Being Mindful of Cultural Values in
your Workplace Training
Midway through the first day, though, one of the
participants resisted strongly what we said about
how to approach another person that you have
conflict with. The objection: “it is not our value to confront another with our conflicts.” During the break
that followed shortly thereafter, the concerned
participant shared with us a brochure about how to
incorporate Hawaiian values into the workplace and
further expressed the reasoning behind her resistance. In the end we did not significantly change our
approach to managing workplace conflict. But we did
become more aware of the need to be sensitive to
the host culture where we live and work. for our own
credibility as professionals.
This strong response from the participant helped
us to recognize the need for creating space within
a training to identify cultural values and incorporate
them into the tools offered so that the information
will be accessible and relevant to the participants.
While culture varies from cities, states and countries as well as from organization to organization,
this article will focus on specifically Hawaiian values.
as discussed by Rosa Say in Managing with Aloha
and by Peter Apo in Hawaiian Values and the Workplace. Further, I will share some of the ways that I
have incorporated the language and values into my
workplace-training curriculum. My goal is to help
conflict management professionals who work in an
environment with strong cultural values, to assess
the culture and make sure that you, too, “mālama”
WHAT ARE CULTURAL VALUES?
I define cultural values as the ideals that are per-
ceived to be good, right, just, and fair by a group.
Within this group, there are the ideal culture of val-
ues and norms that the group professes to adhere
to, and the real cultural values that refer to the values
and norms that this group actually follows , which
may be quite different. It is this difference between
what people say and what they do that creates the
challenge for the conflict management professional.
In the training I described above, the participant
said that she valued harmony in the workplace but
that she and some co-workers felt disrespected by
the actions of others. Refraining from confronting the
others about their behavior supported her value of
harmony, but came at the expense of harmony for
others in the workplace.
HAWAIIAN CULTURAL VALUES
Mainstream Western culture tends to value the use
of words to convey thoughts and actions. Hawaiian
culture tends to value high context forms of communication, where words are supplemented (and
sometimes even superseded) by nonverbal cues.
High context communication is frequently used to
help save face in a conflict.
The Hawaiian language also has several words
with beautiful and complex meanings that represent
characteristic Hawaiian values.
Mālama means to take care of, serve and protect.
As a trainer who has been invited into an organization, you are there to serve the participants based
on their needs as well as to protect the confidentiality and safe space that is being created during the
training process. Mālama extends beyond trainers
to practitioners who serve as mediators and agents
of change. We take care of the individuals and the
organization by listening to them, doing our own
homework and responding appropriately based on
what is expressed as well as what is not. Consider
that we would not be asked to mālama the organization if they were able to do it themselves.
Kuleana refers to one’s personal sense of responsibility. Do you use ROPES in your ground rules? The
“R” refers to respect but I also include the idea of
About the Author
is a mediator,
trainer and facilitator specializing in
She is a current
Board Member for
ACR, has a private
in Maui, and is a
lecturer for the
University of Hawaii
at Maui College and
A few years ago, my business partner and I were providing conflict management training to a
Native Hawaiian healthcare organization. Neither my partner nor I are Hawaiian by ethnicity but
we have lived a combined 30 plus years in Hawai‘i. We were confident about our training and
were utilizing tried-and-true techniques that had been well received and integrated multiple