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Intercultural Communication in the Workplace

In the workforce environment cultural diversity is a frequent problem, often employees are discriminated against or misunderstood because of their diverse appearance.

We each belong to an entire collection of cultures different shared values, beliefs, and attitudes. Our own actions influence the way we characterize the actions of others. It is not easy to understand people from different cultures. In forming an opinion of other cultures, we have a tendency to make assumptions and generalizations which can get in the way of common sense.

More often than not the technical language is understood, but other elements of communication are overlooked. Most of all communication is nonverbal. As much as 90% of your communication is done without words. Gestures, facial expressions, and posture provide information about a person’s emotions and relationships with others (University of Northern Iowa, n.d.). Nonverbal communication is used more than verbal communication. The majority of people identify others by first appearances without communicating.

It is easy to misunderstand another cultures expression of respect or affection. When you encounter someone new, the expectation of the other person perhaps is a nod of the head, a handshake, or a hug. How is a person to know?

To have a successful business environment it is essential to have excellent communication. “There is no better way to build trust than through communication” (Hayhoe & Grady, 2008, p.40). Eight years ago while working for a financial institution, I had a miscommunication with a coworker. Keiko was who is originally from Tokyo and worked as a finance officer for the local branch. Although Keiko has been in the United States for several years she still had a very heavy Asian accent and was incapable of forming proper grammar, but she was an excellent worker and expert at loans. If someone could not comprehend what she said they would then ask her to say it again and she would without a problem. Well a client came in one day and asked for her because he had a question a loan for their business. I went ahead and called her over for the client to ask her a question in reference to his business loan. The client did not comprehend what she was saying and Keiko did not understand what the needs of the client were. After explaining for the third time what he wanted the client became aggravated. A bit frustrated the client exasperatingly stated, “I cannot comprehend why businesses hire people that who do not speak English. Don’t they know that they work and live in America and need to speak English! If we lived in their country we would have to learn their language.” To make matters worse, I expressed my regret to the client and told him that I would talk with the loan manager to make sure that his work with our manager and make sure that his demands were taken care. After the client left the branch, Keiko began to cry and blamed me for what had occurred. I became a little offended and did not comprehend what was happening, I was taken aback. My thoughts were what did I do and why was she upset with me? I thought I was doing her a favor by getting the client away from her. This one example of why it is important to have Intercultural Communication in the workplace. I did not think there was anything wrong with what I did think what I did was wrong; on the other hand, evidently that is not what Keiko believed.

When I talked with the loan manager and explained to her what took place, I realized that Keiko was sadden because I did not support her when the client made those malicious comments about her and she also thought I should have explained the issues the client had to her myself. I learned from her that day some Asian cultures. She explained to me that in China, Japan, and other Asian cultures it is imperative to avoid causing your counterpart to “lose face.” In Asian cultures to raise your voice or shout at a person in public, or to correct them in front of their peers will cause them to lose face (Berman, 2003). I made an apology to Keiko and let her know I was trying to be helpful and that I meant no disrespect.

One of the crucial points to effective intercultural communication is knowledge. It is extremely vital that people recognize the problems of intercultural communication and make an effort to overcome these problems when there is a culturally diverse workforce. A large number of people make the assumption that cultural diversity is the cause of communication issues. Employers should be willing to be open-minded and forgiving, rather than threatening and aggressive, if issues arise. One should be cautious in intercultural interactions and come to any assumption of how a person feels or what person thinking.
One of the main points to intercultural communication is Reflective Listening. Reflective Listening is used to analysis what someone is saying by reiterate what you think you heard. This helps in validating what was heard is accurately understood (Vuckovic, 2008). Reflective Listening is also helpful because there are many words and gestures that are used in different ways among languages or cultural groups.

Some organizations frequently use mediators that are familiar with different cultures. This can be very helpful in intercultural communication situations. Mediators help in translating both the words and gestures. For example, what would be considered inappropriate in one culture can be discussed and changed, so it does not offend before they are shared with culture. Americans are quick to reference or direct to the issues. Other cultures like to set up relationships before any business is discussed. If a relationship is not made before discussions on business are started there is no trust in the person that is speaking. A mediator that recognizes the issue can help in making appropriate adjustments to the procedures.
Organization need to be knowledgeable about managing a diverse culture. It is vital for an organization to succeed in global arena. The responsibility of a diverse culture influences talent management policies and procedures in the workplace. One talent continues to motivate others; demonstrate the ability to effectually communicate with clients, coworkers, and management. If there are no effective communication skills the workplace suffers.
University of Northern Iowa. (n.d.). Non-Verbal Communication. Retrieved July 29, 2009, from
Hayhoe, George F., & Grady, Helem. (2008). Connecting People with Technology: Issues in Professional Communication . Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Company .
Vuckovic, Aleksandra. (2008). Inter-cultural communication: a foundation of communicative action. , 2(1), 47 – 59. doi: 10.1108/17504970810867151.