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Culture at Work

Communicating Across Cultures

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Pages in this series:
» List of Exercises
» #1 Interpreting X-C Incidents
» #1 Sample Observations
» #2 Silent Day
» #3 Work Interview
» #4 Culture "embodied"

Exercise 3: Work Interview

Cross-cultural realities at Work

This interview is designed for students who are learning ethnographic methods, or who are studying cross-cultural communication. It adapts easily for professionals who are interviewing within employees about organizational development or diversity concerns.

Talk to one or two people about cultural issues they encounter on their job. If at all possible, meet at the person's workplace and ask if you can spend some time observing there.


Find someone:
  • At least 7 years older or younger than you are.
  • Doing work that you cannot ever imagine yourself doing.
  • Culturally distinctly different from you.

Your goal is to get them talking. Listen for what is said, what is implied, what is not said. Try not to insert your opinions and experience.

Start the interview by explaining who you are and why you are interviewing them. Thank them sincerely for giving you their time and thoughts. Be sensitive throughout the interview to whether the person wants to continue.

Sample Interview Questions

Start with questions that are easy and comfortable to answer:
  1. What kind of work do you do?

  2. How long have you been doing it?

  3. If observing: can you show me what you do, what your day looks like?
    If not observing: Can you describe a typical work day?

Then move to questions that require more thought and rapport with the interviewer:
  1. Why did you end up doing this work? What kind of person often does this sort of work? (And would they consider themselves typical?)

  2. What do you like about this work?

  3. What is difficult about this work?

  4. How do (customers, others in the company...) treat you? What do they think about the job you do? [adapt this question to fit your particular interview--try to get at how they think they are treated based on their work.]

  5. How does being a (fill in the blank with a salient cultural category: man, older person, African-American, 20-something...) play into the work you do?

  6. Has this work changed the way you think about yourself, about the world?

Thank them again. Offer to show them your write-up, if they are interested. (If yes, include their comments and corrections at the end of your write-up.)


Think about your interview and the nature of the worksite. It may be helpful to write up your experience. Consider these questions:
  1. What aspects of this person's work determine or indicate their status relative to others?
  2. What are some of the connections between this person's work experience and gender, race, age, and /or ethnicity (etc.)?
  3. What kinds of attitudes, values, behaviors does this person's work culture encourage?
  4. What from this interview can give us insight into communicating across cultures within the workplace or between one work culture and another?

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