The Language of Cooperation Cultural Diversity and Your Building Staff

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg once said, “No city on earth can match New York’s rich ethnic diversity; we’re truly the world’s second home.” Bloomberg’s comment was right on the money, but not only is New York City a melting pot of ethnicities, its millions of residents are just as culturally and economically diverse.

In any sizeable city, people from a vast array of ethnic and sociological backgrounds live together in co-ops and condominiums. Managing these co-op or condos that are homes to residents from varied backgrounds, language groups and cultural perspectives can sometimes pose distinct challenges.

Say What?

Peter Grech, president of the New York Superintendents Technical Association (STA), admits that language and cultural barriers with residents are some of the biggest obstacles in his profession.

“When I take over a building and certain residents or staff members speak other languages, and their English isn’t good or is non-existent, it’s usually because the former super spoke that language,” says Grech. “The staff didn’t need to learn that language, and now another super comes in who may speak yet another language and now it takes time to get over this barrier.”

Grech says the learning curve for basic conversation in some languages, such as Spanish, is not as steep as it is with other, more difficult languages. “How do you learn Japanese?” says Grech. “I started to learn a little – five words basically – but often you can communicate with hand signals that show people what to do, or if you are lucky other staff members will know that language. You just muddle your way through.”

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