There are many barriers people can face in communicating at their place of work; one if these barriers can stem from cultural differences. Due to globalization and an increasing number of minorities and age groups in the modern workforce, people are now having to communicate with other cultures more then ever. People from different cultures have a set of formalities they follow and can be unaware they are offending others they work with. Although there are many benefits associated with workplace diversity, there are some issues that must be addressed.
One such issue involves communication, there are many communication barriers that can come into play when interacting with people from different backgrounds. In the workplace, people may have to communicate with someone whose native language is different from theirs. If someone does not speak the language to the proficiency the other person needs, it can lead to frustration amongst both parties.
If there are more than two people who are not fluent in the main language being spoken, it can complicate matters even further.
One of the theories of why cultural misunderstandings occur is due to the “Meaning of Meaning” theory. This theory states that people assume a word is connected to its referent. Two different people from different cultures that do not have a shared experience regarding a word can interpret it differently. If a person misunderstands what another says, he or she may not carry out a task properly, resulting in confusion in the workplace and work not getting done, or the wrong work getting done.
This can be seen when people communicate with someone from a different context culture from them High—Context and Low-Context cultures have different ways of communicating messages within their cultures. This can lead to misunderstandings when they communicate with each other and are unaware that the other culture is from a High or Low Context culture.
The differences in these cultures are due to what part of the world they grew up in, High-Context cultures like Japan rely on the context of their situation to be understood by the other party to convey their meaning, so some words may be left out. A Low-Context culture like Swiss or German does not assume the other party knows the context of what they are saying, and their messages are spelled out fully, clearly and precisely. Communication can also be an issue when dealing with cultural differences beyond the comprehension of the language. Some cultures may encourage saying or doing things that are unintentionally offensive to those of other cultures. This involves the nonverbal communication that different cultures use to interact with each other. There are different kinds of body language and actions that can put off other cultures.
One such action is the perceived invasion of personal space Personal space varies among different cultures, as does the comfort level people have with it being broken. People in Russia will often greet each other with a bear hug, while in German culture that is not considered appropriate and a handshake should be used. In Middle Eastern countries men will often hold hands and kiss each other on the cheek when greeting each other, if a foreigner is not used to this type of greeting, it can lead to an awkward encounter. Breaches of personal space can cause someone to see the other person as hostile, this can lead to an uncomfortable work environment. Intercultural barriers can also exist between age groups, even if they grew up in the same country in the United States there are four different age groups in the workforce, each of which has been raised in very different environments and have different backgrounds and communication methods and standards they are used to.
These three groups are Baby Boomers born between 1946-1964, Generation X born between 1965-1979, and Generation Y or Millennials born between 1980-2000. Younger generations may be more comfortable with using technology to communicate, while older generations may have difficulty doing so. Older workers who are used to communicating a certain way may have issues with younger people who use different methods. Mehrabian studies have shown that 93% of a message comes from non-verbal‘s, so if a worker is used to phone calls or face-to-face interaction they may find difficulty with new communication methods, For these people, email, text messaging and instant messaging may be frustrating and misinterpreted, and sometimes offense can be taken by the receiver for the impersonal delivery method. Other issues that can affect intercultural communication can stem from discrimination.
If an employee has a biased or preconceived notion of somebody based on his or her differences, it can cause problems. If an employee stereotypes another person in the office, he or she may make life hard for that person, this could be through sexual harassment, intimidation, mockery, exclusion, or incivility. This type of behavior disrupts the flow of work and can lead to problems that need to be settled by HR, if they become serious enough. The ineffective communication of people from different cultures can also lead to employees not being able to show their true potential to their employers. In the United States alone, $64 billion is lost every year due to employees leaving their jobs because of failed diversity management.
It was found that 34% of the people who quit, for this reason, said that they would have not have quit if their managers had recognized their abilities. Intercultural barriers are preventing employees from proving themselves due to the lack of communication; this is why it is essential that employers work hard to understand their diverse workforce. Despite the complications that come along with intercultural communication with a diverse workforce, such diversity is here to stay, the world is growing in diversity at all levels in the workforce, and to have a successful work environment people need to understand and manage these differences.