Chapter 11: A Relational Approach to Settlement Work Relational Spaces and Practices for Anti-Oppression and Well-Being


Language Awareness Challenge

Look at these examples of dominator language and partnership alternatives. Make an intention to pay attention to language in the different circles of care and concern. Pay attention to the news and other forms of media and advertising. Where do you notice dominator language? Where do you notice partnership language? What about in the settlement field? How do people use language? How do things change when our language changes?

Reading: Partnership Language (Center for Partnership Systems, 2024)


Learning Activity 1: Partnership Alternatives

Can you guess the partnership alternative? Which of these do you use?

Make a list of words, phrases, or expressions common to the settlement field for which you would like to find an alternative.

Source: Partnership Language and Vocabulary (Center for Partnership Systems, 2021)

Learning Activity 2: Practice Scenario – Shifting Family Dynamics in Cultural Identity

  1. Choose examples from the dominator and partnership styles of engagement and create a role play. Discuss how it feels to switch from one to the other.
  2. Discuss the potential difficulties associated with transitioning to a partnership-oriented approach in relationships traditionally characterized by domination.


A family recently immigrated to Canada from a culture where identity, particularly gender roles and family dynamics, is strictly ascribed. In their home country, traditional gender roles were clearly defined, with the father as the primary breadwinner and decision maker, while the mother focused on domestic responsibilities. These roles were deeply embedded in their culture, and their extended family played a significant role in upholding these norms.

In Canada, the family finds themselves in an environment where individual identity is highly valued, and cultural diversity is celebrated. Their two children, E (female) and M (male), quickly adapt to Canadian norms and values. They attend school, where they are exposed to a multicultural and inclusive curriculum that promotes individual expression and the idea that one can self-author their identity.

As E and M embrace their new Canadian identity, they question the traditional roles they observed in their home country. E, who was expected to conform to more traditional gender roles, now aspires to become an engineer. M, who once assumed he would follow in his father’s footsteps, expresses an interest in pursuing a career in the arts.

This shift in family dynamics creates tension and confusion for the parents, who struggle to reconcile their cultural values with the changing expectations of their children. They find themselves at a crossroads between preserving their traditional cultural identity and allowing their children to embrace the self-authoring aspect of their Canadian upbringing.

The family faces a challenging journey of adapting to a new cultural context where identity is considered an individual project. Their children’s evolving values and aspirations clash with the traditionally ascribed roles they were familiar with, causing the parents to question and renegotiate their identities and parenting approaches. This scenario highlights the complexities of cultural identity transitions within immigrant families and the need for open communication, understanding, and compromise as they navigate these changes together.

Look at the following examples that contrast the two approaches. Revisit the text by substituting different cultural identities represented by settlement worker professionals.

Dominator Approach

Relational Partnership Approach

1. Prescriptive Solutions: A dominator approach would involve the settlement worker dictating what the family should do without considering their input or cultural background. This might include telling E and M to embrace Canadian values fully and dismissing their cultural heritage.

1. Cultural Sensitivity and Understanding: The settlement worker would begin by deeply understanding the family’s cultural background, values, and traditions. This includes recognizing the ascribed nature of identity and traditional gender roles in their home country.

2. Enforcement of Canadian (or first country) Norms: The dominator approach would prioritize Canadian cultural norms and disregard the family’s ascribed identity and traditional gender roles. There would need to be more room for negotiation or accommodation.

2. Active Listening and Empathy: The settlement worker would individually engage in active listening sessions with children and parents to understand their perspectives, concerns, and aspirations. Empathy and validation of their experiences are crucial in building trust.

3. Lack of Empathy: Instead of empathizing with the family’s challenges and concerns, a dominator approach might dismiss their struggles and expect them to conform quickly to Canadian norms. There would be little acknowledgement of the emotional and psychological impact on the family members.

3. Facilitating Intergenerational Dialogue: The settlement worker would create a safe and non-judgemental space for intergenerational dialogue within the family. This may involve family counselling sessions where everyone can express their thoughts and feelings openly.

