Culture at Work: How Cross-Cultural Communication Drives Workplace Success
What’s cultural diversity to you and how has it affected the culture of work around the world?
The number of people immigrating to different countries has been growing steadily over the past few decades. In 2018, the USA recorded a total of 44.8 million people who were born in another country. This trend has resulted in increased cultural diversity in many nations.
Disregarding immigration, most countries are already home to several different cultures. In Mexico alone, there are at least six separate indigenous groups, each with its own traditions.
This diversity is increasingly reflected in the workplace. Thus, finding an appropriate way to communicate cross-culturally is a must if companies want to thrive.
A culturally diverse workplace
Since COVID-19 struck, many people have transitioned to remote working. In 2021 some are moving back to office environments, while others continue to work from home.
The presence of cultural diversity is an important factor in both scenarios, as interpersonal communication remains a central feature of a successful business. Cultures are distinguished from one another by their specific religious beliefs, traditions, language, race, ethnicity, or even gender.
Basic workplace communication
Communication is important in every aspect of life. Even more so when a business is trying to function efficiently and provide an excellent service to customers or clients.
Broken communication can cause chaos almost instantly. Fortunately, there is a myriad of software products that facilitate basic communications, whether it’s Microsoft Teams for meetings, Outlook for email, or even a shared Google account.
If each member of a team knows what their role is, then it’s much more likely that each part of the job will get done with minimum confusion. There are some fundamental tips that apply in the workplace even without considering cross-cultural communication:
- Deliver your message clearly
- Be explicit about expectations
- Listen properly
- Ask questions
- Avoid gossip
- Offer positive feedback
Different cultures often have distinct social norms, and navigating these unique interpersonal exchanges can be an opportunity for personal and professional growth. When various cultures come together, there are inevitably people who take the opportunity to air their prejudiced views.
But the potential for improved communication practices is great.
Communicating cross-culturally at work requires the same basic communication techniques that apply to all interpersonal interactions.
When people try to communicate to the best of their ability, and remain open-minded to the possibility that they could do better, the community can only benefit. But how does this drive workplace success?
- Different cultures = different perspectives
Even people brought up in the same country or in the same culture can have vastly differing ideas and attitudes. When people from different cultures get together, there are bound to be many different perspectives.
As a bonus, those new perspectives could challenge all team members to come up with solutions to challenges they may otherwise not have thought of.
- Improve general communication
When people interact with others of different backgrounds they get pushed beyond their communication “comfort zone”, demanding that they use better communication skills in general, such as listening properly and learning to ask questions.
Sometimes this can apply, particularly where team members have different home languages. Apart from that, people from some cultures may have been brought up to speak more formally than others, which can highlight the need for clear communication in the workplace.
- Diversity increases creativity and innovation
Everyone has a unique view of the world, but different cultural upbringings result in a wider variety of perspectives. Each culture expresses creativity in different ways, and this leads them to asking questions that others may not have considered important.
- Different cultures bring different knowledge to the table
These days many businesses have opted for remote working, either entirely or as an addition to their physical office. Moving online means opening yourself up to a whole new market: online you are visible to anyone on Earth with Internet connection.
Employees from different countries are well-placed to provide insight into how a business might be able to meet the needs of foreign citizens (or of locals with that cultural background). The term “glocalization” captures this well: companies adjust to serve both local and global markets.
- Cultural sensitivity improves advertising strategies
When you market your business, you never intend to offend or exclude any specific group of people, but that’s not to say it doesn’t happen. When a workforce comprises multiple cultures, there is more understanding of what is acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to advertising and promotion.
Going one step further, team members from different cultures can bring insight that can help tailor marketing to specific groups, improving marketing strategies and effectiveness.
- Self-awareness leads to growth
In a diverse workplace, individuals have no choice but to become more self-aware, recognizing their communication methods, expectations of self and others, and acknowledging biases they didn’t know they had. This inevitably leads to a more conscious and engaged team, who are more sensitive to one another’s needs and cognizant of your target market’s diverse preferences.
- Cultural intelligence boosts business
Cultural intelligence (otherwise known as Cultural Quotient or CQ) is the ability to work effectively with a culturally diverse team, as well as extending the same insight and sensitivity into exchanges with clients.
Learning how to communicate across cultures in the workplace is the cornerstone of CQ–and CQ is the foundation of business success. Research has found that increased cultural intelligence results in greater financial success, client loyalty, and reduced employee turnover.
No disadvantages to cultural diversity
Simply put, there are no negatives to having a culturally diverse workforce.
Understanding how to communicate across cultures is an extremely valuable skill for professionals. It takes business to the next level, expands a company’s reach further than a narrow focus, and increases the rate of success.
Distinct cultures coming together needn’t mean conflict or discord. Instead, such a meeting of minds can bring a business deeper understanding of communities’ needs. Effective cross-cultural communication brings a business greater insight into their impact on the world and opens up a myriad of opportunities for personal and professional growth.