The Quarantaniversary is here- it’s almost a year since the COVID-19 pandemic dawned upon us all. And we all witnessed a TREMENDOUS change in our workplaces.
Nevertheless, remote work surprisingly assisted globalization, and companies are hiring more people from abroad than ever. With people ready to telecommute, workplaces are getting more diverse. Sure, this scenario isn’t going to last same forever- but we can already witness a lot of challenges that follow remote work- intercultural communication being one of them.
It is no secret why communication tops the list of priorities that a company needs to inculcate among its employees. Intercultural communication makes it trickier to accomplish, especially with people literally working miles apart.
Many organizations are opening their gates soon, and the cultural differences may intensify if you don’t start working on it now. Do you wonder if your employees are happily interacting despite these differences?
In this blog, we will discuss how to-
1. Assess your staff’s intercultural communication skills;
2. Identify the hindrances;
3. And rectify them for good.
Why Is Intercultural Communication Important?
Differences in culture are inevitable, and it takes a lot for people to bridge the gap. Lack of management in intercultural communication paves the way for misunderstandings and a feeling of being left out.
I’ll explain my point by citing an example. The west urges its people to leave their parents’ home and start a family at a very young age, while the east encourages a culture of living with parents and grandparents. It is one of the very few differences that you will find even when working with employees belonging to different cities in your own country.
A workplace that understands the diversity in traditions, customs, and cultures make its staff feel welcomed. It leads to better team communication, which ultimately develops a healthier and dynamic work environment. To be successful in any sector, organizations must understand and meet the communication patterns of their clients, employees, investors, and other associated people.
Hindrances in Intercultural Communication
Know What Your Team Lacks
Now that you understand the why, let’s get into the what part.
There are four broad cultural differences that you’ll spot among people around you. Your employees are no exception. Improve your intercultural communication by identifying their weak points. Look for the ones that they lack so that you can rectify them ASAP. After all, acceptance is the first step to betterment!
Here are the key cultural aspects that your staff may lack:
School is the second home of a child, and it plays a vital role in shaping our thoughts, mannerisms, and problem-solving skills. Our background depends on our school, teachers, locations, and the associated national and district laws.
Companies hire people for different positions based on their qualifications. When they work together on a project, they implement varied methods based on their backgrounds to tackle the same set of problems. The results can either be pretty cool or a disastrous mess.
An employee’s religious and spiritual affirmations have a significant impact on their priorities and behavior. Religious and spiritual beliefs have the power to impact a person’s perception, analytical abilities, and decision-making skills. As a result, they may even have a difference in ethical behavior.
Everyone has a right to express their religion. There could be a possibility of differences in opinions at the workplace and cold wars. Beware!
Ethnicity is different from race. It is not biological and depends on a person’s learned behaviors due to their culture, nationality, religion, ancestry, heritage, and linguistic backgrounds. Jewish, Tamil, Pashtun, Cambodian, Sindhi, etc., are a few examples of ethnicity.
Naturally, separate ethnicities have a different train of thought and exposure. For instance, people who grow up in a spiritual and sacrificing environment avoid conflicts at all costs. Others may be direct in communication.
The race is a biologically defined term. Black, White, Asian are a few examples, for instance. Races have NOTHING to do with the person’s ethics and working skills. But they do have an impact on their accent, day-to-day behavior, and stuff like that.
While racial diversity is no big deal in the modern workplace, racist slurs, biased behavior, and mixed perceptions are still prevalent. Strong intercultural communication intertwines people and prevents this from happening.
The location you grow up in defines the environment you are exposed to- leading to developing varied dressing, speaking, eating, and living habits. Working with people from different geographical upbringing may sound cool and all, but it is actually the primary cause of stereotypes.
People who dwell from the same place tend to bond faster. And while that’s no big of a deal, it may lead to groupism and people feeling alienated.
Some countries have an official language for their state, while some don’t. It is plausible due to the languages spoken by the natives. While English is the most acceptable among them all, people also come with different accents.
Long story short, language remains a barrier in any workplace that doesn’t stick to hiring only the locals. Paving the way for a friendly yet strong intercultural communication promotes bonding among all and keeps conflicts at bay.
The generation you are born in has a darn tootin’ impact on your ideas on professionalism, ethical behavior, collaboration, creativity, and overall communication. Gen Z, for instance, prioritizes career and stability, while Boomers have a softer spot for their home and family.
Different generations are going to look at stuff with different glasses. A GenXer’s creativity and Baby Boomer’s experience may yield the best results. But it requires constant understanding, respect, and fair inclusion of all.
A person’s income and socio-economic status (SES) speak a lot about the privileges, opportunities, and resources that they usually get. Contrary to popular belief, SES has a major impact on our behavior and analytical skills.
