There is no secret that today's workplace is rapidly becoming vast, as the business environment expands to include various geographic locations and span numerous cultures. What can be difficult however is to understand how to communicate effectively with individuals who speak another language or who rely on different means to reach a common goal?
Intercultural Communication in the Workplace
Today's businesses are growing rapidly every year. The reason for this growth is the vast growth of population in Australia. People from all over the world are coming to Australia to make a better life for their selves. Because this country is so diverse and multicultural, there has always been the importance of the job community changes with the times. This is great to the corporate community but, it also can be difficult too. The issues that occur with having a multi-culture workplace are the intercultural communication issues. One issue particular is linguistics. For example; I was working as a part-time employee for a popular supermarket store. I was an associate in the groceries department, and I had been working there for few months prior to the issue. Christmas was approaching, and due to the busy season, supermarket decides to hire more employees. There were two female associates of Hispanic descent that were assigned to my department. As I tried to introduce myself to the ladies I notice one very important thing that neither one of them spoke English. The only words that they knew were hi, bye, no, yes, etc... I could not understand how that supermarket, hired people who did not know English. Rumor had it that because there were a great deal of Hispanic shoppers, that the supermarket needed Hispanic employees. The problem was when the English speaking customer would arrive, and need assistance they were unable to help them. The customers sometimes were so upset that they would walk away. The ladies would come to me or another English speaking employee and take our hands and point to the customer, and pull us to them. To me I preferred not to be touched in the workplace, and even though I knew she was just trying to make me understand it was still frustrating none-the-less. The issue would take me away from my own customers, and jobs that I had to do. When a customer would ask for help the ladies would say, “I don't know uno mementos.” Now I know they meant, “Hold on a minute” but, how did the customer know that? Supermarket Management should have evaluated the needs of the company more. The face of the workplace is changing; more women, ethnic minorities, and immigrants are entering the work force. As a result, the workplace is increasingly multicultural. Management should have found a bi-lingual employee this way the employee could assist each culture. Instead management focused on the majority versus focusing on all customers equally. Employers should look for job candidates who have good communication and interpersonal skills and are team players. Those skills are increasingly important as the Australian workforce expands to include a wide variety of cultures. Because the two cultures did not understand one another it caused inconvenience, and frustration between the two.
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The challenge to today's employer is to ensure that it is work force's diversity is a source of strength, not one of conflict. In this situation at the Supermarket it caused conflict not only with the associates but with the customers too. Recognize however; that it is not the sole responsibility of the employer to see that goal achieved; all employees, including me, share in that responsibility. However, it is the employers' responsibility to hire employees that can handle the job description without distracting the other employees. Miscommunication is a major source of intercultural discomfort and conflict. Communication—verbal, written, and nonverbal—goes beyond what is said, written, or expressed. The process of communicating differs among cultures: It is how it is said (or written or expressed) when it is said, and why it is said. These things comprise one's communication style. Miscommunication can (and often does) result when an individual's style of communicating differs from that of another person. In today's workplace, a person can bet that, at some point, they will have to deal with a coworker whose communication style differs from yours. When the lady grabbed my hand and pulled me is an example of this. I do not like to be touched that is my culture on the other hand she felt it was necessary to get her point across. Learning how to communicate among cultures is a necessary ability no matter what type of career field you enter. In this case I believe that a language barrier caused the intercultural communication issue. Deal with culture norms can be difficult because of the many culture and there norms. A norm may or may not have a rational justification or origin. Norms with common sense origins may, over time, lose their original context as society changes. An action that was once performed because it was necessary to survive may over the years become a social norm, even once the circumstances that made it necessary for survival are no longer applicable. There are at least two reasons for the stability of a norm. First, people are educated via their socialization process to follow a norm and most people will not oppose it. Second, even if a person does not feel like following a norm, he or she may do so because of social pressure. In social situations, such as meetings, norms are written and often unspoken rules that govern individual's behavior. Norms are most evident when they are not followed or are broken. This is often experienced when an individual find him/herself in a foreign environment dealing with an unfamiliar culture where the norms are different. At the same time, importation of cultural products into a new culture will usually result in cultural confrontation. Attempted cultural importation may then be seen as a threat to cultural identity. The Hispanic lady felt out of her comfort zone, to her she might have felt in a foreign environment. Was it her fault? No because management hired her giving with the impression that there would be more Hispanic customers, and well as a team that she could communicate with, and she was an asset to the company. If anyone should be upset, it should be her, by being forced in to a foreign situation. For me it was a culture shock with trying to communicate with someone of a foreign tongue. Given different cultural contexts, this brings new communication challenges to the workplace. Even when employees located in different locations or offices speak the same language (for instance, correspondences between English-speakers in the U.S. and English-speakers in the UK), there are some cultural differences that should be considered in an effort to optimize communications between the two parties.
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In such cases, an effective communication strategy begins with the understanding that the sender of the message and the receiver of the message are from different cultures and backgrounds. Of course, this introduces a certain amount of uncertainty, making communications even more complex. Without getting into cultures and sub-cultures, it is perhaps most important for people to realize that a basic understanding of cultural diversity is the key to effective cross-cultural communications. Without necessarily studying individual cultures and languages in detail, we must all learn how to better communicate with individuals and groups whose first language, or language of choice, does not match our own. However, some learning the basics about culture and at least something about the language of communication in different countries is important. This is necessary even for the basic level of understanding required to engage in appropriate greetings and physical contact, which can be a tricky area inter-culturally. For instance, kissing a business associate is not considered an appropriate business practice in Australia, but in Paris, one peck on each cheek is an acceptable greeting. And, the handshake that is widely accepted in Australia is not recognized in all other cultures. While many companies now offer training in the different cultures where the company conducts business, it is important that employees communicating across cultures practice patience and work to increase their knowledge and understanding of these cultures. This requires the ability to see that a person's own behaviors and reactions are often times culturally driven and that while they may not match our own, they are culturally appropriate. If a leader or manager of a team that is working across cultures or incorporates individuals who speak different languages, practice different religions, or are members of a society that requires a new understanding, he or she needs to work to convey this.
Consider any special needs the individuals on your team may have. For instance, they may observe different holidays, or even have different hours of operation. Be mindful of time zone differences and work to keep everyone involved aware and respectful of such differences. Generally speaking, patience, courtesy and a bit of curiosity go a long way. And, if you are unsure of any differences that may exist, simply ask team members. Again, this may best be done in a one-on-one setting so that no one feels “put on the spot” or self-conscious, perhaps even embarrassed, about discussing their own needs or differences or needs.
In conclusion I believe that there are many inter cultural communication issues that need to be resolved in the workplace. There should be classes on how to handle diversity situation, and how to communicate with the other. If this strategy were in every business in Australia then I strong believe that today's businesses would be more productive, and a happier place to work.
Fowler, K. Manktelow, J.(1995-2006) Effective Cross Cultural communication. http://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/Cross-Cultural-communication.htm
Diversity Edition (2001) Communicating in the Culturally Diverse Workplace.
Wikipedia (2006) Norms, http://en.wikipedia.org