Intercultural communication is a form of global communication. It is used to describe the wide
range of communication problems that naturally appear within an organization made up of
individuals from different religious, social, ethnic, and educational backgrounds. Intercultural
communication is sometimes used synonymously with cross-cultural communication. In this
sense it seeks to understand how people from different countries
and cultures act, communicate and perceive the world around them. As a separate notion, it
studies situations where people from different cultural backgrounds interact. Aside from
language, intercultural communication focuses on social attributes, thought patterns, and the
cultures of different groups of people. It also involves understanding the different cultures,
languages and customs of people from other countries. Intercultural communication plays a role
in anthropology, cultural studies, linguistics, psychology and communication studies.
Intercultural communication is also referred to as the base for international businesses. There are
several cross cultural service providers around who can assist with the development of
intercultural communication skills.
Communication is the constant stream of information from one person to another. Breaks in the
communication stream can occur when cultural barriers arise. Intercultural communication can be
difficult, but rewarding in the end. Communicating effectively with people from different cultures
helps to open the mind to other ways of life.
Ethnocentrism is the idea or belief that one culture is superior to another. This type of thinking directly
affects intercultural communication because it causes a person to judge another group as inferior. A
person with these assumptions may dismiss a person from another based on stereotypes or assumptions.
Though most people have a low level of ethnocentrism, it does not have to hinder intercultural
relationships. Being educated about cultural differences in clothing, food or language helps improve
intercultural communication. Ethnocentrism can be avoided by keeping an open mind regarding various
types of people around the world.
Cultural sensitivity is an important factor in intercultural communication. It is being aware of the cultural
differences in values, beliefs, behaviors and learning. Cultural sensitivity allows a person to easy adapt
communication styles and behaviors in a new culture. Every culture creates its own communication
styles. For example, in American culture, children are encouraged to speak about their feelings and
opinions. However, in Middle Eastern cultures, children are not encouraged to be vocal in front of adults.
Being sensitive of these differences helps to break communication barriers.
Intercultural communication and cultural diversity are important for success in the business world. The
global market of the 21st century allows people from different cultures to work together with the help of
technology. Companies can work with people across the world via web video or email. Proper
communication skills are equally necessary when using technology. Workplace diversity means being
cognizant of cultural issues. For example, a practicing Muslim may require time during the work day to
pray. Some cultures discourage eating meat that is not kosher. Workplace functions must consider these
differences to maintain a healthy environment.
Communicating effectively involves a two-way stream of communication between a speaker and listener.
However, this becomes difficult when the parties speak different languages. A statement may mean one
thing to one person and something else altogether to another person. Using a third person in the stream of
communication is an effective way to overcome the language barrier. A translator is knowledgeable of
both languages and can relay the message with the proper interpretation. It is important to use patience
when communicating with someone who is not a native English speaker.
Intercultural Communication In The Workplace
In today's rapidly changing business environment, it is no longer just good enough for a company to be able
to compete with other companies within its business range. A company now has to outshine its competition.
A major factor in developing an outstanding business is the communication within the organisation itself. In
this case intercultural communication and workforce diversity are two important factors.
Intercultural communication in the workplace deals with the issue of differences in culture relating to speech
and communication while workforce diversity seeks to include people who can be considered as different
from those in the main community.
Every culture is different and our culture impacts each and every one of us as we grow up. It dictates our
attitudes and understanding, how we believe we should address our colleagues or our superiors, and our
approach to time keeping and meeting deadlines. Our communication patterns, including formality or
informality as we address customers and clients, bosses and co-workers, are all predicated on our culture.
Therefore, a key tool in communicating effectively is understanding culture differences.
Workforce diversity, on the other hand, deals with issues of inclusion in the workplace to help those with
different religious or traditional ways of working fit in seamlessly with the mainstream. This might mean
creating a separate, quiet area where people can go and pray during the working day. A more extensive range
of vegetarian or kosher food is another example.
