Diversity in the workplace is a thing that should be celebrated. It can even help attract and retain talent for your growing business. While we strive to treat everyone equally, we must not neglect that cultural differences can sometimes create communication barriers.
Culture determines the way we perceive and interact with the world around us. This means that two people who have different backgrounds may have different expectations of interactions. Whether it’s sharing information internally or updating your clients from a different country, communication is essential. You need to know the best communication practices to make sure everyone is comfortable and in-the-know.
There are endless benefits of having effective communication in your business so it’s a key skill to have. Below are some things to keep in mind when working with a team of differing cultures. As a bonus, there are some tips to help you navigate the challenges of intercultural communication.
Words Have Different Meanings
Have you ever said what you thought to be a common-known phrase to one of your friends only to find out that they have no idea what you’re talking about? Every phrase can have different meanings depending on who you are talking to.
That difference stems from people’s dialects and personal experiences. It’s to the point that phrases can have completely different meanings, or sometimes no meaning at all. So even when you have the exact translation of words or phrases, it doesn’t always mean you’re saying what you intended to.
In order to avoid any conversation faux pas avoid using idioms and proverbs. It’s best to say what you mean outright to prevent confusion.
For example, avoid phrases like
- “The ball is in your court,”
- “pulling someone’s leg,”
- or “by the skin of your teeth”
In English, they mean something, but other cultures don’t recognize these idioms. There’s little to no meaning without contextual and cultural relevance. While you may know what they mean, there’s a real possibility that the person you’re talking to does not.
Be Mindful Of How You Communicate
To add to that, people have their own communication styles as well. Similar to our personalities being so different, how people communicate and interpret messages better is through a mixture of various styles. There are four to know about:
- Verbal – spoken words face-to-face or over the phone.
- Written – through text messages or chat rooms or group messaging
- Non-verbal – tonnes, body language, facial expressions
- Visual – showing images, maps, diagrams, colours, and graphics.
Just as it’s important to be mindful of what you’re saying, you want to make sure that how you’re communicating is effective as well. Generally, incorporating all styles in your communication can make it easier for people to understand you. If you can’t get all of them, work to get most in as much as you can in any instance.
Nonverbal Communication Differs Widely
Not only can words have multiple meanings, but the things you don’t say can also be communicating an unintended message. Nonverbal communication goes beyond eye contact and hand gestures. Everything from distance, tonne, speed, physical contact and pitch all convey a message.
If you’re confused about how to communicate with different culture, determine if they are from high or low-context culture.
High-context cultures tend to rely on more non-verbal cues to understand a message.
Low-context cultures are typically fine with just the words.
The latter is used to having a defined personal space while the former is used to sharing their physical space.
Time is another nonverbal communication that can pose a challenge— both as a concept and as a fixed state. Different cultures have different understandings of time. Some cultures view time as linear and thrive on punctuality. Others see time more flexibly and are okay with living their life a little behind schedule. You’ve also got time zones to consider too when contacting long-distance. No interpretation of time is better than others, but it is critical that both parties have an understanding of how time affects people. This understanding will help in creating schedules and meeting times that work for them.
Learning the ways in which different cultures utilize non-verbal communication can be helpful in creating shared communication practices for businesses, their employees, and their clients.
Team Dynamics Can Be Affected
It can be a little intimidating for some people to interact with people from cultures different from their own, especially when they don’t have much experience doing it in the past. Besides feeling anxious about saying or doing something offensive, workers may have implicit biases that are making it difficult for them to truly engage with and accept their different-cultured coworkers and clients. This can negatively impact employee peer relationships and makes it difficult for everyone to feel included in the company culture.
These problems have easy solutions— knowledge and experience. The more that your workers understand the differences between their own culture and the cultures of others, the less different they seem.
What You Can Do to Bridge the Gap
There are plenty of strategies and technologies you can do to improve intercultural communication skills for both you and your employees. Start by fostering a culture of open communication in the workplace. This means encouraging employees to interact with each other and giving them the tools they need to do that.
It’s difficult for coworkers to truly interact with each other when they don’t have the tools to do so, which adds another deterrent for coworkers of different cultures to bond. When looking for communication technologies to supply your staff, search for something that makes them accessible 24/7 no matter the distance, time zone, or device. Innovations like VoIP communication software lets users call, text, and send documents through their internet-powered business numbers. This technology makes coworkers more accessible to each other, making it easier for employees to work together, with the added benefit of making your team accessible to all of your foreign clients as well.
Similarly, technology known as augmented reality software—which generates images that mesh with the real world—has helped businesses communicate through a visual medium. Augmented reality works by taking in the user’s real-world environment and manipulating it with computer-generated graphics, giving your employees a completely immersive experience when trying to share information with one another. Integrating this technology into your company communication policies can help connect even the most different of employees by adding a visual element that could be absent.
Consider Cross-Cultural Training
If you’ve noticed inclusion issues in the workplace, it might help to enroll your employees in an online cross-cultural training course. This course can help to teach your employees all the information they may lack when it comes to intercultural communication. These courses remove the guesswork with communicating with different cultures. They also create a mutual understanding of what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace.
It’s also good to remember that every culture has smaller subcultures that have their own norms— and everyone’s personal experiences shape the way they interpret both verbal and non-verbal communication, so don’t assume that just because you share or understand someone else’s culture that they will automatically respond in a certain way. Try to dispel stereotyped thoughts and treat people like the individuals that they are.
Don’t Worry, Try New Things
Lastly, be open to learning new things. Don’t be afraid to ask when you’re unsure about ways you can improve your communication, and encourage the rest of your staff to ask questions as well. When you start interacting with people as if they are people, you’ll see your business communication start to thrive.