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The 10 Lenses: Your Guide to Living and Working in a Multicultural World
By Mark A. Williams

Reviewed by Judy West, Principal
English That Works, Inc.

As someone who has been happily married for 23 years, I often tell young people that the key to a successful long-term relationship is to find someone who shares the same worldview as you do. Then, when you need to make financial, parenting, location, career, and toothpaste tube decisions, you are working through these issues with someone who is on the same page. What a luxury to be able to make this choice in partners! In the work world, however, we are not relating to only one significant other chosen by us; there are many people we interact with, influence, supervise, and count on to make decisions that affect our team, department, and company.

Do we benefit from their different ways of perceiving? Do we truly understand their actions and their concerns? Do we recognize their strengths and talents? Do they feel valued, included, and eligible for promotion?

The 10 Lenses: Your Guide to Living and Working in a Multicultural World helps us examine how we and our coworkers look at the world, what influences our actions, and reactions, and how we can become more inclusive in order to work more productively with people with different lenses. This should help us provide better leadership, manage more effectively, and meaningfully address the needs of diverse employees.

Mark Williams, the book’s author, begins by telling us the following:

(your ancestors’+
(your race, =
gender, level of
education, etc.)
(how you
the world)

In each chapter, he describes the features of a particular lens, the strengths and shadows of those possessing this lens, and the ways the lens impacts work, organizational systems, and the law. He also discusses working with and coaching individuals who have a strong preference for a certain lens. As you read through the descriptions, you may see yourself favoring one lens or exhibiting behavior from various lenses. You can begin examining how these perceptions affect your interactions with others. Perhaps, you can revisit a difficult interchange or relationship and find new meaning based on the perceptual baggage you came in with. Can you see yourself in any of the lenses summarized below?

Assimilationist – Everyone should adopt the values, customs, and language of the dominant culture. Be more American! Fit in!
Colorblind – Everyone should be treated as a unique individual.
Culturalcentrist – Personal identity is connected to ethnicity, race, and customs and should be preserved and protected.
Elitist – Membership in certain groups makes one more entitled than others.
Integrationist – People should work side by side to increase tolerance and reduce prejudice.
Meritocratist – Those who work hard will succeed.
Multiculturalist – Honor and be inclusive of all cultures. Celebrate differences.
Seclusionist – Integration and cross-cultural interaction is negative.
Transcendent – We have a universal identity as human beings with a spiritual oneness and similar purpose.
Victim/Caretaker – Skin color, ethnicity, and country of origin are the primary factors in people’s lives. Due to prejudice and bias, we must redress past wrongs.

Lenses that one might readily identify with have their downsides, and others that may initially appear negative, have some positive aspects. For example: the multiculturalist may make decisions about employee assignments based on a need for diversity rather than individual skills and abilities. An assimilationist, however, may mentor others in the organization to help them achieve a good “fit.”

Williams addresses the reality that working comfortably or getting ahead in today’s business environment may have more to do with group membership and style than with competence. He proposes an 11th lens that would “broaden our vision to incorporate multiple perspectives on reality.” He urges us to discuss employee perspectives on organizational life and to be aware that certain employees are more advantaged ( i.e. have a better fit.) Those that are disadvantaged may not realize that their job performance may not be the issue in terms of their advancement and interpersonal relationships.

Williams points out, “When individuals are viewing the world through the same layers and lenses, they are much more likely to understand what is being said and, more importantly, what is meant. They use similar languages and examples; their vocal tones and inflections are understood easily, their facial and body gestures are familiar. As background communality diverges, people become much more likely to misunderstand each other’s words and non-verbal communication, and the meaning of messages may become seriously distorted.”

As we do come from different backgrounds and view the world differently, what can we do to help ourselves communicate better? Williams recommends “the 3 Process Ls:”

  • Look inward – to better understand your legacy, layers, and lenses.
  • Listen to others – pay attention to both their content and feelings
  • Language your message – speak in ways that are respectful of others’ legacy, layers, and lenses, be aware of phrases that offend, and use descriptive rather than evaluative language.
So, even if your last trip to the eye doctor yielded a diagnosis of 20/20 vision, realize that all of us wear lenses, and we need to take them out and examine them from time to time.

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