Intercultural Communication at Modern Workplaces

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With modern globalization, most businesses have started operating beyond geographical boundaries. On top of that, the global pandemic caused a drastic change in how we work, and most businesses have moved towards a remote working culture within just two (02) years period. As a result of this, the opportunities have risen where one can find amazing work opportunities regardless of where and how we work or are located. Just like everything else in life this opportunity also comes with its own challenges. One of the main challenges that come with global working opportunities is being effective when communicating.

There is no further elaboration required to explain how important communication is in our workplaces. However, as a result of the said changes in how businesses operate, the requirement for our communication skills has become complex with an additional focus on intercultural communication.

What is Culture?

In essence, culture is defined as a set of norms that are accepted and considered as important by a group of people in a particular community. So, it could be the beliefs they share, traditions they practice, or even the languages they speak can be considered as parts of the culture. In Sri Lanka, during Sinhala-Tamil New Year people visit their parents, visit relatives, spend time with families and visit each other’s houses to wish them. This is clearly the culture. When you consider about it in a smaller workplace context, some offices practice a ‘first-name’ culture where everyone is called by their first name. And, in some cases, it could slightly different and everyone is called by their title or the surname. This is also the culture but in a smaller workplace context.

With the previously explained changes now workplaces have become mixed cultural as multinationals are engaging as work peers on daily basis. In such situations, the cultural variation is higher and it is important for us to be more culturally and linguistically sensitive and demonstrate our intercultural communication skills.

How Cultural Dimensions Influence Communication

When understanding intercultural communication and attempting to be effective in it, the culture can be analyzed in a few dimensions. In fact, many experts follow a six (06) dimension model for the said purpose. The six (06) dimensions are as follows.

Uncertainty Avoidance – This relates to how a community would vide and deal with the unknown future.

Indulgence Restraint – This connects to the desire to enjoy life. For example, it is somewhat fair to argue that certain Asian countries are more hard-working and work-oriented while some other countries have a cultural influence on people to enjoy lives with better work-life balance.

Power Distance – This relates to how a community relates to power use. A community or a culture with a high-power distance will have differences in power and control distribution within the society. On the other hand, a society with low power distance will indicate equal power distribution and more will see everyone as equal within the society. For example, traditionally Sri Lanka has a higher power distance. The adults expect respect, parents expect children to obey and power is used not specifically for a reason but because of the title or the position.

Individualism and Collectivism – This relates to how much people appreciate being individual vs working in groups. In more individualist cultures, people focus on self and do not afraid of expressing their minds out. However, more collectivism-focused cultures like Sri Lanka would focus on owning to the group where you operate and people will be mindful when expressing themselves. Now, imagine two work peers coming from these two cultural backgrounds working together!!. This is why intercultural communication skills are important in workplaces more than ever.

Masculinity and Femininity – This dimension relates to the division of roles between males and females. A masculine society will indicate more assertiveness in males while a feminine society will indicate equal roles among men and women. A masculine society expects men to be ambitious and assertive. Women will be assertive and ambitious only where they prefer and they want. However, in a feminine society men and women will be equal and will play equal roles at work and family levels. To make it even simpler to understand, in masculine societies fathers will represent facts and orders while mothers represent emotions.

Long/Short Term Orientation – Certain societies are more focused on the future in terms of their efforts as short-term oriented while other societies rely on the past/present combination. Short-term-oriented societies function by focusing on future outcomes of present activities. This drives them to faster growth in many areas such as economically, technologically, and politically. Long-term-oriented societies value the past and the present and their decisions and functionalities are connected to the long-gone past. This often leads to slower growth and development in such societies.

The Point to Take Away

The cultural background of workers directly impacts how effectively they communicate. With the present development of having more and more multi-cultural workplaces organizations should focus on assisting, training, and educating employees about inter-cultural communication skills. More importantly, being linguistically sensitive and knowledgeable about these differences among work-peers will help employees to be successful in their roles.