior Organizational Development Consultant for "Working River" and featured a power point, role playing and group interaction. It emphasized the fact that "team cohesion is very important and political divisiveness "threatens the teaming that is vital to the achievement of your organization's priorities." What's more, "left unchecked it's a risk to employee confidence. It creates hostile work environments and kills confidence in the organization as a 'safe space.'"

Ms. Price went on to wisely maintain that "if civility is a business driver, then every organizational citizen has the responsibility of nurturing the mission of the organization. The business must be a safe place for every citizen's diverse contribution of time, talent, energy and effort-contributions critical to the organization's surviving and thriving." 

We must say that when we left Baldwin Wallace that morning we had a heightened respect for human resources manager because they have to walk a fine line when they handle such situations because they must walk the fine line of letting an enthusiastic, charged-up but socially concerned employee know that "as a citizen of the world, a person has freedoms and rights; but as a citizen of the organization, the employee has responsibilities." To go one step further, it was our observation that the HR people must attempt to accomplish this in a non-confrontational, non-punitive way that will ultimately result in the creation of a comfortable, safe work environment in which all points of view are respected.

We especially liked the role-playing section in which two professionals acted the characters of an employee who was being counseled because she/he made a non-intentionally offensive joke about the recent Executive Orders pertaining to immigration to a foreign-born colleague who was deeply affected by it. Later, we divided ourselves into groups and discussed an actual situation that one of the HR managers in our group had encountered; how to deal with an staffer who was so impassioned by a certain candidate that he pushed too hard when he urged his co-workers (and later the HR manager, herself, when she tried to counsel him) to watch a DVD of the candidate giving a rousing speech that deeply inspired him. It was thus the HR manager's job to let the staffer know that it was great that he cared as much as he did but he needed to curb his behavior (which was too aggressive in this case) when dealing with his co-workers and that he would go a long way in the organization if he could channel his some of his passion into his job performance.

As another HR manager who was sitting beside us observed, a professional would not be able to change a person's viewpoint (nor was it her/his place to) but the professional can effect how a person may interact with others. Along these lines, a good first step would be to encourage this person to focus on the commonalities that bring us together as Americans.

Our next event was a City Club luncheon where the topic was "Uniting: the Power of Philanthropy" and we could think of no one better to address this subject than the speaker of the day who was Mr. August A. Napoli, Jr. who, since June of 2016, has been the President and CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland.

During the course of our networking both before and during lunch, we were taken back by the number of people who were old friends and acquaintances of Ms. Margaret W. Wong, First of all, we talked to people who worked at United Way who wanted us to be sure to convey to Ms. Wong their appreciation for her long and steadfast support. Likewise, Ms. Melanie A. Shakarian, Director of Development and Communications Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, told us to be sure to say "hello" to Ms. Wong on her behalf.

Finally, we shared a table with Ms. Annette Garner Butler, Assistant Director of Law for the City of Cleveland, who told us that she and Ms. Wong have been close for many years now. Ms. Butler was there with her daughter, Ms. Kimberley Butler who is an English teacher at the Laurel School and also an admirer of the work that "Margaret W. Wong and Associates" does. Another person at our table was Mr. Matt Dierker of "Centric" who said that his father, Dr. Leroy Dierker, and Ms. Wong go way back and that he receives a bottle of wine from her each year over the holidays.

Before we write about what Mr. Napoli said during his presentation, let us mention that before he moved to the United Way he had a wonderful history of lending his talents to such respected organizations as the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Catholic Diocesan Foundation, the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Summa Foundation, and Baldwin Wallace University to name just a few.

During the course of his presentation, he left no doubt that he loved Cleveland and loved doing things to make it a better place for all. At least part of the reason for this was, as he reminded us, is that Cleveland has earned the reputation of being a very giving community throughout its history. In fact in 1913, the New York Times dubbed us "the city of good will."

As far as the future of the United Way of Greater Cleveland, Mr. Napoli said that he envisioned it as the "architect of social change" and in order to realize this four areas must be focused on which were reintroducing itself to the public as to what it is and what it does via its 138 programs administered through 122 agencies that it is involved with; realize its potential to bring community organizations together and maximize their efficiencies; enhance and expand fundraising techniques by connecting with more people; and make its charitable services more accessible (i.e. what good is it to have a program if the people it seeks to help have no means of transportation to get to it?).

He closed by raising our consciousness about how it important the act of giving is to one's personal development as a human being. He said that he was "excited and energized" by his new position and glad to have the support of so many concerned people including those at the City Club on this day.

During the Q and A, we didn't ask a question ourselves because we got to talk to Mr. Napoli beforehand and asked him if any of the United Way programs specifically targeted immigrants in need of assistance. Mr. Napoli took our business card and promised to get back to us regarding this matter; he believed that there were such programs but he couldn't specifically name them at this time. Of course, he asked us to say hello to Ms. Wong who was....(to no surprise)...a very dear friend.


Michael Patterson

Community Liaison,

Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC

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