Overcoming Cultural Barriers

To overcome cultural barriers within the workplace, here are some helpful hints:

  • Determine whether a specific behaviour or attribute is a requirement of the job. There are some cultural differences with your employees that you just have to accept and not try to change if you want your employees to perform well. However, there also are some cultural issues that are relevant to your business and to which employees of a different culture will have to adapt to if they are going to succeed in the work culture.
  • Identify whether or not you can reasonably accommodate the cultural difference. Some cultural differences - such as an employee's willingness to confront her boss - can be accommodated by slightly altering the expectation or changing the circumstances of the situation. For example, some cultures are not responsive to stern feedback, but they are receptive to less direct insinuations regarding their performance. If you ask your employees they will tell you how best to communicate with them without violating their cultural norms.
  • Determine how best to accommodate the cultural difference. Some cultures are group-centric rather than individually focused. In such cases praising an individual for their effort, rather than recognizing the entire group, can create contention among the group and embarrassment for the individual, thereby decreasing the employee's performance instead of enhancing it. Likewise, giving someone negative feedback in public, even if it is not severe, can have a detrimental effect on employees of certain cultures. Being sensitive to and aware of the unique cultural differences of your employees will help you determine where you need to alter your management style or practices.
  • Learn about other cultures. There are numerous excellent books and articles on cultural diversity in your local bookstore or library. The internet is a valuable tool of unlimited resources explaining the differences in cultures. There is no excuse for your not understanding the cultural issues of your employees when you have so much information literally at your fingertips.
  • Ask your employees for insight into how best to manage them. If you show an open and honest willingness to learn and to adjust your management practices, most of your employees will tell you how to accommodate their cultural needs if you ask them.