Diversity Collisions


We call the colliding of one person’s culture with another a diversity collision. A diversity collision occurs when there is a lack of knowledge and a lack of role clarification.

In a multicultural environment there are so many conflicting values and messages about the way to do things that communication and job performance may be negatively affected.


When the person does not get the response he or she expects or when the rules are not clear, one or more things will happen:

  • Anger (or frustration, impatience, etc.). Tensions develops in a relationship when the person whose expectations are not met attributes that failure to deliberate efforts on the part of the other person to disregard the injured person’s values or moral standards. The injured person might become angry or aggressive, might try to convince others of the unfairness of the offending culture, and might even act out feelings of rage.
  • Lowered expectations. When hostility continues to build over time in a relationship, the injured person develops chronic lowered expectations of the other person, especially with regard to the other’s role in the organisation.
  • Withdrawal. Another response is to try to repress feelings and withdraw from full participation. The isolated person may feign understanding or acceptance but really feels like ‘a stranger in a strange land’.
  • Termination. Another response is to terminate the interaction or the relationship. In an organisational environment, the employee resigns, hoping to find a new job with people ‘more like me’ or people who are ‘more accepting of me’.
  • Assimilation. Assimilation results from ongoing diversity collisions in which a person is expected to learn and conform to the dominant culture’s way of doing things. In a work setting in which an employee feels different and devalued for the difference, the employee may eventually learn to ‘fit in’. In this situation the learning is one-sided; the person who is different is expected to abandon his or her way of doing things, thus losing some of the different perspective that might have been valuable to the organisation.
  • Competing Factions. Another phenomenon to be aware of is that if cultural collisions in an organisation continue over time, the injured parties may seek and find allies, people who are more like themselves. The resulting factions may turn the organisational environment into a tension-filled arena for competition over scarce rewards or resources such as promotions, money, training and development programs and recognition.

from the work of our colleagues, Gillian Shapiro and Jean Woollard 2002

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