3 Things to Help You Get Better Work Done in Cross-Cultural Teams
Diversity in the workplace is growing. According to the U.S. Census 2020, nearly 50% of people under 18 identify as being multicultural. That number will continue to grow and that means for employers, we have to adapt and hone in on our cross-cultural communication skills.
Improving cross-cultural communications is not just about learning a new language. It is about understanding a person’s cultural beliefs, their practices, the way they behave, and the way they carry themselves. Understanding these elements can help shape the way we communicate so it’s effective and engaging no matter who we’re working with.
Our new LinkedIn Learning course, Cross-Cultural Communication Nano Tips, can help with this. In this post, we cover three steps to building your cross-cultural communication skills.
1. Cultural Awareness
Cultural diversity is critical to a company’s growth. It’s why building cultural awareness is an important foundational element. Be sure to keep these points in mind:
- Greeting – One of the first things you’ll want to consider when engaging with people from a different culture is how they greet each other. In some cultures, a peck on the cheek is common; in other cultures, a firm handshake is expected. Knowing what to expect and preparing yourself for this new way of greeting can help us feel more confident when meeting people for the first time.
- Taboo – When bolstering our cultural awareness, think about what is considered taboo. Things like numbers or our body language can make a significant impact. For example, using our foot to point to something in Thailand is highly offensive. In Chinese culture, the number four is considered taboo. In the United States, the number 13 is often avoided.
- Humor – People from different countries may not find the same things funny. A great joke may not always translate the way we intended. Because of this, we may want to avoid inserting any humor into our communications, especially if it’s the first time we’re meeting someone.
- Feedback – Asking someone from another culture to give us feedback is an excellent way to foster cultural awareness. If we are unsure how something will come across, just ask. Chances are people will appreciate our willingness to learn.
When it comes to fostering cross-cultural awareness, it is showing we are taking the time to research, reflect and understand. Doing these things can go a long way in showing we care.
We may encounter two different types of engagement styles depending on the context we’re in. The first is working in a high-context culture and the second is working in a low-context culture. There are subtle differences between the two:
- High-Context – In high-context cultures, people tend to value implicit types of communications and speak through metaphors and storytelling. We will know we are walking into a high-context culture when we can sense the people around us aren’t being as explicit with what they are trying to say. Messages are inferred and implied. This means, how we carry ourself and our body language is important. Countries in Asia tend to be considered high-context cultures.
- Low-Context – People in low-context cultures tend to prefer over-communicating versus under-communicating. Those working in low-context cultures expect communications to be direct, explicit, and precise. That means we will want to make sure we adapt to this communications style, otherwise people may feel we are not communicating enough. Cluing people into our process is a great way to keep everyone in the loop. Western countries such as the United States and Australia tend to be considered low-context cultures.
Knowing how to adapt our communications style based on a high or low context culture can ensure we are showing up to work for success.
3. Working Styles
As companies embrace remote or hybrid work, they may begin to establish teams across borders. As a result, how we engage with each other may change. Here are two styles that may be affected:
- Leadership Style – Leadership style is how a manager engages with their team. One leadership style is favoring a more hierarchical approach, while another values a more collaborative style. In hierarchical leadership, there is a clear chain of command, which starts with the lowest ranking to the highest ranking employee. When a culture has this leadership style, we will want to ensure we are communicating with those in our direct chain of command. In a collaborative leadership environment, input across all levels is highly valued. We may be encouraged to speak with higher-level executives who are not necessarily our direct supervisors and discuss questions or concerns.
- Decision-Making Style – The way an organization makes decisions varies depending on the culture as well. One is a consensus decision-making style versus a top-down decision making environment. In a consensus decision-making environment, conclusions are made based on what most people believe is the best thing to do. A manager may want everyone to share their thoughts openly and honestly. They may even want to engage in a lively discussion. However, in a top-down decision-making environment, a leader may make a decision based on the information they have, without necessarily consulting the greater team.
When considering cross-cultural working styles, think about how a manager leads as well as how a decision is typically made within groups.
Depending on who we’re working with, where we’re working, and who we’re communicating with, we will want to make sure we are adjusting, adapting and learning. Developing cross-cultural communications skills is a skill everyone can learn. It’s part of preparing ourself and the team for the future of work. Watch Cross-Cultural Communications Nano Tips here.