3 Things to Help You Get Better Work Done in Cross-Cultural Teams

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3 Things to Help You Get Better Work Done in Cross-Cultural Teams

Diversity in the workplace continues to grow. How can you ensure your colleagues feel heard, respected, and included across cultures so you can produce the best work? This post can help. 

Just how much has diversity grown in the workplace? According to CNN.com, diversity in the US workforce has increased to 22.3% from just 11.9%. And, globally, 16% of companies are fully remote, according to a recent study. It’s why we here at Soulcast Media believe developing cross-cultural communications skills is one of the most important modern-day skills for workplace success.

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 you communicate so it’s effective and engaging no matter who you’re working with or where they are located. 

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. For more, check out the full course. 

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 you feel more confident when meeting people for the first time. 
  • Taboo – When bolstering your cultural awareness, think about what is considered taboo. Things like numbers or your body language can make a significant impact. For example, using your 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 you intended. Because of this, you may want to avoid inserting any humor into your communications, especially if it’s the first time you’re meeting someone.
  • Feedback – Asking someone from another culture to give you feedback is an excellent way to foster cultural awareness. If you are unsure how something will come across, just ask. Chances are people will appreciate your willingness to learn.

When it comes to fostering cross-cultural awareness, it is showing you are taking the time to research and understand. Doing these things can go a long way in showing you care.


2. Context

You may encounter two different types of engagement styles depending on the context you’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. You will know you are walking into a high-context culture when you can sense the people around you aren’t being as explicit with what they are trying to say. Messages are inferred and implied. This means, how you carry yourself and your 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 you will want to make sure you adapt to this communications style, otherwise people may feel you are not communicating enough. Cluing people into your 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 your communications style based on a high or low context culture can ensure you 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, you will want to ensure you are communicating with those in your direct chain of command. In a collaborative leadership environment, input across all levels is highly valued. You may be encouraged to speak with higher-level executives who are not necessarily your 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 you’re working with, where you’re working, and who you’re communicating with, you will want to make sure you are adjusting, adapting and learning. Developing cross-cultural communications skills is a skill everyone can learn. It’s part of preparing yourself and the team for the future of work. Watch Cross-Cultural Communications Nano Tips here.

Check out other top LinkedIn Learning communications courses by Jessica Chen, view them here. 

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