In global companies, effective cross-cultural communication enables businesses to run more smoothly. By acknowledging the potential problems that can occur and taking proactive steps to minimize conflict, you can help your employees work together better. Adjusting behavior takes time, so be sure to provide opportunities for your employees to learn about each others’ cultures and habits before problems arise.
Set expectations throughout your company that additional effort might be required to understand each other. Foster engagement in thoughtful consideration instead of jumping to hasty conclusions that lead to volatile, unproductive conflicts.
- Run meetings to expose your employees to other cultures. Introducing employees who will be working together in a non-threatening environment enables a good working relationship long term. Learning about another culture’s language, rules and norms for acceptable behavior helps prepare your employees to deal with situations as they arise. Changing preconceptions can lead to more conducive working relationships.
- Conduct activities to demonstrate how dependent we are on language. For example, dedicate a day to being silent. Have each employee develop a contract stating what they hope to learn, how long they will remain silent (what exceptions can be made) and how they plan to cope without speaking all day. After experiencing a day with limited communication, participants can typically relate to being in a foreign environment more easily.
- Provide workshops, tips and techniques for communicating effectively in cross-cultural work environments. People act according to the values of their own culture. Others from another culture might interpret behavior differently. Practicing such strategies as active listening (paraphrasing what is said to ensure understanding can be achieved) and using multiple forms of communication, such as written, audio and visual, can enhance employee involvement in assuring that conflicts do not arise because of cultural misunderstandings due to lack of awareness.
- Coach employees to mediate conflicts related to cultural misunderstandings. Provide opportunities for employees to respond to situations from viewpoints different than their own. Divide a group of people into pairs to conduct role-playing exercises that allow participants to acknowledge culture difference exist. Encourage each pair to think about a conflict they have experienced recently due to cultural differences. Have each participant describe what they might find offensive or unusual. Let each participant suggest how the problem would be handled in their own culture. Together, have the participants develop a resolution to the problem. Have each pair report to the larger group on their experiences.