As nations, economies and politics are crossing international borders and becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent, the workplace has seen an urgent need to embrace cultural diversity in order to remain competitive in an international market.
From Disney and Johnson & Johnson to Accenture, Lenovo and L’Oreal, there is a wide range of business organizations that have understood and embraced the benefits of building a diverse workforce. In these inclusive environments where teamwork, equity and co-operation prevail, many companies have tasted unpredictable and fast-paced success.
Since cultural diversity can inspire creativity and promote productivity and innovation, many business organizations have started drawing from the global culturally diverse talent pool. And, there’s one factor that remains critical in the promotion of cultural diversity in the workplace and that’s none other than communication.
Regardless of your cultural background, social class, age or gender, you will probably come across people from different cultures and you’ll eventually have to establish work relationships with them. And, of course, in order to blend with them and build strong and trustworthy relationships with them, you’ll have to rely on communication.
Communication simply refers to the process of sharing information and this process can be carried out verbally or non-verbally. Intercultural communication is a type of communication that is defined by the exchange of information between people of different cultural backgrounds.
The definition sounds simple but it can be odd sometimes to have a conversation with a person whose culture you may know very little about. It’s not just about the level of discomfort or anxiety you experience when talking to a person from a different culture, but it’s also about the problems arising from a misunderstanding of words, attitude or behavior. And, these are known as cultural barriers to communication.
Cultural Barriers to Communication
Each culture has its own perception of life, the definition of the world and how it should live life on earth. Different cultures also have different sets of norms, codes, traditions and values that guide the behavior, attitude, language and overall way of living of their members. This, therefore, highlights the importance of learning and understanding about the culture of the person you are communicating with. And, it also highlights the importance of learning about cultural barriers that might hinder your communication process and also prevent you from making any cultural faux pas.
High Context Culture and Low Context Culture
Diverse work environments help workers feel welcomed, supported and more at home, which greatly helps in boosting their morale and increasing their productivity. However, when employees come from different context cultures, they often fail to understand or communicate efficiently with each other.
I guess my very first interpretation of the words “cultural barriers” comes from the understanding that people come from either the high context culture or the low context culture.
Communication in High-Culture:
- It’s a term that describes a culture where communication is subtle, layered, indirect, implicit and nuanced. The true intent of the message is always hidden, not communicated verbally and depends on the receiver to decode.
- People belonging to the high context culture prefer the use of non-verbal cues like tone of voice, eye contacts, facial expressions and other gestures that they believe hold a great deal of meaning.
- People from the high context culture prefer oral and face-to-face types of communication compared to those from the low context culture.
Communication in Low-Culture:
- It’s a term that describes a culture where communication is direct, simple, explicit straight and concise. The actual intent of the message is always communicated directly and not hidden.
- People belonging to the low context culture prefer the use of text messages, emails, and social media to communicate.
As shown above, the differences between these two cultures can easily create cultural barriers to communication and prevent a company from reaping the benefits of cultural diversity in the workplace.