Today’s multicultural workplace allows for a well-rounded and diverse workforce armed with a variety of invaluable skills and experiences. It also means that cultural barriers in communication are bound to be abundant. Aside from the difficulty that often accompanies understanding individuals who speak a different language, many other factors can present challenges when it comes to working with people from differing backgrounds. The best way to understand and work harmoniously in a culturally diverse workplace is to begin breaking down the barriers. The most common cultural barriers include:
- Language barriers. There’s no way around it: communicating with someone who speaks a different language is difficult. Even the most experienced translators can find it challenging to accurately convey emotions and concepts between languages, which can easily lead to misunderstandings. Consider how often you misunderstand someone speaking your own language, and it is easy to imagine how difficult it can be to get the full meaning from something a person with an entirely different background may be trying to articulate.
- Emotional display. What is or is not considered an appropriate display of emotion can vary greatly between cultures. In certain countries, displaying anger, fear, or frustration in the workplace is regarded as highly inappropriate. Conversely, in other cultures, participants in a discussion are expected to reveal their emotions. If an employee has been groomed to only discuss the factual aspects of a situation and keep all emotions hidden, it can cause a great deal of confusion if an employee or manager displays strong emotions in a meeting or otherwise.
- Inaccurate stereotypes. Hostile and inaccurate stereotypes can become communication barriers in and of themselves. The biggest danger in listening to stereotypes is that they present a misconception by assuming an individual will possess characteristics that have been attributed to an entire group. Keep in mind that not all Americans are arrogant and impatient, nor are they all friendly and tolerant as stereotypes tend to represent.
- Behavior differences. Behavioral differences between employees from different cultures have also been known to cause misunderstandings in the workplace. For example, in some cultures, looking someone in the eye when they are speaking to you is considered disrespectful while other cultures expect eye contact when conversing. Even seemingly simple actions such as making small talk or getting right to the point in a meeting or whether you stand close to another or give more space can create barriers between effective communication if they are not recognized.
While a multicultural workplace brings a plethora of ideas, skills, and views with the potential to greatly enhance a company, it is important to be aware of the possible cultural barriers they can present. As Maine’s top staffing firm, Springborn Staffing is well-versed in workplace training. To set your multicultural workforce up for success, contact Portland’s leading staffing solution at Springborn Staffing today!