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Are cultural differences crushing your team's potential?

Frustrated Multicultural Employee

One of the toughest challenges any manager faces is figuring out how to retain and motivate top talent. Employee morale can make or break a team's performance, and seemingly minor frustrations can slowly grow to divide teams, hinder open communication, and ultimately crush a team's potential to thrive.

Cultural differences can make this challenge even more difficult to overcome. Individuals raised in different cultures have different viewpoints on, and perceptions of certain customs and concepts. They have different approaches to problem-solving, teamwork, and communication, which require managers to carefully pinpoint and work with these approaches.

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Understanding these five examples of cultural differences in the workplace will help you identify and address frictions that can crush your team's potential!

  • High-context vs low-context instructional styles: Low-context training or teaching styles tend to be preferred in western cultures. Employees are comfortable with following very specific instructions and are expected to perform their job according to these instructions. In contrast, however, employees of certain Asian cultures are more accustomed to high-context instructional styles, which involve more theoretical teaching styles. They generally expect to “learn the ropes” from a supervisor or mentor rather than follow detailed instructions from a training manual.

  • Communicating criticisms directly vs indirectly: In the United States, people tend to take a very direct approach to communicating criticisms to employees or colleagues. In Japan, China, and several other Asian cultures, direct criticism is considered rude and embarrassing to the individual being criticized. Indirect, consensus-building approaches to criticism and problem-solving are better accepted in these cultures.

  • Inclusivity vs exclusivity in the decision-making process: A potential source of frustration and problems in a multicultural work environment is the varying degrees of inclusivity and collaboration in decision-making processes. In American culture, it’s quite common for employees to provide input and feedback to certain decisions. However, due to differences in authority and hierarchy in management styles, employees from different cultures can tend to feel as though “it’s not their place” to provide suggestions, input, or feedback. Its important to communicate to these individuals when their input is needed and appreciated.

  • Active vs passive performance recognition: Employees accustomed to U.S. culture understand that recognition is generally actively sought out. You’re expected to ask for a raise rather than wait to be given one. That’s not the case in other cultures. Certain Latin American and Asian cultures expect employees to wait passively to be recognized. Over time, these employees can lose motivation and feel unappreciated if this cultural difference is not addressed.

  • Language and Tone: tone and directness in choice of wording can be received with negative connotations depending on culture. Productivity often improves when employees communicate in their native languages. Accommodate for that if necessary by providing translated materials, and even using interpreter services if necessary.


What's the solution?

  • The best solution to addressing and overcoming any challenges or problems caused by cultural differences is active communication. Interpreting situations individually can help you avoid misunderstandings that could lead to unnecessary friction down the road. Ask your employees how they feel about certain situations. Try to understand their perspective before jumping to conclusions.

  • Implement a top-down multicultural communication strategy. Focus on identifying and addressing the cultural differences described in this article. Implement solutions to help facilitate and improve communications between employees of different cultures. It can help them articulate their feelings, opinions, and feel more comfortable providing suggestions and input.

  • DO NOT make assumptions and allow friction to develop into much bigger problems

For more information on improving communications with a multicultural workforce, come see Auracom President, Gordon McDermott, who'll be hosting an interactive session at the 2017 Garden State Council SHRM Conference in October.


Auracom International offers professional translation, localization, and interpretation services in over 200 languages. View our services or contact us to learn more.


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