Intercultural Communication in the Workplace

How Sensitive is Intercultural Communication at the Workplace

The importance of intercultural communication in the workplace cannot, and should not be undermined. It plays an important role in the functioning of an organization and affects the final output too.
Workspirited Staff
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2018
Though cross-cultural interaction is not new and has existed for ages, with the advent of globalization, the world has come close together. It is not surprising then that people have to travel to different parts of the world as a part of their job and have to adapt to that new environment. However, adaptation is not always easy, and a little support from colleagues goes a long way in easing the process of 'fitting in' for the immigrant employee. This article explains to you the importance of intercultural communication in the workplace.

Important Factors

Intercultural communication mainly relates to issues pertaining to speech and culture of those belonging to an environment or land different from their own. It is obvious that a person who grows up in China is going to have a different culture than someone born and brought up in the United States. Even people from the United Kingdom find it difficult to adapt to the United States and vice versa, though these are seemingly similar countries and even speak the same language.

In the work environment, these cultures affect the behavior and values of the employees. How they respond to superiors, to colleagues and to subordinates, are all determined by the culture they have been bred in. Their attitude towards and their comprehension about their surroundings is also different. Their pattern of communication is varied and their concept of formality and informality is different. For instance, several organizations address their bosses on a first name basis in the West. However, in other countries such as India, it is considered informal, so every superior is addressed as either 'Sir' and 'Ma'am'.

It is when a person has to work in a country other than his own and is exposed to these changes, that he experiences a 'culture shock'. Culture shock is defined as the anxiety and disorientation experienced when a person is made to operate in an unknown culture. In such cases, programs that advocate intercultural communication and encourage healthy communication among employees belonging to various cultures, are required to help each other adjust easily. This is extremely important because the environment impacts the efficiency of employees, local or immigrant. The only way you can get the best out of them is to give them a positive environment that they can embrace and move on.

How to Aid Intercultural Communication in the Workplace

Miscommunication due to cultural barriers can be avoided and the process of adjustment for an immigrant employee can be eased if the organization makes an effort to make him feel welcome. Remember, he may already be having a tough time dealing with learning the language, or just adapting to such drastic changes. Anything that the organization can do to at least have his problems in the workplace sorted is helpful.

Maintaining a Positive Attitude

Before conducting an interaction with employees belonging to another culture, a little introspection is required. The employees of the dominant culture in the workplace need to identify their own attitude towards other cultures, and how this attitude is going to affect overall communication with those belonging to other cultures. This thought process is normally affected by certain prejudices and stereotypes, which have to be kept aside while interacting with immigrant employees and their abilities should be assessed at an individual level. Furthermore, taking for granted that all norms belonging to the dominant culture are understood is wrong. There has to be an effort in understanding the nuances of the immigrant employees culture. All this can be done only by maintaining a positive attitude.

Understanding Diversity

It is important that employees of the dominant culture are educated about other cultures so that they are able to accept and understand the concept of diversity in the workplace. Just assuming that owning to citizenship of a particular country one becomes British or American is not acceptable. Any person carries his values, ethics and his culture wherever he goes. If he is making an effort to understand the difference and accept cultural diversity in the workplace, so should the organization.

Encouraging Individual Interaction

Apart from educating employees, personal interaction with the immigrant employee to understand the nuances of his culture and explain the nuances of yours also makes a difference. A generalized study is never adequate or as effective as a one-to-one interaction. Furthermore, a person who is new to a culture, may fear interaction with other employees. It is the job of the organization to draw them out of their shell and genuinely include and accept them as part of the organization.

Conducting Induction Programs

The first phase after recruitment includes an induction program for employees. If these are held keeping immigrant employees in mind, it is going to ease the process for both, the organization and the employee. In this induction program, the organizational culture can be explained and the policies of the organization can be made clear. Even the office jargon is a part of daily functioning in the organization and should thus be explained to the immigrant employee. For instance, local employees know that the weekend comprises a Saturday and Sunday. However, for those belonging to the Middle East, the weekend comprises Friday and Saturday, and in fact, Sunday is the first working day. Such minor details should be made clear to the employee.

Discourage Racism and Discrimination

Lastly, the best way to promote healthy intercultural communication is to discourage racism and discrimination by strongly advocating a non-racist policy. This will prevent any embarrassing situations that can lead to serious problems, among colleagues. While personal attitudes cannot be altered, workplace communication can be positive only if such rules are implemented.

Implementing the above-mentioned steps are sure to bring about the much required healthy intercultural communication in the workplace. Remember that all these will not only enhance the reputation of the organization and the country in the eyes of the immigrant employee, but he will embrace it willingly and give the job his best input.