Andrew Hutson on How to Work Effectively Across Different Cultures
How to Work With Different Cultures
Working effectively with different cultures is a necessary skill for anyone in a culturally diverse work environment. Immigration, technological advances, and the emergence of global virtual work teams have increasingly exposed workers to other cultures. Cultural variations in the workplace may range from simple regional differences, such as varying dialects, to divergent perspectives on timeliness, productivity, and communication. There are several steps you can take to work effectively with people from different cultures.
Choosing the Right Frame of Mind
Become self-aware.If you have never worked with someone from a different culture before, it can be an adjustment. While you might encounter some challenges, you will likely find it a rewarding experience. Your first step is to put yourself in the right frame of mind.
- Work on becoming more aware of your words and actions. What seems appropriate to you may not be a cultural norm to another person.
- Before you give someone at work a high five or a pat on the back, take a moment to consider your actions. Based on what you know about that culture, is touching in the workplace appropriate?
- A good rule of thumb is to take a moment to consider your words before you speak. Is what you're about to say possibly offensive? If so, figure out a way to rephrase.
Practice patience.It may take awhile for you to get used to working with people from different cultures. Don't worry, that's normal. It probably took you awhile to acclimate to your current co-workers, too.
- Try not to get irritated if communication takes a little extra effort at first. For example, maybe you are now working with someone whose first language is not English.
- Instead of getting impatient if they don't understand your point, try to treat it as a learning experience. Try saying, "Ok, I can see I'm not making myself clear. How can I help us get on the same page?"
- Be patient with yourself, too. It may take you some time to adjust to working with your new co-workers or clients, and that is ok.
Use humor.Remember that working in a new environment might be intimidating for someone from a different culture. Whether you are on a conference call, or traveling to meet someone face to face, the initial meeting can feel stilted or awkward. Don't be afraid to lighten the mood.
- Humor is an excellent way to ease tension in the workplace. It can serve as a way to make people feel comfortable and even more connected to each other.
- Remember that different people have different senses of humor. Before making a joke, try to make sure that it won't be construed as offensive.
- You can try making a lighthearted joke about something situational. For example, if it's a nasty, rainy day, you can jokingly say, "Lovely day, isn't it?" It may not be the most original comment, but things like that can lighten the mood.
Look at issues from a different perspective.Remember that not everyone will come at a discussion from the same angle. Difference in perspective are coming when working with people from different cultures. Don't assume that you are all looking at the issue from the same perspective.
- Clarify what important terms mean to each individual. For example, in a meeting you could ask, "What does efficiency mean to you?"
- It's possible that you might think you're working with the same goals in mind, but that you have a different understanding of the process or outcomes. A simple question can help resolve any issues.
- Once someone explains their perspective, take some time to reflect. Looking at an issue from an alternate perspective can help you find solutions that you might not have considered.
Accept differences.Part of choosing the right frame of mind means that you are open to differences. If you go into a new situation aware that people might have different customs than you, you will find it easier to be accepting. Go to work knowing that people from different cultures might work differently than you, and that's to be expected.
- Be aware that there will likely be differences in communication styles. For example, in some cultures the word "yes" means, "Certainly, I'm in agreement." To others, the word "yes" can mean, "I heard you."
- Accept that there might be differences in addressing conflict. In some cultures, a face to face conversation might be the norm. For other people, written communication might be more appropriate.
- When you encounter differences, be willing to be adaptable. You might need to alter some of your habits in order to make the work relationship more constructive.
Research different cultures.Maybe your company recently expanded its global operations. You might suddenly find yourself working closely with team members from other cultures. Take some time to work on making these relationships stronger.
- Spend time learning about other cultures. For example, if you are going to be working closely with your Japan office, study up on Japanese work etiquette.
- Ask your Human Resources department if they have any resources available. They might be able to direct you towards a helpful website.
- Head to the local library. The resource librarian can direct you towards references that can give you a solid overview of the culture you're learning about.
Learn to be an ally.Some of your current colleagues might be uncomfortable working with people from different cultures. That can cause unease and stress in the workplace. Build good relationships with people and learn to be an ally for those from other cultures.
- One of the most effective ways to be an ally is to show that discrimination will not be tolerated. Stand up for people if someone is saying or doing something offensive.