A company that undermines the importance of cultural diversity will lose out in many ways: primarily, its
workers may have problems with each other and may not be able to work efficiently; communication with
customers may be impaired; talented people from diverse backgrounds will only want to work where they
are appreciated; and, also, innovation comes from putting ‘new' and different ideas together.
It is important as you become a promoter of respectful and sensitive intercultural communications that you
reach beyond stereotypes. Stereotypes do not represent the population they seek to identify. Evaluate people
on an individual basis. Stereotypes often reflect the differences in socioeconomic status, religion, or dialect.
These differences are apparent in all races and cannot identify one specific group of people. It is important to
suspend judgment, avoid misconceptions, narrow perspectives, and immature reactions. Stereotypes often
contain a granule of truth, but this tiny truth cannot characterize an entire culture.
Getting the whole picture is being proactive and involves thinking critically about people and their
behaviour. We need the desire, information, and the willingness to take interpersonal risks to create value
from diversity. An individual's ability to be open to new ideas and new people will go a long way in the
process of effective intercultural communication in the workplace. It starts with a smile and acceptance. It
leads to an exciting new world full of clarity and connectedness.
To bring about the best performance in people, it's important to be able to really look at a company's specific
needs when it comes to intercultural communication and implement a very specific plan to developing the
right communication skill set.
How to Aid Intercultural Communication in the Workplace
There have been some horrifying examples of intercultural communication in the workplace. This can be
avoided and the process of adjustment for an immigrant employee can be eased if the organization makes an
effort to make him feel welcome. Remember, he may already be having a tough time dealing with learning
the language, or just adapting to such drastic changes. Anything that the organization can do to at least have
his problems in the workplace sorted is helpful.
Maintaining a Positive Attitude
Before conducting an interaction with employees belonging to another culture, a little introspection is
required. The employees of the dominant culture in the workplace need to identify their own attitude towards
other cultures and how this attitude is going to affect intercultural communication in the workplace. This
thought process is normally affected by certain prejudices and stereotypes about other cultures. These have
to be kept aside while interacting with immigrant employees and their abilities should be assessed at an
individual level. Furthermore, taking for granted that all norms belonging to the dominant culture are
understood is wrong. There has to be an effort in understanding the nuances of the immigrant employees
culture. All this can be done only by maintaining a positive attitude.
It is important that employees of the dominant culture are educated about other cultures, so that they are able
to accept and understand the concept of diversity in the workplace. Just assuming that owning to citizenship
of a particular country one becomes British or American is not acceptable. Any person carries his values,
ethics and his culture wherever he goes. If he is making an effort to understand the difference and
accept cultural diversity in the workplace, so should the organization.
Encouraging Individual Interaction
Apart from educating employees, personal interaction with the immigrant employee to understand the
nuances of his culture and explain the nuances of yours also makes a difference. A generalized study is never
adequate or as effective as a one-to-one interaction. Furthermore, a person who is new to a culture, may fear
interaction with other employees. It is the job of the organization to draw them out of their shell and
genuinely include and accept them as part of the organization.
Conducting Induction Programs
The first phase after recruitment includes an induction program for employees. If these are held keeping
immigrant employees in mind, it is going to ease the process for both, the organization and the employee. In
this induction program, the organizational culture can be explained and the policies of the organization can
be made clear. Even the office jargon is a part of daily functioning in the organization and should thus be
explained to the immigrant employee. For instance, local employees know that the weekend comprises a
Saturday and Sunday. However, for those belonging to the Middle East, the weekend comprises Friday and
Saturday, and in fact, Sunday is the first working day. Such minor details should be made clear to the
Discourage Racism and Discrimination
Lastly, the best way to promote healthy intercultural communication is to discourage racism and
discrimination by strongly advocating a non-racist policy. This will prevent any embarrassing situations that
can lead to serious problems, among colleagues. While personal attitudes cannot be altered, workplace
communication can be positive only if such rules are implemented.
Implementing the above mentioned steps are sure to bring about the much required healthy intercultural
communication in the workplace. Remember that all these will not only enhance the reputation of the
organization and the country in the eyes of the immigrant employee, but he will embrace it willingly and
give the job his best input.