Recognizing Difference

Used under Creative Commons, Image by Flickr user Nevada Tumbleweed

I love Tuesdays. For the next several months, I’m engaged in a project that is a lot of fun for me because it taps into some of my favorite skills.

I often tell people that being an Emergency Manager is very similar to being an Event Planner, just under crisis with few friends and deadlines that have already passed on by. So, when I get to plan an event that is not in the midst of a disaster, I can be organized, plan for contingencies and engage lots of people with a smile on my face.

This current project, however, is unique because I am working with a community with which I am less familiar. Culturally, it is a group that generates wonderful ideas, is very creative, and produces solutions to a number of issues but that might not be quite as neurotically organized as my profession might be.

How do I know this? Because the members of my planning team from this community are also willing to share how foreign my processes, language and systems are to them.

I’ve often heard “when in Rome, act like the Romans,” but when cultures have entirely different styles of organization, should a person or group truly change the way that they engage with others?

It is important to understand that the methods & practices that we use, even to organize events and meetings, communicates a lot about our willingness to listen and learn from the experiences of others. And for those of us who are particularly linear, we must realize that differences are positive and expand our capability to consider creative ways to solve problems.

We may be different from each other, but if we’re both willing to listen and share, the engagement can be pretty awesome.


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Allen Sheaprd


HI. I’ll bite – what community do you get to work with on Tuesday’s ?

The culture difference between EM – FEMA NIMS – NGOs and “Wiki Crowd” are wide. The EM folks I’ve talked with feel their preperation message gets lost. Yet the Wiki Crowd is out there not only creating disaster prep info but rating different disaster prep companies selling to the public.

Both cultures live and work in the same cities but do not always get along.

What do you think ?

Jeff Ribeira

I agree with Allen. I’m interested to know what this mysterious community is. From my own experience, compromise can be a tough process, especially if you know that your ways are significantly more efficient than another’s. I think you hit the nail on the head with the word listen. Great things can happen when people/organizations are willing to just listen.

Cheryl Bledsoe

Allen, you hit the nail on the head. I’m working with the private sector technology group which has been an enormously positive experience, but it is a culture shock when I facilitate a meeting with an agenda, task assignments and establish timelines for follow-up. I have some very clear misconceptions that technology-minded people would be as, or more, linear than I am. It’s a very fascinating issue for me as I’ve seen the gap as local and national crisis camps work heartily on some solution-oriented outcomes for international disasters, but seen the difficulty in incorporating those solutions in a government context.

I do believe, however, that my experience here can also be applied to other sectors & cultural groups as well. Improving our listening skills will go a long way towards bridging key gaps in our understanding.

Thanks for reading and sharing your comments.

Allen Sheaprd


Hi. Yes the liner thinking before a disaster is hard most NGOs that are not RedCross/Salvation army.

With many people of different talents, fears and ideas, we atack a problem from all 360 degrees at once. Social media is like that. Also there may be only one or two people “in charge”

The best examples are “bee hive”, school of fish or IMO starlings at dusk. YouTube has some neat videos showing near mindless birds flying in concert to warm their bodies and ward of hawks over their nesting area. Quite amazing.

I hope you bring a sense of order, who may be involved from FEMA, etc and IMO most importantly to create rapport. Rapport is great for volunteer groups and business. Be it daily work of “who knows how to work this system” to volunteers. One good example was at a teen agers funeral service. As the church started to overflow a few of us wanted to get extra chairs. Though we did not go to the church, we knew each other from volunteering. Everyone fell into place without planning, discussion or hesitation. The whole issue was resolved without most people knowing what happened. Clean up happened much the same way.

The Grand Forks flood, 2008 ?, saw much of the same thanks to twitter. This was both technology minded and not so techno savy.

Cheryl yes there is a “government gap” We might as well be from different countries with different cultures. Its the old fearful saying “Hi, I’m from the Government and I’m here to help you” Just as federal workers are seen as slow plodding so are EM and FEMA folks. That’s why so many NGOs crop up.

On the bright side past HHS secretary Mike Levitt did alot of outreach. Back in 06/07 as H5N1 (bird flu) was all the rage Mr. Levitt found folks talking, planning and calmly facing a virus with a 63% death rate. They are out there.

Here listening and *honesty* where key.