Where Cultural Competence & Organizational Effectiveness Meet

As an Organizational Development consultant, I get to think about how effective organizations are: their staff, their initiatives, their ability to deliver excellent service.As I’m also trained in cross-cultural communication, I sometimes look at organizational issues through that lens. When I’m lucky, these two fields coincide, as in my visit last year to the administrative offices of a health care organization, where I saw a patient brochure about “hand-washing for doctors”.You may know that this has been a focus in health care institutions, who are trying to reduce the spread of germs and infections.This brochure said “Have you asked your doctor if he washed his hands?”

did you wash your hands

Can you see anything wrong with this?There are power issues inherent in this question. For one thing, we tend to defer to doctors, or any authority figure, particularly when they’re wearinga white coat (or a uniform, or a stethoscope).Even I, as a white woman, feel a little intimated in front of doctors.Secondly, when you’re serving people from other countries and other cultures, who may not speak the language well, or who don’t feel fully acculturated, the authority gap is even wider.They could have saved themselves time and money if they had convened some focus groups on this question (or they could have asked people like me! 🙂

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