As the business world grows into workplace diversity and companies go global, intercultural issues have become more common. Gender, race, religion, language and social norms change from culture to culture. The challenge is to create a workplace friendly to a wide range of cultures, attain a solid understanding of the issues and make a real commitment to implement social change through best practices in research, development and training.
Language and Nonverbal Communication
Language barriers can be anything from people with different native languages attempting to understand each other to using words in the same language that are acceptable in one culture and highly offensive in others. Hand gestures, table manners and even eye contact have a place in culture as well. Crossing these cultural lines can cause conflict. Companies can use cultural sensitivity training to lessen the effects of involuntary breaches of cultural protocols.
Gender, Ethnicity and Religion
Ethnicity, race, gender and religion create some of the most difficult issues to overcome in the workplace. Determining which one raises the most problems depends on the corporate culture. Some of the most talked-about issues include gender equality, political views associated with specific cultures, observance of religious holidays and ethnic stereotyping.
Views of hierarchy within familial and business structures vary greatly across cultures. A U.S. native might expect to report to a direct manager, with that manager having a direct report as well. On the other hand, in some European and Middle Eastern cultures, authority isn’t so clearly defined, and employees can expect greater acceptance of input. In Chinese cultures, the final authority is the government, with little room for employee contribution of any type, except at executive levels.
Ignorance of other social norms and acceptable behaviors lead to difficulties in global business communications. With an ever-widening global reach, people of diverse backgrounds must learn to interact in a way that others find acceptable. While this can be difficult, corporate training that includes some level of social education is becoming more common around the world and can help promote cooperation and understanding.
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