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Cross Cultural Communication in the Workplace

Globalisation has opened doors to an international workforce within the organizations, which means communicating with a wide range of customers and managing employees with very different backgrounds. It takes a strong effort to maintain a harmonious operation and smooth environment.

A diverse workforce is a challenge and it is important to accept differences between cultures and lifestyles. For a business to be successful it is important to inspire all members of the company to share the same vision.

“You can have the best strategy and the best building in the world, but if you don’t have the hearts and minds of the people who work with you, none of it comes to life.”, Renee West, former vice president of Human Resources Primm Valley Resorts; President of Luxor and Excalibur Hotel.

To bring people together, considering their differences, companies should consider implementing a diversity training program, such as creating opportunities for your employees to learn about their different ways, perspectives, mind-sets. This is essential to build a healthy work environment.

Clear communication is one of the most important things within a company and according to a recent study commissioned by Siemens Communication and SIS International Research, there is roughly 17.5 hours of lost productivity a week per employee due to lack of communication. This is harmful specially for multinational organisations.

When businesses encounter miscommunications, for example due to language barriers and cultural differences, tasks do not get completed efficiently.

Fortunately, technology plays a great role helping to correct linguistic problem between the team, but is not enough as true relationships are built from real time connections. Therefore, it is of extreme importance to foster good relationships between the co-workers with activities such as team building (often overlooked by the business world), helping to connect people that will fulfil tasks in a more effective and efficient way together. Team building events and happy hours are also crucial for companies.

So, how can we improve the cross cultural interactions?

Pay attention to the differences in the English Language and body language

Even among English speakers some similar expressions are interpreted differently, which means that among different nations the differences are even stronger. English is the second language to most of us which means that our thought process works mainly in our first language, resulting in different ways to express a particular situation that can be miss-interpreted by the person in the other end.

The same happens with the body language, for a French it may be natural to kiss on the chick, wether for a Chinese person that can be to evasive.

Take your time preparing for a meeting with someone of a different culture

Due the cultural differences many meetings are a great challenge, for example, an American prefers a meeting that is “black and white” and on which a contract is signed immediately, but on the other hand, a Japanese requires several meetings and even dinners, to learn more about the person on a personal level before they sign any agreement. The first one has a very “aggressive” approach whether the other prefers an approach that builds naturally the trust between the two parties. This great difference can affect greatly the opportunity of reaching an agreement between organisations.

Create an activity to learn about the main cultures your company deals with

In Macau the cultures that are constantly interacting are the Chinese, the Portuguese and the Filipino. These tree cultures are of great difference from one another and it is particularly important to know more about their ways of communicating, the etiquette they pay more attention to specially in the workplace and meetings.

It is important to motivate your workers to have the will to learn about the main cultures surrounding them.

Relate to each person as an individual and not as a stereotype

Although people from the same culture may seem similar, everyone still has their own uniqueness and that cannot be ignored.

Develop empathic skills

It doesn’t matter the culture, one has to develop the art of being emphatic by always trying to understand how the other person feels. However, when you are unsure of what is appropriate try to speak as clearly as possible, but never patronising.

Ask how people want to be addressed

Master the correct pronunciation and spelling of the names of the people you are working with; it is terrible to have you called in a way that you are not comfortable with. This will impact the way you feel about the person that is addressing you.

Be careful with assumptions

A smile or a handshake it doesn’t mean anything, as a “yes” can be a “no” and vice versa. Not always a silence means a disagreement or an agreement. It is best to ask questions rather than take your own conclusions.

One of the biggest challenges in the world is exactly communication between individuals, a word wrongly used by a President of a country in a speech can even start a war. This issue is very serious and it is key for personal development, specially today where the world has evolved to a globalised environment.

In a more philosophical point of view, connecting people from different cultural backgrounds is what make us grow as humanity, contributing for the acceptance of our differences, embracing and learning from one another.

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