In a multicultural, multi ethnic and multiracial world, Intercultural Communication, cultural awareness and its associated training has become not just a buzzword but a necessity for facilitating harmonious and effective working relationships. Intercultural Communication which broadly means communication between people from different cultures, which takes into consideration how this difference affects the interaction is however often overlooked by many entrepreneurs, executives and organisations as it is assumed to only be beneficial for persons who are from different countries or nationalities. Indeed, while Intercultural Communication (IC) boasts several benefits for interaction with persons from different countries or even different ethnicities within the same country, similar benefits exist for persons who may not identify key differences between themselves and colleagues or business partners. Notably, with a broadening of culture to include practices, habits, skills, backgrounds and points of views, Intercultural Communication can prove beneficial for every entrepreneur, executive and organization as a part of its orientation or staff development processes, even where staff are all from the same country and speak the same language.
When one considers how organisational culture is developed for example, it is important to focus on the diversity that exists within organisations and how this may be contributing to challenges and failures therein. The average organisation even within a local context employs a mix of persons from different socio-economic, educational, gender, age, disability and religious backgrounds which influences their behaviours, attitudes, communication styles, concepts of formality, values and more. Similarly, entrepreneurs and executives interact with or manage persons who are from very different backgrounds to their own. It is therefore commonplace within the same country to hear references to “uptown culture”, “downtown culture” “Innercity culture” “millennial culture” “Male culture” and more. When all these cultures are expected to collaborate in the same space, there is often bound to be conflicts and some miscommunication. It is thus integral for these different groups of persons to harness the power of Intercultural communication towards team work, mutual understanding, conflict resolution and trust. Additionally, Intercultural Communication provides an extensive list of benefits as it starts with the assumption that each of us is a bundle of our own unique ‘mini culture’ which requires IC input to reduce cultural clashes. As such IC training is important for the following reasons:
- Encourages Respect for Differences: Aggression to differences and misunderstandings around the same remain a major part of conflicts within organisations. IC Training helps to reduce these tensions by providing staff members with important soft skills which allows them to see each other as individuals with unique ‘cultures’ that can be strengthened towards collaboration. By understanding this key difference, they are also able to identify key communication differences and challenges and use this knowledge to work towards more meaningful communication and team work dynamics.
- Improves Collaboration: By directly addressing assumptions, IC training ensures that all members of the team are able to put aside personal differences and work towards the shared organisational culture. The differences will also be seen as assets for teams that encourage diverse viewpoints and input into joint projects. Simultaneously, the understanding of and appreciation of differences can reduce miscommunications and improve collaboration.
- Builds Trust: Employer/Employee distrust reduces productivity and denigrates comfort level at work. By utilising Intercultural Communication, organisations can build a culture of openness, honesty and trust between management and staff and among staff members towards improved productivity.
- Reduces Stereotypes: Often we are aware of stereotypes across cultures but within our own workplace contexts, stereotypes persist based on where people live, their attire, how they speak, worship, their disabilities and more. Inadvertently, these stereotypes influence prejudice or bias our interactions with each other and can result in further workplace challenges. Intercultural Communication training therefore helps employers, employees and entrepreneurs to reflect on their biases and how they may be wrongly stereotyping others.
- Improves workplace harmony: Based on the aforementioned benefits, organizations which have engaged staff through intercultural training will experience spillover benefits including a dedicated effort to better understand coworkers and their differences. This will in the long run create a staff complement that is in tuned with the importance of understanding diversity and accepting differences, thus creating greater workplace harmony.
Given the many benefits that can be gained, Entrepreneurs, Executives and Organizations are encouraged to embrace Intercultural Communication for the varied ways in which it can improve their interpersonal and teamwork dynamics. A key first step however is to see Intercultural Communication training, Cultural Awareness training or its variants as not limited to persons interacting or working with persons from other countries, but necessary for persons within the same national context who are from different backgrounds. A great first place to start is to integrate Intercultural communication processes with existing Human Resources and change management plans; work with an Intercultural Communications agency such as Infinity Integrated to audit existing diversity and inclusion policies; and deliver staff wide Intercultural Communication training sessions to create a cohesive organisational culture that celebrates open and honest communication, respects differences and works towards workplace harmony and efficiency.
Editors Note: This article also appeared in the Young Entrepreneur’s Association of Jamaica Stories and Strategies Magazine.
Shanoy Coombs is CEO for Infinity Integrated Communications Limited which offers Intercultural Communications training and full service Integrated Communications and Public Relations services. She is also a Chevening Scholar who completed postgraduate studies in Intercultural Communication and International Development in the UK.
Stay connected via @InfinityIMC on Instagram; @InfinityIMCJA on Facebook and Infinity Integrated Communications Limited on Linkedin.