INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION 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 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. Sensitivity 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. Workplace 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. Language 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. Understanding Diversity 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 employee. 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.
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