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How to Navigate Culture Differences in the Workplace

In an age of increasing globalization and multicultural societies, workplaces are increasingly diverse with personalities to match, featuring individuals that subscribe to different ethnic, religious, and professional cultures. As a result, companies that want to keep up with the rigorous competitive landscape and retain top talent must tap into the experiences and diverse talent pools of various cultures.

Stats show that diverse teams outperform monolithic ones by hefty margins—up to 48%. This demonstrates that investments in diversity, equity, and inclusion pay off big time.

But in order to reap bottom line benefits, organizations must come up with ways of managing subtle cultural differences, avoiding cultural misunderstandings, adapting, and working effectively with diverse cultures to create an outstanding employee experience regardless of cultural background.

These strategies have been designed to help your team navigate cultural differences in a variety of office configurations.


Improve The Cultural Awareness in Your Team

The majority of workplace conflict and discomfort are more often the result of ignorance rather than ill intent. This is good news, but can sometimes be more challenging to address and eliminate due to the personal and emotional considerations of all involved.

To avoid embarrassing situations and reduce the likelihood of escalation, it is crucial to create awareness about the different cultures present within your organizational community. Cultural awareness and education helps workers respect, embrace, and celebrate cultural diversity and lay a foundation for deeper cross-cultural understanding.

Consider proactively educating the workforce about the cross-cultural differences and similarities of cultures represented in the organization in order to reduce tense, painful, and embarrassing situations. Moreover, urge your employees to appreciate each other’s cultural values by sharing important information regarding different backgrounds and experiences.


Show Greater Cultural Appreciation

To drive performance and achieve your objectives in a multicultural workplace, management has a mandate to demonstrate to their employees that they genuinely value and appreciate the diversity of their workforce—not in spite of their culture, but because of it.

Effective and empathetic leaders will engage with and show genuine interest in the cultures of their teams and use these opportunities to better connect with them. This connection builds trust, creates emotional bonds in the workplace, and shows employees that their cultural diversity is a priority to the employer rather than an afterthought.

Employers must show that they are committed to cultural diversity and competence. Learn about the represented cultures by engaging with the employees about their culture on a genuine and respectful level, engaging—and paying—experts (even and especially from within your own organization), or consuming media from creators that represent different cultural worldviews.

In addition, consider encouraging intercultural employee mentoring. Provide an environment where cultures and values can be explored at work and remember this effort when planning your talent mobility strategies.


Ensure Effective Communication

Effective communication is crucial in increasing employee engagement, mitigating conflict, building trust, and cultivating healthy workplace relationships.

To that end, it is essential to enhance effective communication by leading with empathy and understanding, being open and receptive to feedback, and employing verbal and non-verbal communication that is accessible and appropriate for a multicultural workplace. Try to communicate as plainly as possible without speaking too quickly (especially during virtual meetings). Listen and look for signals that your audience is comprehending your message.

Remember that different cultures have different verbal and nonverbal communication styles. Consider different cultural communication styles and try to understand, relate, and apply them. Case in point: while a thumbs up may be considered polite in some cultures, it is a very rude gesture in others. So save your employees the embarrassment of such a cultural faux pas by understanding the vast diversity in play.


Have Productive Conversations

Different cultural mindsets, values, and beliefs inform the way members of various cultural backgrounds approach work and how they relate with teammates. However, some cultural hallmarks may present challenges to the interactions between employees of different genders, sexual orientations, or religions. These situations must be handled carefully in order to avoid violating your company’s culture of belonging or breaking laws as they relate to protected classes.

If a situation arises where cultural differences are in conflict with one another, it’s best to include your human resources department to make sure every possible consideration is made to be inclusive and sensitive to everyone involved.


Adjust Your Corporate Calendar

Many companies are establishing multinational presences due to joint ventures, labor availability, mergers, and acquisitions. If you will be tasked with supervising an international workforce, it is crucial to take into account different time zones and plan your projects and virtual meetings around them. To overcome this geographical limitation, seek out asynchronous solutions and when necessary, use project management tools to your advantage. Consider also reaching out to the dispersed workforce through virtual calls, online mentorship platforms, video conferences, and professional development tools, among others. Even more, make sure you adjust your corporate calendar to take into account major religious, civic, and cultural holidays that may affect your workforce in different parts of the world.


Key Takeaway

A multicultural workforce offers organizations a greater ability to serve the desires and challenges in different markets. Additionally, a diverse force offers a wider, more versatile range of products and services and boosts performance—and the bottom line.

As you explore building your multicultural workplace, we encourage you to review The Mentor Method, an online mentoring platform designed to encourage collaboration and connection between members of your growing diverse team. Contact us today for a full tour of our mentoring software platform and learn more about how we can help you create cultural change through mentorship.


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