The work environment as we know it today has greatly evolved throughout the years. The world has gotten much smaller due to the ease of international travel, and the internet has further altered business relations. International business has become easily attainable without the need for travel. This has aided in the increase of workplace diversity, which means that people from different cultures are working together.
This globalization is often viewed as a positive development as individuals from different backgrounds bring unique perspectives to the work environment. However, different backgrounds in the same office environment can also bring about some challenges. Different cultural groups have very different norms, and even work ethics can differ significantly. For example, different cultures have different interpretations of elements like body language and it is not uncommon for one culture to view direct eye contact as positive, whereas another views it as negative. It can be difficult to avoid misunderstandings when employees come from such different backgrounds. This highlights the importance of effective cross-cultural communication.
Intercultural communication involves communication between varied cultural groups. What helps us understand why cross-cultural communication is important is understanding the impact that miscommunication can have on the workplace and on the team. There are usually different cultural communication styles in place within society, even some that influence communication in the workplace. Some call for formal communication in the workplace, while other cultures feel that a more approachable environment between team members is better. Even something like facial expressions is vital in cross-cultural communication examples. When cultural differences are respected and acknowledged, cross-cultural communication tends to improve.
Most recently, remote work has increased significantly, which has been a factor in the need for effective intercultural communication. Today’s workplace often features talent from all over the world without the need for relocation. How we communicate information no longer involves walking around an office, and a vital part of developing effective business communication is ensuring that people have the skills needed to interact effectively with coworkers who might find themselves in different countries, not to mention cultures.
Good cross-cultural communication skills can help to combat conflict. How people interact and build rapport in the workplace can mean a significant impact on cross-cultural communication and, in turn, the functioning of the business as a whole. A diverse workforce can be a great asset to a business, but the environment must be supportive of cultural factors and respectful of cultural barriers for such an arrangement to work. Only then can the diverse range of views be bought to the table to be appreciated fully.
When cross-cultural communication is effective, employee experience and loyalty increase because there is a feeling of inclusion among staff. When they feel included, people tend to participate and share more with the team. Effective cross-cultural communication also needs to be maintained at all levels of a business, including the executive tier and the board. Improving cross-cultural communication can increase productivity and business efficiency on a global scale.
Those who want to improve their communication ability in a cultural capacity can attempt some of the following:
This is a measure that can be implemented at an organizational level and involves training new employees to ensure that they can communicate effectively within the bounds of company policy and the cultures of their peers. Communication patterns can be taught in advance. When an organization strives to employ individuals from a varied cultural background, it could help to have this as part of their induction into staffing positions.
One-on-one communication in the workplace is usually unavoidable. It may be helpful for individuals to practice active listening with those they will be working with. Being able to recognize subtle differences in the culture of the person you are communicating with and yourself is also a useful tool in workplace communication. If employees can recognize what they have in common despite any cultural differences it can also foster a sense of belonging and comradery amongst staff members. Many of the communication practices in a company are usually dependent on examples set by top management. This means that a bad community of practice regarding communication with subordinates can be harmful to a business communication model.
We often find that one culture is more prominent in a workplace than others, even when the workforce is diverse. Geographical location tends to play the biggest role here. Problems occur when the less prominent culture is not understood. Understanding and respect are important for cross-cultural communication to work effectively—social norms set apart important cultural elements that must be integrated through understanding.
A good place to start with showing respect to different cultural backgrounds is by knowing significant religious and cultural dates and making sure that we know the proper greetings and blessings for such events. As we have mentioned, working better with other cultures starts with better intercultural communication in the workplace, which is aided by self-education and engagement with the culture we are trying to understand.
For many individuals, a major and largely unconscious, cultural mistake that they make is to naturally assume that their way of doing things is the norm. Training programs often focus on emphasizing that behavior is culture-specific and alternative behaviors are therefore not necessarily wrong. It can also help when management understands that organizational norms are not usually sensitive to cultural differences.
Intercultural communication in the workplace can help diversity to thrive. When individuals from different cultural backgrounds feel understood, they can unlock their full potential freely. Higher degrees of cultural diversity can bring be beneficial to any business and combat staff turnover rates. Deeper cultural awareness helps to combat miscommunication, and employees are less likely to feel isolated.
As with all things, there are some barriers to achieving these feats in a modern workplace. While many companies already had remote or flexible work environments, the pandemic further pushed companies into the global age, and the impact of this shift was palpable and enduring. People are now exposed to more diversity in the workplace than ever before and that has a knock-on effect as different cultures in the workplace will require cultural sensitivity from employees and management.
Furthermore, we also need to be wary of nonverbal communication and how this can be different between cultures. Many cultures rely heavily on nonverbal communication more than verbal communication. Some cultures require masses of nonverbal cues to communicate, whereas other cultures use them sparingly. It is important to remember that only some nonverbal communication is universal, and it is important to understand the differences in everyday communication.
Employers need to be wary of the risk of culture shock when employees work in a culture that is not their own. They might struggle to fit in with new cultural norms, and striving for better communication with afflicted individuals can be a good way to combat their discomfort. Furthermore, the lack of a physical office for employees changes the dynamic, and direct communication is not face-to-face.
Intercultural communication in the workplace can be an important part of business success. Teams are becoming more diverse due to the global economy and the rise in remote work. Higher levels of diversity increases innovation and dedication among staff, and this can result in the maximization of profitability for the company as a whole. The importance of good communication is often tangible, especially in executive management.