Skills for Social work with multicultural group

Group work practitioners often work with people with group members with diverse backgrounds. These diversities may be in terms of different race, ethnicity, culture, religious views, nationality etc. The role of the group worker can become quite challenging  in leading groups in which there are such differences among members as well as members and the group leader.

The group worker needs to develop certain skills such as cultural sensitivity to work with group members with varied perceptions and perspectives. 

Developing cultural sensitivity

Acquiring this skill is crucial for group leaders for a smooth group process.  To develop a perspective from which to work in a culturally diverse background the group worker must undergo self-exploration and introspection to become aware of his/her own cultural biases or prejudices and ways to deal with them, be open to cultural differences and acknowledge the integrity of other cultures.

The first step in achieving this skill is to look into one’s feelings about their own culture and ethnicity. Sometimes, an individual might not be aware about his or her own feelings about their cultural beliefs which may affect their interaction with people from other cultural backgrounds. Being aware about the values, beliefs and thought patterns of one’s own culture and acknowledging them goes a long way in developing cultural sensitivity. 

Group leaders should also acquire knowledge about others’ cultural beliefs and value systems as far as possible. They can increase their knowledge by taking information from different sources. If working with members of a particular culture, they can interview people of that community or do some research by being a participant observer in that community. 

The group worker can do a social mapping where relationships among the members of the community are closely observed and analysed. Living in a particular cultural community and observing them helps the group worker understand their common values, norms of behaviour and belief patterns. The group worker should understand these without being judgemental. This can be helpful in developing cultural sensitivity. 

Leaders should be open to the differences shown by diverse cultures. They should openly accept and be non judgemental about the values, beliefs, lifestyles and behaviours of others and also recognise the value of difference. The leaders can learn a lot from members who are from diverse backgrounds; about how they look and experience their culture, lifestyle norms etc. 

It is also important for leaders to understand the impact of  societal  attitudes on members of minority groups. The minority groups are often prejudiced, discriminated against and deprived of resources and it is very important for a group leader to take into consideration these factors while developing a perspective on diversity.

Group leaders should also explore their own prejudices, biases and stereotypical assumptions in working with people from diverse backgrounds, and work upon them to overcome their feelings. They can help themselves by attending workshops and activities which can be helpful in identifying their own strengths and weaknesses in dealing with diversity.

Analysing cultural experiences on group behaviour

The group leader must recognise that cultural differences may have an impact on how members behave in a group. For instance, members from a particular culture may depend on the group leader for decision making due to his status and may refrain from giving opinion as it may sound impolite. Whereas, members of a particular group may actively participate in decision making and are less dependent on the group leader. This may lead to some degree of conflict among members of different cultures.

It should also be noted that various conflicts may occur due to cultural differences therefore the leader should be cognizant of the fact  that such conflicts might be a result of different cultural values rather than individual member’s problem or problem in group processes. 

The group leader should also be aware of the fact that value differences may occur among members of the same culture due to their varying ethnicity or background. 

In order to deeply analyse the behaviour due to cultural differences, the leader should be aware of the communication process and the typical connotations of a particular language. This is helpful in analysing the behaviour of an individual as language patterns may also differ from one culture to another. For instance, using slang might be normal in a particular tradition but it may be offensive in other traditions. 

Leaders should also be aware of the varying nonverbal communication and the meaning attached to it in different cultural backgrounds. The use of gestures, postures and other body languages can have different meanings in different cultures. Members from one culture can feel uncomfortable with the communication patterns of the other culture therefore the leader should be aware of these and assess the behaviour of members based on these communication patterns to avoid discomfort and conflict within group members. 

Learning the basics of different languages spoken by group members puts the group leader at an advantageous position as the members look up to such leaders as showing interest in them and therefore open up freely with their personal problems with such leaders.

Analysing the interaction pattern of a particular culture helps the leader to understand the reason behind some members not confronting or objecting outrightly on certain situations and why other group members do so often. 

The leader should be aware that some cultures promote leader centric interaction hence dependent on the leader for decision making while some promote independence hence they show active participation in decision making.  

Role expectations of the members of diverse cultures may also differ as per their cultural experiences hence the leader should be aware of such experiences and ensure that the roles are clearly defined. For instance, gender roles and expectations are different in different cultures hence the leaders should analyse the behaviour of such members through cultural perspectives and define role expectations as per group norms. Similarly, the minority group experience neglect and stereotyping in some cultures and may show submissive behaviour in the group processes. The leader should be able to identify this behaviour pattern and ensure that they do not have such feelings from other group members. 

Assessing cultural influences on group behaviour requires vigilant observation as a particular value of a culture can have a profound impact on the members of the group thus influencing the whole group experience. 

Intervening with sensitivity to diversity

There are many ways in which the group leader can deal with diversity in a sensitive manner. These skills are discussed in detail as follows:

Applying Social work skills and values

The group leader can apply social work skills such as being non judgemental, accepting and recognising individuality of each member. Practicing these skills helps the group leader to understand that members of different cultures bring in their own values and how the leader can channelize them for achieving group goals.

Effective Communication is yet another skill which the group worker can use to make the group process a success. Identifying the culture specific communication pattern and effective listening skills while interacting with individual members leads to effective communication.

Using the strength perspective 

The leader should acknowledge that every culture has some values which have strength in it. Each member with a different cultural background may exhibit certain behaviors which might be as per their cultural values. The leader should be sensitive enough to recognise this and utilize the strength of diverse cultural values for the benefit of the group as a whole.

Exploring common and different experiences by group members

Members in a group with diverse cultures are different since they have different experiences. At the same time they have some commonality among them. The leader should explore these common experiences as it helps the members in self disclosure. When the group worker identifies common experiences among members it can be used to make the group more cohesive by encouraging the members to open up about their feelings and share it in the group. Exploring cultural differences and fostering cultural appreciation can help the members feel secure in disclosing their feelings and thoughts. The leader can also practice the skill of empathy to clearly understand the behaviour which results from differing lifestyles.

Exploring meanings and languages

The meaning of a term may not be the same in all languages and cultures. The group leader should help the members in identifying different meanings in various languages. It is also imperative that the group worker help the members identify the significance of  certain culture specific behaviours in case some members are critical and insensitive due to their ignorance. For instance, in some cultures, traditional healing and medicine is given equal importance as modern medicine. Some members may find this absurd. The group leader should help these members understand the faith and value attached to this behaviour as part of the tradition.

Challenging prejudice and discrimination

Prejudice and discrimination might get obvious and heightened at some point in a group with members of  diverse backgrounds. The members may deny having such biases and prejudices but the group leader has to bring this out and help the members to identify their feelings. The leader should challenge this in order to help the member understand clearly about their feelings towards people who are different from them and how any biases can hamper the group dynamics. This challenge is important for a cohesive group process.

Advocacy for members

The group leader while working with the group may also have to advocate for a group member who might be uncomfortable with certain group norms but do not express it. The leader has to identify if any member feels anxious about any group norm due to his/her cultural background and try to find a solution within or outside the group by advocating for the cause.

Using culturally appropriate techniques and program activities

The group leader should use such techniques and activities for group work which is culturally appropriate. For instance if the group members are from a culture which promotes independence then such programs can be designed which requires the members to take decisions independently. Similarly, working with such members who come from backgrounds which puts the leader at a higher status, such techniques may be used where the leaders can give inputs where required. 

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