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What Are Cultural Barriers to Communication in the Workplace? (Part 3)

What Are Cultural Barriers to Communication in the Workplace? (Part 3)
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A workplace is like a mini society where you’ll have to constantly interact with each of your colleagues and work in unity with them. Hence, it is crucial to find common ground with people from other cultures and this can only be possible once all cultural barriers have been identified.

Cultural Stereotypes

Cultural StereotypesIn general, stereotypes are merely assumptions people make about the world around them. Cultural stereotypes are more about the assumptions people make about a specific cultural group and its members or about its characteristics and values. They are mostly negative images or preconceived notions about a specific cultural community. However, some stereotypes can also be positive. In fact, some people believe that stereotypes were born for a reason and even without adopting them from the people around you, you would have probably derived one on your own. According to these people, the use of a stereotype is to have predictive value. It is sometimes said a stereotype is useful if it is true more than 50 % of the time – as it is higher than the random chance.


A common stereotype about Chinese people, for example, is that they eat rice a lot. Maybe not all Chinese eat rice; many only eat noodles and some don’t even eat starch. But, if you were to compare the per capita rice consumption of all the citizens of China and compare it to the per capita rice consumption of all the citizens of the United States, it’s obvious that the Chinese consumption would be higher. A stereotype takes place when people condense that statistical relationship into a simplistic rule: “Chinese people eat a lot of rice.” And, maybe in 100 years, that will change and Chinese people will eat only kale and then this rule will have to be revised. But, is it truly okay to stereotype?

Stereotypes are often created by mass media and according to some, most stereotypes have been created based on personal judgments and cognitive biases rather than informed judgments. In most Asian communities, for example, the LGBT community is still not welcomed and people are often discouraged from having conversations with members of this community. Another negative stereotype is linked with followers of the religion Islam, which provoked judgmental attitudes. Therefore, when people look at each other, or rather at each other’s cultures, with such negative stereotypes, working together effectively in a workplace can become very difficult and challenging; it’s nearly impossible to work in unity and cooperation with someone whose culture or cultural characteristic you resent or disrespect.

In addition, even positive stereotypes are a cultural barrier as they can create a false impression in the mindset of other people. An example might include a supervisor tasked by the higher-ups to assign a particular person in his team with the organization of an art and culture event. Instead of choosing the person based on his work abilities, the supervisor ends up choosing the worker from Italy. Since Italy is worldwide famous for its rich art and culture, the supervisor believed that the Italians would do a great work at organizing such an event. This is an example of how even a positive stereotype can create chaos in the workplace.


EthnocentrismWhen you are born and raised in a particular culture, it is quite natural –at least in some cases – that you’ll find your culture as the very best while you’ll tend to underestimate others. This is known as ethnocentrism. The belief that your culture is stronger or superior to others or the tendency to judge other cultural groups according to the standard and values of your own cultural group is referred as the “Us Versus Them” thinking. It is when you have a preference for all the cultural groups that resemble yours and hate all those who come from different cultural groups. You consider other groups as your “enemies” and you perceive their behaviors –the behaviors that don’t conform to your culture’s standards – as rude and improper.

Based on the above, it is clear that ethnocentrism is a threat to cultural peace in the workplace.



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