- For example, maybe one of your co-workers makes an offensive comment about the way your new clients from the Middle East dress. Make it clear that that sort of talk is not acceptable.
- You can say something like, "You know, just because these people dress differently, that doesn't make them wrong or somehow less than us. Let's be respectful, ok?"
Get to know individuals.When you take time to get to know someone, you can find new ways to strengthen your work relationship. Put some effort into building individual relationships. Your work life will be more productive and pleasant.
- Don't lump people together in a group. For example, avoid making general comments such as, "Those Australians don't have the same work hours that we do."
- Instead, say, "I need to talk to Anna and Steve about how we can resolve this issue." Thinking of people as individuals is a great way to show respect and build relationships.
Make an effort.It might feel difficult to learn to work with new people. This can be especially tricky if you have any sort of communication barriers. However, that doesn't mean that it's not worth your effort.
- Try to make any newcomers feel welcome. Try saying, "I noticed you bring your lunch. So do I. Do you want to go to the park and eat together tomorrow?"
- If you are the newcomer, you can find other ways to make an effort. For example, if you're in a new office, you can ask about customs and traditions.
- For example, you can say, "I noticed that you all seem to support different football teams. Can you tell me a little more about the sport?"
Listen to stories.One of the best ways to learn about a new culture is by hearing some personal anecdotes. Ask your new co-workers or clients to tell you some stories. Listen with an interested and curious open mind.
- Perhaps you have some new clients from South Africa. You can ask them to tell you stories about what life is like there.
- You can say something like, "What do you typically do for fun after work?" Then you can offer examples of your own experiences.
- Listening to stories is a great way to form bonds. You'll learn something new, and likely find more commonalities than you expected.
Ask questions.Learning to communicate better will help you to work with people from different cultures. One of the most important components of effective communication is asking questions. Questions are a great way to clear up differences and also a good way to get to know people.
- If something is unclear, just ask a question. For example, you could say, "I noticed that people in this office bow to one another in greeting. Is that something I should do, also?"
- Try asking open-ended questions. For example, instead of saying, "Am I doing this right?", try asking, "How can I improve my performance?" You'll get a more informative answer.
- Listen carefully to the answer. When you ask a question, pay attention to the response and try to retain the information.
Be sincere.It may take some time to learn to work with new people. Make it clear that you are putting in effort. Make it clear that you are sincere in wanting to better your communications.
- Do something that indicates you are trying. For example, try greeting someone from a different culture in their language.
- Most people will appreciate a gesture like that. It won't take much work on your part, but it indicates your sincerity.
- Smile. This generally means that same thing in most cultures.
- Take time to reflect. If you have had trouble communicating, spend some time asking yourself where the breakdown occurred. Then try to improve tomorrow.
QuestionWhat are the different types of cultureswikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerThere are many types of cultures you may encounter. People from different geographical locations might have different customs, for example. Or someone with a different background or religion might have a different culture than you.Thanks!
QuestionHow learning their culture can help me in my work placewikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerLearning about someone else's culture can help you to build stronger relationships. This will help strengthen your teamwork, and also help improve communication.Thanks!
QuestionHow would you encourage a staff member who is reluctant to work with someone from a different nationality to see the advantages of working with people from various international backgrounds?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerLet them know that all team members should be treated the same. Learning to work with someone from a different culture has the same value as learning to work with any other employee.Thanks!
QuestionExplain how having anunderstanding of interculture differences will lead to a higher probability of achieving business goalswikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerCommunication and team work will be strengthened.Thanks!
QuestionHow would you deal with a coworkwer from a different culture losing a family member to cancer?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerAsk the person how people grieve in that culture and support them in expressing their pain and sorrow. Try to refrain from inflicting your own cultural grievance beliefs onto that person.Thanks!
QuestionHow do I promote unity among ethnic groups?Top AnswererUnity depends entirely on recognizing common goals and achievements.Thanks!
Regarding communication changes to workplace practices, what do I do to ensure communication used shows respect for cultural diversities of others?
Give an example of what seems appropriate may not be a cultural norm for the other person?
How do I work with people from cultures with divergent perspectives on timeliness?
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