4. Conflict Escalation: In cases of intergenerational conflict, a dominator approach may involve taking sides or favouring the dominant cultural values, potentially leading to escalated tensions within the family.

4. Education and Information: The settlement worker would provide the family with information about Canadian cultural norms and values, emphasizing self-authored identity and the diversity of identities in Canada. This would help the family understand the context in which their children are growing up.

5. Limited Cultural Understanding: A dominator approach might not take the time to understand the family’s cultural background, assuming that Canadian values are superior and should be adopted without question.

5. Conflict Resolution and Mediation: In cases of tension or conflict arising from differences in values and expectations, the settlement worker would act as a mediator to facilitate constructive conversations. The focus would be on finding common ground and compromises that respect the family’s cultural heritage and the children’s aspirations.

6. Imposing Consequences: Punitive measures or consequences may be threatened or enforced if the family resists conforming to the expectations. This could include withholding support services or making their settlement process more challenging.

6. Resource and Network Building: The settlement worker would connect the family with community resources, support groups, and other families who have gone through similar cultural transitions. This would help the family feel less isolated and more supported in their journey.

7. Short-Term Focus: The dominator approach may prioritize short-term outcomes, such as immediate assimilation, without considering the long-term well-being and happiness of the family members.

7. Long-Term Relationship Building: A partnership approach involves building a long-term, trust-based relationship with the family. The settlement worker would continue to check in with the family regularly, providing ongoing support as they navigate their evolving cultural identity.

8. Disregard for Cultural Preservation: A dominator approach may undermine the importance of preserving the family’s cultural heritage, viewing it as an obstacle to integration rather than a valuable part of their identity.

8. Respect for Cultural Heritage: While encouraging self-authorship, the settlement worker would also emphasize respecting and preserving the family’s cultural heritage. This includes integrating elements of their traditional identity into their lives in Canada or connecting to other newcomers who have experienced similar challenges and found a way to reconcile these types of tensions.

9. Authoritarian Relationship: The settlement worker would establish an authoritarian relationship with the family, expecting compliance rather than collaboration. This could erode trust and lead to resistance from the family.

9. Goal Setting and Planning: Together with the family, the settlement worker would assist in setting realistic short-term and long-term goals that align with the children’s aspirations and the family’s cultural values.

Overall, a dominator approach would seek to enforce a single, dominant cultural perspective on the family, failing to recognize or respect their unique cultural background and the complexities of their identity transition. This approach could lead to significant stress, resistance, and long-term negative consequences for the family’s well-being and integration into Canadian society. On the other hand, a relational partnership approach would prioritize collaboration with the family, acknowledging and supporting their agency in making decisions about their cultural identity and future in Canada. It would be grounded in respect for diversity, empathy, and a commitment to helping the family navigate their unique cultural identity journey with sensitivity and support.

Relational Practices and Capacities

Intercultural competence is essential in a relational approach because it supports effective communication and cooperation across diverse cultural backgrounds. It includes sensitivity to similarities and differences, and involves being able to shift perspective and sometimes your behaviour to align with another without feeling like you are compromising your cultural identity. In other words, you have expanded your communication repertoire to receive and share information over a broader range of cultural contexts.

Interpersonal communication is communicating with another person, and effective communication involves developing your skill in three ways. The first requires a wide range of inner capacities such as self-awareness, self-management, emotional regulation, perception, self-concept, self-esteem, cognitive complexity, and identity management. The second includes listening, language, non-verbal communication, and communicating solid emotions. The third has to do with relationship management and includes conflict skills, creating suitable communication climates, knowing the self-disclosure rules in different contexts, and repairing damaged relationships.

Six Relational Practices

A holistic diversity, equity, and inclusion practice in organizations involves both structural and social or relational processes. Bava and Greene (2023) offer the following six relational practices to use as a norm when we communicate with each other to create diverse relational spaces that are equitable, inclusive, and free of racism and discrimination:

  1. Stay playful
  2. Listen with curiosity
  3. Reframe our stories
  4. Consider context
  5. Ask questions
  6. Hold uncertainty


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Canadian Settlement in Action: History and Future Copyright © 2021 by NorQuest College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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