Cultural Diversity in the Workplace - 7 Essential Tips October 05 2016, 1 Comment

by Erich Toll

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Cultural diversity is often lumped into diversity training programs in general.

But cultural diversity is perhaps the most challenging aspect of respect and sensitivity training. After all, you’re dealing with cultural differences in communication, hundreds of different cultures, thousands of years of history, and billions of people from different cultures.

Many factors are increasing the importance of cultural diversity training. These include ongoing immigration, the globalization of business and markets, and offshoring of labor. More than ever before, people today are likely to work with people from fundamentally different cultures.

Here are 7 key variables in cultural diversity in the workplace, as explored in this best-selling video, Cross-Cultural Understanding.
1. Communication – many workplace cultural issues arise from differences in communication, such as direct versus indirect, content versus context. In direct cultures, people generally say what they mean, and content is king. In indirect cultures, such as Asia, Latin America, or the Middle East, people are likely to communicate indirectly, and you must be able to understand context to understand true meaning.

2. Values - One of the main differences in cultures is values. Some cultures might prize accomplishment, while others focus most on family or quality of life. Differences in values can be seen directly in the workplace. Cultures such as the United States favor competition and productivity, while others place greater value on harmony and cooperation.

3. Beliefs and Viewpoint - another major variable in workplace cultural diversity is how people see the world, and how they interact with it. In the West, people believe they control events, and their destiny. But in most other cultures, people are fatalistic and often believe they have little control over events.

4. Social Structure – a couple of the big differences here are egalitarian or authoritarian societies and group or individual orientation. In the United States, for example, we tend to be very individualistic. But many Asian cultures, in contrast, are very group oriented and prefer to work in teams.

5. Time – Albert Einstein proved that time is relative, and this is certainly true across cultures. Americans tend to focus on short-term and believe deadlines are firm and fixed. In many other cultures, people think more long-term, and deadlines tend to be fluid.

6. Etiquette – the main differentiator here is whether cultures are formal or informal. In the United States, we tend to be very informal, as exemplified by the immediate use of first names. But in other cultures, people tend to be more formal, including the use of names proper greetings, etc.

7. Perceive the Individual - all this said, above all everyone must be seen as an individual. I recently hosted two visitors from Germany: one was an archetypal German, while the other might easily this be mistaken as a California surfer. Cultures are only general guidelines.

Conclusion – we are all becoming world travelers in the workplace, fueled by immigration, outsourcing, and more. To be effective in a culturally diverse workplace, you need to know the rules, bend them when necessary, and enjoy the challenge of cross-cultural interaction.

What did I miss? Please leave your comments or additional tips below.