SES contributes to an employee’s functioning, mental & physical health, stress level, and morals. If left to perish, it leads to judgments, biases, and information silos.
Improving Intercultural Communication at Workplace
There are cultures within cultures, and communication is the only path to collaboration. There’s nothing worse than a lack of understanding among people due to their misaligned assumptions and cognitive biases.
The strategies listed below are vital to creating cross-cultural harmony. However, I have witnessed points 4, 5, 7, and 9 making the maximum impact on intercultural communication:
1. Avoid Using Slang
The non-natives of your place may understand what you say but may not understand the exact idea and context behind it. Slang, phrases, and idioms are cool, but why not keep it simple? Even the natives may get confused if your language gets too complicated.
Everyone has an interpretation of their own. And it is natural to read between the lines when things are not clear. An inaccurate interpretation, in such cases, will end up confusing or may even offend your staff. Play safe ALWAYS.
2. Handle Humour with Care
Cracking jokes is no big deal, and you don’t always have to be a grumpy boss. But remember, not everyone understands humour. So if you decide to go for it, make sure everyone understands it clearly. Cultural appropriation is a prerequisite, and you cannot compromise it for a few fake laughs. Go for neutral jokes that seem appreciated and accepted in all cultures. (for instance, a knock-knock joke)
HRs and management need to understand how culturally leaned behavior affects communication. Fixing it reduces intercultural communication conflicts to a humongous extent.
3. Organize Games & Activities
Collaboration is the key to better communication. And what’s a better way to collaborate than to organize non-work-related activities. When people talk about stuff other than work, they feel more connected and start opening up despite their differences.
As a matter of fact, people with a different culture are more interested in a place’s native culture. Games and activities are a perfect way to cheer things up when trying to improve intercultural communication.
4. Hold Discussions & Debates
Debates might be the last thing you’d want in your organization, but hear me out- when you encourage people to present their conflicting thoughts professionally, they learn how to be opinionated and yet hold back the offense. Debates are healthy, and they bring sportsmanship among the peers.
Group discussions are also an excellent way of teaching the employees how and why it is crucial to keep things clear and simple in a conversation. Intercultural communication can only strengthen when people polish their verbal as well as listening skills.
5. Speak Slowly
An intercultural workplace would definitely have employees with varied accents and familiarity with the language. When you speak at your usual pace, you become vulnerable to miscommunication, misinterpretation, and misunderstandings.
Modulating the speed will ensure that your words are loud and clear. But make sure you’re not too slow, or else people would drift off while listening, let alone improve the overall communication. And that’s a bummer!
6. Keep Non-verbal Misinterpretations in Mind
Your body language is always a part of communication. And it doesn’t matter what your words say- your tone and posture add meaning to it. Focus on keeping your facial expressions and body language very neutral. You don’t always have to smile, but maybe stop crossing your arms and looking at your phone.
Sometimes the non-verbal misinterpretations are not very obvious, and you have to dig a bit deeper. For instance, the Japanese find it rude when someone points a chopstick at them while eating.
7. Work on Cognitive Biases
Everyone is biased- that’s natural. But it’s very unethical to let the biases interfere with our decision-making processes at work. It doesn’t matter how you feel about stuff- you have to take a rational and practical approach to get an unbiased and appropriate solution.
Your cognitive bias stems from a lot of reasons and has a direct impact on your conversations. If not taken care of, it may make things bitter between people with a difference in opinion.
8. NEVER Frame Closed Questions
Avoid direct questions that need an answer in yes or no. Some people find it rude to answer such questions without an explanation. They might as well go with a yes instead of saying no to someone’s face. It might sound a little absurd, but such behavior is also an influence of their background.
Open-ended questions that require a plausible explanation are better in such cases. As a bonus, you always get to understand the thinking process of your team. And you can always assign the right tasks to the right person in the future.
9. Encourage Active Listening
Out of the two fundamental parts of communication, people tend to only work on their speaking skills. Well, we all know that won’t work. After all, who likes sharing their thoughts with someone who won’t let them finish their sentences? To ensure a healthy and happening relationship among all, you have to make sure that people like each other’s company.
Intercultural communication is a responsibility. Encourage people to come up with doubts, suggestions, and queries. It helps break the information silos, and nothing gets missed or misunderstood.
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Wrapping It Up!!
Cultural differences are bound to occur in any workplace. The key is to accept and understand them. Intercultural communication can yield creative results when utilized the right way. Try to make the best out of your intercultural work environment and never let your productivity go down.
Is there anything that I missed? Would you like to drop a suggestion/query? Let me know in the comments below. I would love to hear from you.