Navigating Cultural Differences in the Modern Workplace: A Manager’s Guide
All of us were born in a particular time, country, and culture. We are powerless to change these facts.
It’s not that we should want to change them; they’re just a part of what makes the world such a distinctive and interesting place to live. Having said that, it’s critical to understand how these factors — particularly our culture — strongly affect the following three things:
- How and why we think the way we do
- How we decide what to do
- How we communicate
People from different places and cultures are engaging in constant online dialogue as remote work and hybrid work become more common. However, many people might wish they could communicate within their team more clearly and without confusion.
By encouraging cross-cultural communication, team managers can reduce these misunderstandings. Nevertheless, it’s crucial to keep in mind that you won’t always succeed.
The beauty of cross-cultural communication within teams is trying to understand things from the perspective of another culture. Your team will be more understanding and accepting when miscommunications occur, thanks to the values of acceptance and understanding that you instill in your group.
The four suggestions listed below will help lay the groundwork for behaviors that will guarantee your multicultural team communicates with you and with each other effectively.
1. Recognise cultural variations.
Recognizing that there are cultural differences is the first and most important step in effective cross-cultural communication.
Trying to ignore these differences won’t help, even if your intention isn’t to “define someone by where they’re from.” Such behavior is disrespectful and ignores the lovely diversity of your team.
By recognizing that these differences exist, you can instantly transform your workplace into one of acceptance. This is advantageous for both team members and the organization as a whole because diversity of thought can lead to solutions to issues that had not previously been thought of.
At TheSoul Publishing, we saw this first-hand thanks to our 2,500 team members in 70 nations on six continents. We have expanded our company internationally, and by embracing the diversity of our team, we have found creative solutions that a team from a single country would not have.
2. Identify and combat ethnocentrism
Dr. J. Wittwer, a specialist in international business, defined ethnocentrism as “judging other cultures based on the values of your own.”
We naturally interpret all behavior through the prism of our own culture. Everyone does this unintentionally because it’s difficult to break free of one’s own value system, which we use to interpret and interact with our surroundings in all facets of our relationships.
However, you can’t do anything about your team’s and your own ethnocentrism if you don’t acknowledge it.
Your team and business will reap the rewards once you address it. The best way to put it is through Wittwer’s words: “Awareness of your own ethnocentricity — and that of the culture in which you’re doing business — can often help you work, communicate, and promote effectively across cultures.”
3. Use asynchronous communication to improve your communication skills.
To fully utilize the power of various viewpoints, clear communication is essential. If innovative and creative ideas are presented in a language that not everyone can understand, they may be unintentionally overlooked or misunderstood. Better communication made possible by asynchronous tools and systems is the best way to bring about universal understanding in the long run.
At TheSoul Publishing, we discovered that adopting asynchronous communication techniques, putting in place a no-meetings policy, and learning to “communicate better” on our internal messaging and project management platforms significantly decreased miscommunications throughout our company. Our team can effectively process and comprehend information by avoiding communication techniques that encourage an immediate response.
Additionally, you need to establish company-wide communication guidelines to prevent your tone from being misinterpreted during asynchronous communications. For instance, if you’re using a project management tool, you can agree that closing a task without adding new comments isn’t impolite; it just means the work is finished and there are no new comments.
Another problem is figuring out how to use these platforms. The West operates on what The Culture Map author Erin Meyer refers to as “linear time,” so setting a task on a project management app and expecting it to be finished by the deadline may seem like a given.
Some nations, such as Saudi Arabia and India, however, work on “flexible time,” where time is malleable, and deadlines don’t feel as rigid.
You can prevent misunderstandings and improve communication by explaining to your team how the asynchronous platform will be used.
4 — Encourage your team to be honest about their preferred communication style.
Teams must feel comfortable voicing how they typically express themselves in order to engage in effective cross-cultural communication.
When a team member disagrees with a decision or an opinion, differences in expression are obvious.
Meyer observed that there are various methods of disagreement across cultures. For instance, in France and Israel, you can act in a “confrontational” way without fear of endangering a working relationship. However, in East Asia, disagreements that lead to such conflict are strongly discouraged.
Encourage an open dialogue where these issues are acknowledged, discussed, and understood to help maintain good working relationships between members of different cultures whose communication styles may clash. When misinterpretations do occur, transparency actually puts people at ease.
Making your team aware of everyone’s communication preferences will help you and the team as a whole spot differences as they emerge. This makes the environment for everyone’s common understanding more open, sincere, and enjoyable.
Never forget that miscommunication happens frequently, even in workplaces where there are minimal cultural differences. If it happens, it’s a natural occurrence, and you haven’t failed as a manager.
Although the challenge is greater when working with multicultural teams, you can overcome these misunderstandings if you listen to your team, come up with solutions for problems, and facilitate cross-cultural communication in a way that respects everyone’s background. The benefits are endless!