Cultural Intelligence: Anne Fitisemanu from a Pacific perspective

Diversity and Inclusion require smart cross-cultural communication skills. New Zealand – particularly Auckland – has one of the most diverse workforces in the world. The leaders that excel here today are those that understand various cultures, including communication patterns, norms, expectations, and taboos.

In the lead-up to the panel discussion September 8, this blog series focuses on cultural intelligence (CQ) in the workforce, from the viewpoint of selected people from our Global Women community who represent New Zealand’s diverse ethnic makeup.

Today Anne Fitisemanu, community manager of Pacific health and workforce development at Counties-Manukau DHB, provides five tips for leaders from a Pacific perspective that you can effectively build into your teams.

1. Understand Pacific values

These include love, family, respect, honour, relationship, spirituality and compassion. Leaders would benefit from understanding how these values impact and influence their Pacific staff. For example, spirituality – the vast majority of Pasifika are spiritual and believe in God. This spiritual relationship is to be respected and not feared. If you are addressing a gathering of predominantly Pacific staff and or community, it wouldn’t be unusual for someone to say, “Let’s open this meeting with a prayer”. Many non-pacific Christians are comfortable with that, but some won’t be. Get comfortable being uncomfortable, this is how we learn. Another important value is service. Service underpins the pathway to leadership. In a business context, if you’re looking to develop someone in your team, look for the member that may often offer to do without being asked. Pasifika are often great team players and respond well to working with and supporting others.

2. Hierarchy

Pacific people are often very respectful and mindful of hierarchy. Things like critical thinking, putting and argument across, looking at certain options to take a project forward, the Pacific team may require an alternative approach to get their opinion across.Traditionally we come from families where we are told what to do, we are not necessarily asked how we think.

3. Build relationships

As Pacific people, we connect with people through our hearts before we connect through our heads. Respectful and strong relationships are the foundation for development. In health, there is a saying “We don’t care how much you know until we know how much you care”. Build a relationship with individuals and your team before anything else. If someone comes into a meeting and gets straight into business and strategy planning etc, is “full-on” without any form of introduction or warm-up, the outcome may not be the greatest. Whereas someone who starts the meeting by introducing themselves and then “lays down the mat” to understand who else is in the room, where they’re from, and what’s their connection, will probably get more out of the team as well as contribute to building for the future.

4. Raise awareness and celebrate the many cultures and demographics within Pasifika

Leaders need to understand the diversity within Pasifika. The Pacific Islands are not ‘an island’, so there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. The ‘Pacific’ comprises a multitude of Pacific nations. There are commonalities across them, but there is also subtle differences and uniqueness amongst the many ethnicities. What may apply in one Pacific context can be completely different in another based on cultural beliefs, practices and norms. Adding to this may be other considerations like whether the person is NZ-born, Pacific-born, and of mixed race. Provide your staff and team members the opportunity to celebrate and share their culture with others. This opportunity allows Pacific people to bring all of who they are into the workplace which in turn supports organisational development.

5. Recognising talent

It’s also important to understand the diversity of unsung talent across the Pacific. Tongans, for example, have more PhDs per capita than any other nation in the world – that is a fact – but it is something that necessarily defines a Tongan. Be mindful when you meet Pacific people, don’t assume, don’t judge or interpret that accent – ‘fresh’ in your opinion – for someone that’s not educated because that person may well be one of the Tongans with a PhD.

Want more CQ tips? Read our previous blog on CQ from an Indian Perspective, from Ranjna Patel