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Partnering with difference

Engagement strategies when partnering with people who are different to you need to come from a place of genuineness and collaboration—true partnership.

When seeking information from family members, be aware of their hesitation to share information about their family and their point of difference (for example, culture, religion or gender). Approach this topic sensitively and inform the family why you are asking for the information and what the information will be used for.

Families may be more likely to share this information with you when they know what you will do with it and how it will impact on them and their children. When families learn the information will be used to seek a safe placement for their child, they may provide details which increase the chance of their children remaining within their community to support their needs while in care.   

Example questions

You can use the following example questions to help frame your conversations with the family.

Not knowing—As a person from a different cultural background, there may be things about you, your family and/or your culture/religion/gender preference that I do not understand. When I encounter those things, would it be okay if I ask you about them?

Local wisdom—Have others from your family, culture, religion or heritage had to face challenges like this before? What did they do? How did they survive? What wisdom of theirs would be good to use in our work?

Naming oppression—Do you think people from the same particular cultural or ethnic group have had to face these kinds of problems more than others? How do you make sense of this?

Being culturally relevant and accountable

The Working with and across difference training by Amy Cipolla Stickles-Wynen provides a four-step approach to being culturally relevant and accountable: 

  1. Recognise/name the differences within yourself and others
  2. Understand the impact and interplay of those differences and:
    1. how it plays out in supervisory relationship dynamics  
    2. affects your effectiveness, productivity and sustained change
  3. Appreciate your own capacity to handle the interplay of privilege and oppression on a daily basis
  4. Use the differences represented in your organisation, community and the families you serve.

(VISIONS Inc, 2015).

Practice prompt

Prior to starting work with a family, consider these four steps and ask yourself about your place of privilege and how this influences how you may engage with the family.

What research can you do before meeting the family to learn more about them and their point of difference?

How can you use the differences between you and the family to form a partnership with them?

Guidelines for successful cross-cultural dialogue

When working across difference, effective outcomes are supported when clear guidelines are used. These tips have been developed by VISIONS, Inc. (2015) as a tool to improve effective cross-cultural dialogue:

  • ‘Try on’ invites people to be open to the ideas, feelings, and ways of doing things of others.  This can provide greater understanding and support the exploration of another way of thinking and doing. ‘Trying on’ means keeping and using what you like and letting go of what doesn’t quite fit at the end of each interaction, discussion, session or meeting.

Be mindful to stay engaged. It isn’t helpful to form a rebuttal while the other person is saying something you disagree with.

  • Remember that it is okay to disagree and NOT okay to blame, shame or attack ourselves or others because of our differences. One of the necessary elements for expressing and valuing difference is that people need to let go of the need to be, think or act the same.

Expect and accept non-closure. People can disagree but still remain connected.

  • Practice self-focus and use I Statements. Begin by talking about your own experience, using ‘I’ statements rather than saying ‘you’, ‘we’ or ‘one’. When you intend to refer to others, be specific about them—by name or group. This invites and creates space for multiple perspectives to be shared, especially when they are different to yours. 

Learning from uncomfortable moments is an important part of this process, so pay attention to your feelings and stay engaged. It’s ok to experience discomfort. 

  • Be aware of intent and impact. Be aware that your good intentions may have a negative impact, especially across racial, gender or other cultural differences. It is important to be open to hearing about the impact of your statement. 

You could also consider stretching yourself and seek feedback from the individual before they bring it to your attention.

  • Practice ‘both/and’ thinking. Look for ways to fit ideas together – things don’t need to be an ‘either/or’ process or a competition between ideas. 

Look for multiple truths from the perspective of the many cultural backgrounds involved.

  • Notice both process and content. Content is what we say, while process is how and why we say or do something and how the group reacts. 

Notice who’s active and who’s not, who’s interested and who’s not, and ask about it, to create space and share power.

  • Remember that confidentiality with regard to personal sharing is important. Allow others to tell their own stories and honor this. 

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