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What you need to know about intercultural communication

The digital revolution greatly accelerated the tendency towards globalization for the past few decades. This trend has obvious advantages both for the companies and for employees. However, challenges also arise whenever people find jobs that are not necessarily tied to their geographical area.

One of these challenges is fostering positive and effective intercultural communication in the workplace.

Yes, that is a mouthful. In multinational organizations, intercultural communication refers to developing a framework for understanding any culture, including the corporate one. That is no small task, as it takes every employee to be aware of their own verbal and non-verbal communication and cultural perceptions.

Read more: On cultural profiles and other organizational demons (Part I)

Why intercultural understanding is so important

Most companies claim to be inclusive and accepting. That's because they're great attributes to advertise. However, genuine intercultural understanding goes well beyond supporting employees in celebrating the various religious or national holidays that are dear to them.

In global environments, success depends on people's abilities to communicate and work together effectively. Plus, misunderstandings happen even among people from the same culture working in the same office space. It’s paramount to have a framework that leaves room for feedback and clarification.

Intercultural understanding doesn't mean that every employee becomes a culture expert. Still, it requires openness and empathy.

It starts with onboarding

In all fairness, every employee’s journey, whether the company is multinational or not, should begin with a well-designed onboarding program. This is especially critical for remote teams because they can’t rely on the nice colleague sitting right next to them.

Read more: 7 Best practices to onboard remote employees in 2020

It’s important to discuss organizational policies, values, responsibilities, and culture. These “Welcome to the team!” sessions should touch on every important aspect of a multicultural organization.

The new hires need to get a sense of what it means to work in a diverse environment. It’s important to encourage employees to voice their concerns and offer the tools and support they need.

Intercultural communication training is a must-have

An initial presentation of the organization and its sociocultural dynamics is a good starting point. Yet, it's not nearly enough to ensure smooth collaboration. That’s why companies need to provide intercultural communication training programs tailored to the organization's specific requirements.

Read more: Meeting the needs of a global workforce through relevant multilingual training courses

The purpose of such a learning program is to tear down existing cultural biases. It teaches employees the best ways to analyze and interpret various cross-cultural interactions. The training also aims to develop self-awareness when it comes to perceiving otherness and communicating with individuals from different backgrounds.

Apart from explaining various aspects of cultural acceptability and expectation, the company has to showcase its etiquette and processes regarding meetings, collaboration on projects, and conflict resolution.

The Business Model of Intercultural Analysis

The Business Model of Intercultural Analysis — or BMIA — is a tool that addresses cross-cultural issues by looking at them through six comprehension lenses:

  1. Communication is obviously important since language differences can greatly impact how various messages are formulated and interpreted. Nonverbal aspects also vary from one culture to another.
  2. Cultural themes that are rooted in either religious or historically constructed beliefs need to be acknowledged and integrated.
  3. Group dynamics are significant both from the perspective of employees and customers; in highly individualistic cultures, decisions and actions tend to be the prerogative of each person, while in collectivistic cultures, the say of the group (whether it is family or colleagues) is necessary.
  4. Glocalization is a reality that asks brands to be flexible and adapt to local cultures in order to function well in them.
  5. Process engineering in global companies is an important issue since technological (and general) resources may not be the same in all locations. Businesses need to take this into account from the beginning.
  6. Time orientation varies significantly throughout cultures and can have a tremendous impact (and a source of conflict) between team members with different ideas about processes and deadlines.

This model is not exhaustive, but it does provide a good framework for addressing cross-cultural aspects that global organizations are facing.

Closing thoughts

Multiculturalism in today’s organizations comes with many opportunities for development and improving the bottom line. It also brings some challenges that need to be tackled properly by openly acknowledging the differences and finding ways to bridge them positively and inclusively.