A Guide to Cross-cultural Communication in the Workplace

Category: Culture


With the world embracing globalisation, your business needs to be able to keep up. In this blog post, we’re going to look at cross-cultural communication in the workplace, and some simple steps you can take to prepare your business for an increasingly diverse workforce.

Cross-cultural communication – a conversation between cultures

Cross-cultural communication means any communication between people of two or more cultural backgrounds. Cultural backgrounds are defined by many criteria, including:

 

  • Nationality,
  • Gender,
  • Ethnicity, and
  • Age.

When attempting to understand the cultural backgrounds of your employees and colleagues, it’s worth bearing in mind that two people from any country can have different cultural backgrounds based on a combination of the above, as well as other key factors such as geography and household income. In this blog post, we are going to treat cross-cultural communication as a way to address cultural differences in general.

The importance of cross-cultural communication in the workplace 

In an ever globalising world, the chances of someone of a different cultural background to the majority of those at your workplace applying for an advertised position are on the increase. Assuming the application is successful, the workforce will then have to learn to embrace those cultural differences. Effective cross-cultural communication is based on good intention and genuine human interaction, whilst offering a number of benefits to the company.

Better communication 

Good communication begins from within. When efforts are made to embrace another person’s cultural background, it becomes easier to communicate in the long term. This is, of course, a two-way street, as far as staff relationships are concerned.

As well as helping to reduce the risk of error through misunderstanding conversations and messages, the focus on improving communication internally can also be applied externally in marketing campaigns and conversations with clients going forward.

Improved communication brings healthier relationships 

One effect of improved communications is to strengthen relationships between employees and clients. Just as life-long friends can always understand what the other means, a healthy relationship between people of different cultural backgrounds can create an environment of understanding.

Increased productivity

One of the more business-focused benefits of cross-cultural communication is that, if implemented well, it tends to lead to an increase in employee productivity. This, in turn, produces a greater return on investment for the company from its workforce.

This is achieved by the improved employee morale that comes with better relationships. With that in mind, how can you improve cross-cultural communication in the workplace?

Better cross-cultural communication 

There are a number of simple measures any company can take to improve cross-cultural communication among its staff. This includes:

  1. Learn more about your workforce’s cultural background. At least some awareness can go a long way in bridging differences between people and can provide a way to start conversations. While this is a two-way requirement, it is likely that the cultural background of the workplace will mainly be represented by a single group of people. Efforts should accordingly be made to ensure that marginalised members of the workforce aren’t excluded.
  2. Listen to one another. Again, this works both ways. It can help people begin to understand one another better, as well as increasing awareness of the cultural backgrounds of each individual. 
  3. Look out for non-verbal communication, especially when talking with people from other countries. While many native English speakers communicate using their hands and gestures, in some countries – such as Japan – this can be considered rude. It is also worth noting that the meaning of hand gestures can vary from country to country.

What next?

Get in touch for more information on how we can help with your business needs, and take a look at the range of translation and interpreting options we provide.

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