The workplace is an area where people spend a good portion of their lives and meet various people of different cultural backgrounds no matter what particular occupation. (Kottak & Kozaitis, 2003) said that work is the key organizing condition of our social life, we spend most hours of our day with people we don’t love and, worse yet, often with people we do not like. This paper will examine an intercultural communication problem among employees in a call center, where communication should be a vital tenet and a requisite skill. The parties involved happen to be African-American and Puerto Rican, two ethnic groups with similar backgrounds but at times different outlooks.
Grace is a Puerto Rican divorced mother of three with a boisterous laugh and a quick fire temper. She is very proud of her heritage and boasts of her family constantly. At times Grace gets a little loud and has to be reminded that employees are on the phone talking with customers. I personally lived in Puerto Rico for 3 years and she would speak of my experience on the island and with Puerto Ricans in Chicago where she lived and I grew up. Chicago has a large Puerto Rican population centered around the Humboldt Park neighborhood. Grace had lived in Chicago for many years before moving to Las Vegas where she has worked for our pay day loan company for 2 years. One of her hobbies is cooking and she loves to bring food to the job to share with a few close friends. Grace gets along with most people but has a tendency to start unsubstantiated rumors that most employees at the call center tend to ignore. Me being African-American we talked of our peoples common background. The major Latino migrations to the United States, unparalleled in their diversity of race and national origin, are changing the racial and ethnic composition of American populations and moreover are redefining the social meanings of race, ethnicity, and American identity(Flores, 2000). Flores goes on to say that Puerto Ricans are among the Latino groups who have experienced imperialism, conquest, colonialism, post-colonial independence, and migration. This is the Puerto Rican experience and heritage at times reflected in the demeanor of people like Grace.
Harriet is African-American, unmarried with one child. She lived in California for some time before moving to Las Vegas and has also worked at our pay day loan center for 2 years. Do not know Harriet as well as Grace, but what the writer does know about her is a tendency to be very vocal about being disrespected. How she had been disrespected by others was not always obvious and required serious inquiry. As a supervisor we have been in disciplinary meetings with her in regards to quarrels with other employees. She knows Grace but they are not close friends and I rarely saw them in conversations during break periods. That changed one day and not for the better.
As mentioned earlier Grace and Harriet were rarely seen by myself in conversation but the conversations that were witnessed were revealing in hindsight and the nonverbal body displays were a precursor to the conflict that eventually developed. The conversation wasn’t heard by me but the body language was interesting as I watched them in the break room cafeteria. Body language is the original shared language. It is everything individuals can do with their bodies to say whatever it is they are trying to say, and everything they can do to say whatever it is they are trying not to say (Reiman, 2007).
According to Reiman some no gestures are folded arms, tapping, holding up the chin with the hand, feet and trunk pointing in different directions, hands on the knees, hand over mouth, increased fidgeting, constant eye movement, head shaking, scowling, and eye squinting.
So, even though I was not privy to Grace and Harriet’s conversation there were two or three of the aforementioned no gestures evident through their body language. The actual conflict was regarding a intentional scratch on Harriet’s car supposedly done by Grace. Harriet could not explain why Grace would do this to her car other than they did not get along well. The manager was not comfortable with this explanation and did try other ways to verify whether Grace did indeed intentionally or unintentionally scratch Harriet’s car. The company has surveillance cameras looking out over the parking lot and employee entrance but after reviewing the tapes at the time the incident was to have happened nothing was revealed. When Harriet was asked how she knew of Grace scratching her car she said she heard rumors, but she would not reveal who she heard the rumors from.
Grace was extremely upset but the manager pointed out that she herself had contributed to many unsubstantiated rumors about individuals so she should not be surprised someone may have started a rumor about her.
Since there was not any evidence that Grace had done anything to Harriet’s car the manager of course, could take no disciplinary action. He did emphasize to Grace that he did not want to hear any more rumors about people from her. Rumor mongering had seemed to be a cultural aspect of Grace personality but nothing positive ever came about from her rumors. He did a wonderful job of pointing out to Grace how the situation had changed since she was now the subject of a rumor as it seemed.
Harriet was warned about her continued arguments with her coworkers. The call center manager did well to point out that we as coworkers needed to act as a team and put personal bad habits aside for the good of the company. He specifically said that negativity in a call center was poisonous to the moral of everyone. In a sense he was speaking of developing a culture among our coworkers that needed nurturing. Grace and Harriet had similar backgrounds and experiences and should recognize that fact and build on it.
A culture may develop when individuals who are subjected to similar conditions, share similar experiences, and have similar interest organize and unite. Individual interest and rights are merged, articulated, and valorized as group interests and collective rights(Kottak & Kozaitis, 2003). That conversation seemed to have worked because there were no more problems between the two women.
They did not necessarily become friends but were no longer enemies.
Flores, J., (2000)., From Bomba to Hip-Hop: Puerto Rican Culture & Latino Identity. New York:
Columbia University Press.
Kottak, C. P., & Kozaitis, K., A., (2003), On being Different: Diversity and multiculturalism in the North American mainstream (2nd Ed.), New York, McGraw Hill.
Reiman, T., (2007), The Power of Body Language, Pocket Books.