Intercultural Communication in Diverse Workplace

Communication between two people from different cultures is said to be intercultural communication. It comes in to existence when a person from one culture tries to communicate with the person from another culture, a communication is understood. The potential for misunderstanding and disagreement is great whenever there is a cultural difference in these kinds of contacts. It is to be said that there is a relationship between culture and language. In other words, language is a guide to culture. Other scholars argue that language merely reflects, rather than shapes, our thinking, beliefs, and attitudes. Despite these differences in approaches, all scholars still agree that a close relationship exists between language and culture.

Diversity in the workplace is strategic force influencing communication. Communication in its most basic form is defined as the use of symbols to convey meanings. Culture is the integrated system of beliefs, values, behaviors and communication patterns that are shared by those socialized within the same social group. When persons socialized in different cultures and co-cultures look from the same point in same direction, they often see different things, and these different perceptions shape their communication. Being different from others in an organisation can adversely affect communication and coordination. People from different cultures bring different set of assumptions about appropriate ways to coordinate and communicate in an organisation. Understanding how to communicate effectively with people from other cultures has become integral to the work environment of many organisations. Managers who manage diversity need to be sensitive to cultural differences that can contribute to the effectiveness in cross cultural communication. Cross cultural communication involves several potential barriers to communication that are related to the use of verbal and non-verbal methods to convey meanings that may or may not be the same in the cultures of origin of the participants . Often the message that is communicated, maybe different from the one that was intended because of cultural barriers. The use of different languages often creates barrier to communication because one or both sides are not articulate as they could be in their native tongue. Linguistic diversity is an important aspect of global diversity. Managing a workforce that does not share a common language can present a major challenge to both employees and management.

Factors affecting Intercultural Communication

Cultural diversity can have a powerful effect on communication within the organisation. Problems occur between people of different cultures primarily because people tend to assume that their own cultural norms are the right ways to do things. They wrongly believe that the specific patterns of behavior desired in their own culture are universally valued. They have stereotypes about other cultures that interfere with communication when people interact. Workplace diversity can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications, but it also poses opportunities to improve both workers and organisations. Managers must be prepared to communicate effectively with workers of different cultural backgrounds. A diverse workforce poses various communication challenges to an organisation. Misunderstandings, inaccuracies, inefficiencies and slowness are typical communication problems experienced by diverse groups. Communication breakdowns occur when members often assume that the other party understands the message when in fact they do not. Even when the same language is used people often interpret the information differently. Therefore, the message sent is not always the message received. Differences in communication styles and non verbal communication can create problems. Communication problems due to diversity may become magnified because people are afraid or otherwise unwilling to discuss openly about the issues. Trust is an important factor that plays a significant role in intercultural, interracial and inter-gender communication. A lack of trust can result in miscommunication. Accent is another factor creating problems in communication as some people react negatively to different accents. It is even considered rude if someone does not speak in the official language. People make judgements and mental picture (stereotypes) about others based on the kinds of expression they use because of the region (regional jargon) from which they come. The fact that people have different experiences accounts for many of the problems that occur when they try to interact cross culturally. These experiences directly relate to ability to communicate. Cultural, racial and gender differences affect the workforce experiences.

Workplace diversity also has an impact on workplace communication that depends upon the culture the organisation has. Whether one holds the individualistic or collectivistic viewpoint is likely to influence communication when working in cross-cultural teams. Individuals socialized in individualistic culture maybe more inclined towards using direct strategy when trying to manage a situation or issue. Likewise those socialized in collectivistic culture maybe likely to encourage collaborative strategies. Power distance is the important factor that cannot be ignored when dealing with workplace diversity. It refers to how different cultures and societies respond to human inequality, specifically on how individuals respond to relative power of superior or subordinate and how they interact with others, whether the communication should be informal or formal organised or not. There are many other factors related to cultural diversity that can effect communication and that also high or low. Examples are masculinity-femininity and high-context versus low context.