Adapting to Global Workplace Diversity

For today's businesses to remain successful, employees must be able to adapt to global workplace diversity.

Studies from McKinsey & Company reveal that corporate environments thrive in cultural diversity, with companies ranking in the top quartile of racial and ethnic diversity being 36 percent more likely to outperform those ranking in the lowest quartile. Furthermore, ethnically diverse executive teams are 33 percent more likely to perform above expected EBIT margins.

For today’s businesses to remain successful, they need employees who can effectively and concisely convey information to — and interact with — people from different cultures. As such, organizations must work to foster open lines of communication between employees of all backgrounds and consider all perspectives.

Challenges and opportunities in the rise of a global, remote workforce

As today’s companies grow, they find their workforce and operations spread across the country — some around the world. The global workplace allows companies to not only reach a wider talent pool but also expand into new markets and reach new customers more efficiently.

However, broadening cultural diversity also presents organizations with challenges. For companies to operate at peak efficiency, employees must be fluent across cultural communication styles.

Despite the hyper-connectivity of today’s business world, we often find ourselves in situations where cross-cultural communication barriers lead to misunderstandings and frustration on both sides of the conversation. Organizations that wish to thrive alongside the rise of a global workplace must help their employees understand differences in communication styles between their co-workers and clients and teach them how to bridge those gaps in communication.

Understanding Eastern vs. Western communication styles

Many factors, particularly cultural ones, influence communication styles. The differences in Eastern and Western communication are common examples illustrating how people from different cultures learn from and understand one another.

For instance, consider how intention affects communication. In Eastern cultures, such as China or Japan, many people find it uncomfortable to ask a direct question and prefer to approach a subject indirectly. Unfortunately, if a Westerner is unaware of this, they may feel frustrated by a conversation they find evasive or avoidant.

Another factor that is heavily influenced by culture, yet often overlooked, is our body language. For example, while it’s common for people in Eastern cultures to avoid eye contact — and it is generally considered a sign of politeness — this can easily be interpreted as rude to Westerners or at least an expression of disinterest.

Finally, emotion also plays into communication. In many Eastern societies, showing a public display of emotion — such as laughing loudly — could be perceived as embarrassing. Conversely, confusion can arise in Western societies when others fail to reciprocate with shared emotion.

Bridging the gap: practical strategies for effective cross-cultural communication

Developing cross-cultural communication in the workplace requires employees to recognize that communication styles are not universal — even employees who speak the same language commonly have different expectations and preferences when it comes to communicating. Once this is understood, they can more clearly see how differences in communication styles may impact how they operate in the workplace.

To break down cross-cultural communication barriers, organizations must foster a culture of open-mindedness and curiosity. If employees want their message to be heard clearly and understood completely, all involved parties must be willing to listen and learn from one another. The best way for them to accomplish this is to ask insightful questions and give the other party their undivided attention when receiving a response.

This is where employees must remember to practice empathy. When they can better understand what another person is feeling, rather than making assumptions based on their own experiences, they can more easily establish open lines of dialogue.
Sometimes, it takes time for people from different backgrounds and cultures to get used to each other’s communication styles, so be sure to practice patience. If misunderstandings occur during this adjustment period, avoid taking them personally.

The importance of cultural competence in service-based businesses

Consistent and clear communication is a core element of any business’s success. Still, when working with clients or employees across a wide array of cultures, it becomes vital to maintain communication.

At the same time, business leaders must understand that cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings if left unaddressed but that these communication gaps can be bridged through continued education, training programs, and mindful practice. In doing so, companies can better serve their customers and foster an inclusive workplace culture where employees from all backgrounds feel supported and valued.

Employees in any field — predominantly service-based industries — benefit from developing cross-cultural communication skills. However, these skills don’t come naturally, so ongoing training, practice, and patience are essential in every process stage.

Regular professional development enables your employees to understand their communication styles and adapt to the communication styles of the clients they serve. With cultural competency training, you will open communication channels in your workplace, improve your company’s customer service, and give your employees a leg up in the competitive global industry.

Jezel Elladora
Jezel Elladora is the Director of Client Experience at Cyberbacker.