Due to globalization and economic emancipation, many SMBs and huge MNCs with varied cultural backgrounds are venturing together to stay competitive and strengthen their position in today’s challenging business environment. In addition, employees from various cultural origins and religious views make up today’s workforce. This has resulted in a rise in linguistic and cultural diversity at all levels of the workplace, posing a slew of new problems. One of them is figuring out how businesses can best bridge linguistic and cultural divides in the workplace.
Because communication is considered the lifeblood of any business, employees must grasp the cultural variations among their coworkers. Disparities in language and cultural differences are seen as an unseen source of miscommunication between persons of different cultures in the workplace. Nonverbal communication, language, values, and etiquette are areas where a lack of understanding can have negative implications.
People of significantly different cultures and origins are working together more than ever before. This is, without a doubt, the product of new technologies and the impact of compulsory education in many areas of the world.
In the majority of cases, workplace diversity has helped businesses. For example, according to a McKinsey study, firms in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity have 35 percent more potential to breed monetary recoveries above the national average. Similarly, these businesses construct 19 percent more funds from creation.
Despite challenges originating from cultural diversity and linguistic barriers, having a varied workforce from various origins is still crucial since it allows for alternative ideas, which leads to inventive solutions.
However, cultural diversity raises several challenges that must be addressed carefully to get the most out of it. Let’s take a closer look at these challenges and see how you can deal with them effectively.
1. Barriers to Cross-Cultural Communication
We all have a natural propensity to see other cultures through the eyes of our own. When we instinctively assume that our way of doing things and perceiving things is the only and correct way, we are ethnocentrism. As a result, we judge behaviors that do not fit our worldview negatively. As a result, other people’s actions strike us as strange and inappropriate. Ethnocentrism can also foster a “we vs. them” mentality, which can be harmful.
Oversimplified stereotypes about people from different cultures are also frequent. In reality, several cross-cultural training programs are available that focus on memorizing cultural differences and can perpetuate stereotypes. Learning about differences can be an excellent place to start. On the other hand, individuals are unique; you can never predict someone’s behavior based on ethnicity. For example, when we first moved to the UK, we were told by French friends that the British never invite you to dinner, which is an everyday social activity in France. On the other hand, we have the kindest British neighbors who frequently ask us to dinner.
You must be willing to change your management approach to lead cross-cultural teams successfully. It isn’t easy to go against your instincts. People may feel untrustworthy and inept. I’m familiar with the instance of a French executive who relocated to the United States. He discovered that his standard French feedback technique, which focuses on “wrong” instead of “right,” was hurting his team’s trust. He recognized the issue, but he felt forced to act “American.” He returned to France as soon as he was able.
People in global virtual teams do not have the same opportunities to engage and form relationships as in a regular office setting. And the less you know about someone, the less information you share with them. As a result, collaboration within virtual teams is more complicated. Groups outside of the corporate headquarters may likewise feel left out. Members of the head office group, on the other hand, may believe that their coworkers are not contributing. Time zone differences can sometimes be problematic. When you’re not in the office, you’re often required to deal with less convenient meeting times. I know a brilliant woman who quit a global senior leadership position because she was wary of attending late-night meetings.
All teams speak the same language, but a social gap develops when some members are more fluent than others. People who are less fluent in English tend to retreat from communication in global teams, which means the team may not acquire all the information it needs. When people speak too quickly or use too much slang, it can be challenging to understand what they’re saying. This could impact how people are seen in their competence and performance. I worked at a company where non-native English speakers felt their professional advancement chances were limited compared to native English speakers.
Culture is similar to an iceberg in that what you see are the behaviors that are impacted by the values hidden beneath the surface. When the behavior of others undermines our ideals, we have a cultural conflict. When you don’t understand or agree with behavior, it’s usually a sign of competing values beneath the surface. It’s all a matter of cultural standards; there’s no right or wrong way to conduct things.
2. Ways to Bridge the Gap of Cross-Cultural Communication
Ask for Clarity and Be Persistent
Never make assumptions based on what has been communicated. Make sure your information is accurate and, if necessary, clarify it. When employees don’t ask questions, there’s a danger they won’t understand what’s being said. The same can be said about passionate nodding; the person may be doing it to give the impression of understanding. Have tolerance when it comes to the language barrier. Smooth communication does not happen overnight; it takes time to develop.
First and foremost, examine your attitudes about various civilizations. Next, you must get to know your personnel, their experiences, and origins, as well as learn a little about how they conduct business and interact in their respective regions.
For example, “I’ll finish this soon” might indicate many different things in different nations, so don’t automatically blame it on the person’s laziness or irresponsibility if you don’t appear to understand each other when it comes to particular phrases or ideas.
Demonstrate that you’re patient and understanding but that there’s a limit to how far you’ll go. First, of course, you’ll need to be familiar with these various cultures to recognize the issue and work with the employee to resolve it.
Cultural Difference Awareness
Following that, you’ll need to educated your employees about the effects of workplace diversity and the necessity of tolerance and understanding. This is critical, given that racial and ethnic minorities account for more than 30% of the US workforce. For this aim, you can plan several types of training for your employees. If feasible, personalize them as much as possible depending on the backgrounds and needs of the people who work at your company. If you make it too general, there’s a danger it will be boring or inapplicable, and it will seem like you did it only for the sake of protocol. This usually ends in a lot of yawns and zero lessons learned.
Out-of-work events are an excellent method for coworkers to understand and get to know each other better. The simplest way to eliminate preconceptions about another person is to become close to them and familiarize yourself with them.
This will be beneficial when they return to their work activities. Remember that collaboration only happens when people can comprehend each other quickly and spontaneously and work as one organism, rather than as a dispersed group of individuals attempting to predict each other’s intentions. To accomplish this, they’ll need to get to know each other as live human beings with hopes, anxieties, hobbies, and objectives. They’ll have to get past seeing one other as merely job roles.
Being genuinely open is essential for improving communication in any area of life or business, especially regarding workplace cultural communication difficulties. It is simply superficial to make eye contact with individuals. If your employees feel frightened or misunderstood, or if they can’t figure out someone’s ideas, actions, or conduct, ask them for frank feedback. People may feel left out or don’t understand others, but they won’t speak out about it since they are uncomfortable discussing the subject.
It’s vital to realize that even if you do everything correctly, you can’t control everything, and communication breakdowns will occur despite your best efforts. Cultural barriers are primarily determined by how people were raised and the ideas imprinted on them from a young age. A few chats and a cultural awareness training session will not be enough to eliminate cultural misunderstandings.
In some countries, culture is perceived as inferior. As a result, it isn’t easy to communicate with the opposite culture. A person’s beliefs are the basis for prejudice. For instance, in the United Arab Emirates, an Arab woman is likely to think of herself as a lower-class professional than an American woman. Therefore, her refusal to give her consent is interpreted as an insult.
In the United States, the OK hand gesture means “all right,” while the equivalent in Europe is “buy signal.” In parts of the world, the buy signal is a common way to signify uncertainty and distrust. In addition, in some cultures, the hand symbol used in greeting the opposite gender is a moral crime. However, in the western world, this behavior is acceptable, but in some cultures, the gesture can be an obstacle to cross-cultural communication.