Diversity at workplace: how to use poetry for improving communication and intercultural differences

Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.
~Malcolm Forbes

For many years I had the opportunity to live in the Hague, the Netherlands and it is one of the most diverse cities, where cultures, ethnicity, religion and human rights mix together, forming a unique atmosphere and living diversityconditions. Diversity is a major topic and I’ve been always intrigued to which extent it governs our everyday life – especially if we work and live in diverse community.

There is a variety of differences that can exist among people within one  organization. In the Forbs recent article, it states:

In addition to creating a workplace inclusive of race, gender, and sexual orientation (to name a few), many organizations are seeking value in something even simpler, diversity of thought. In some industries that are known for being insular – think law or high-tech companies – seeking out talent with different thinking and problem solving backgrounds is critical.

It is very important issue since it influences how we perceive ourselves and others. And as with every other issue, this one can have advantages and drawbacks that can affect our work life.

Some of the positive things might include different points of view, greater adaptability to changing conditions and a larger scale of skills and experiences within the organization. But often there are communication problems that can distract smooth interactions among the coworkers – which is prerequisite for timely and effective execution of projects. Ways and manners of managing diversity at workplace has become a hot topic and a lot of tools have been developed in order to bridge cultural gaps that diversity brings.

In the paper “Use of Poetry to Facilitate Communication about Diversity: An Educational Model”, authors suggest that we can effectively use poetry as a tool to facilitate communication channels among diverse and culturally challenged groups. They propose a workshop (that they tested in the following example) where the main materials for discussion are different poems from ethnically diverse poets and poems that relate to women’s issues.

Proposed workshop would begin with selecting a burning diversity topic that participants would like to discuss. Workshop facilitator afterwards chooses a poem congruent with issues that arose and a volunteer would read a poem. Participants in the group later discuss and talk about the poem.

Afterwards, participants would write their own poems, while they were also encouraged to read their poems in front of the group with the follow-up conversation. The workshop would end with the creation of collaborative poem, in which each member of the group was invited to contribute with one or more words.

Proposed time of the workshop: 3-4 hours, depending on the number of participants.

Workshop resulted in increased innovation, independence, self-discovery, sharing opportunities and collaboration. To measure these results, the Group Environment Scale was used to assess workshop effects on group dynamics.

According to the workshop feedback many participants adopted increased understanding of how gender and cultural issues may affect others.

Authors final conclusion is:

The research findings seem to indicate that the model’s interweaving of cognitive and effective elements has potential for creating changes among the individual’s perception of other cultures….metaphor can be especially instrumental in achieving this integration.

What are your thoughts on diversity, equality and inclusion? Can poetry be of any help?

Also have in mind beautiful words by Maya Angelou:

Human Family

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

The variety of our skin tones
can confuse, bemuse, delight,
brown and pink and beige and purple,
tan and blue and white.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

Mirror twins are different
although their features jibe,
and lovers think quite different thoughts
while lying side by side.

We love and lose in China,
we weep on England’s moors,
and laugh and moan in Guinea,
and thrive on Spanish shores.

We seek success in Finland,
are born and die in Maine.
In minor ways we differ,
in major we’re the same.

I note the obvious differences
between each sort and type,
but we are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.