Importance of intercultural communication in an organisation

Culture can be a tricky thing. In the west, we’re brought up to leave home and start a family in the early stages of our development, whereas in the east we’re encouraged to stay in the homes of our parents and grandparents for the duration of our lives. These are just a few of the differences you’ll encounter when working within a culturally diverse, global company. Being aware of other customs and traditions can not only be rewarding but is essential in today’s broad, often remote workplace, where communication is key to a healthy working dynamic.

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Being aware of cultural differences

It may sound like a bad joke, but a Brit, a German, and an Asian walk into the boardroom for a meeting – how do you greet them? You have several options here, from a homogeneous, uniform shake of the hand (the one-size-fits-all approach) to a concentrated effort to recognize the distinct and different ways that each culture operates. Clarissa Windham-Bradstock, the CEO, explains how, as people from diverse backgrounds, we “walk in the door with a unique DNA, having been shaped not just by genes, but by family, culture, education, beliefs and past experience”.

When interacting with colleagues and clients, being aware of each individual’s cultural background, and how that background may differ from your own, can go a long way towards building bridges and nurturing relationships, even if it’s as simple as recognizing the difference between a handshake and a bow of the head.

In order to respect the cultures and values of others, it’s first important to be aware of what they entail. A little research on who you’re meeting and where they come from will go a long way towards setting the right impression and avoiding unforeseen cultural faux pas. After all, nobody wants to be the one who blows their nose at the lunch meeting.


Clear and concise communication

Understanding your clients and colleagues is never an easy task, but by the same metric, it doesn’t have to be a chore, either. Being aware of acceptable norms and taboo subjects and actions is a mere Google search away, and it’s a readily available tool to ensure that you avoid misunderstandings and unintended offense. What may seem like an icily cold demeanor may well turn out to be nothing more than a cultural norm, and it’s best to do your research rather than speculate upon the worst-case scenario.

As entrepreneur William Craig explains, “high-quality communication underpins everything you do and is a vital part of your success,” especially when it comes to workplace diversity. In this situation it is important, perhaps, to think of communication not only as words but actions, too.

After all, every gesture we make imparts some aspect of who we are and how we’re reacting, from a warm and welcoming smile to a respectful nod of the head, to a defensive covering of the chest. Being aware of our actions as aspects of communication is not only important, but essential, and taking the time to acquaint ourselves with a diverse range of mannerisms idiosyncratic to their respective cultures is a valuable etiquette tool to have in your box.


Culture, (sub)culture, and creed

Culture can be a fraught and sometimes muddy area. Respecting differences in the workplace, even differences in appearance can be challenging across the generational divide, yet it’s an area we are starting to embrace in today’s ever-evolving society.

Windham-Bradstock says that “putting yourself in another person’s shoes and trying to look at things from their perspective takes a conscious effort” however, as long as your employees are professional and presentable, the focus should be firmly placed on their actions and contributions, rather than the way they may appear. It may be stating the obvious, but employees who are valued and feel good about themselves often work harder, smarter, and better.


Making culture work in an organization

Paying attention to the backgrounds and needs of our employees, and hearing their voices is a vital role in today’s society. It isn’t about checking off a box on a diversity quota check sheet but valuing people as people, over how they look and what they wear, where they come from and what they believe in.

Generally speaking, people don’t need or want special treatment, just a fair shot at an equal playing field, and one demographic should never be given preference over another. If we treat our employees and the people within our lives with equal measure and genuine respect – regardless of our differences – we are sure to thrive. You don’t have to be an expert in cultural differences in order to succeed, you just have to dedicate a little time.


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