Intercultural Communication at the Global Workplace

A Global World

In a globalized world, the exchange of goods, people and labor are common factors in today’s business environment. Companies employ individuals with multicultural backgrounds to satisfy the demands of their target markets and aim to accommodate cultural diversity. A diverse workplace requires that employees are competent in communicating with colleagues of other cultural backgrounds and such competence must be developed individually as it is not enough to apply traditional cultural generalizations as guidelines to such complex work environments. It can be said that apart from the intercultural factor of the communication, employees also operate within the boundaries of their work environment, and therefore essentially are required to achieve goals and adjust their communication by taking the company culture into consideration.


Be Open to New Cultures and Languages

To facilitate communication between two employees of foreign backgrounds, it is important to understand that such communication is more than just a combination of phonetic, semantic, and linguistic rules.  Each employee possesses cultural values of their own, has thoughts, and beliefs, and individual personality traits that are triggered during each professional encounter. It is eminent to acquire information/knowledge about the foreign co-communicator and, for instance, learn about various cultures, including the local political climate and their business environment.  Being familiar with such knowledge does not guarantee success, but facilitates the communication via familiarity with other cultural rules. It is of, course, important to learn foreign languages, because fluency in common languages is a great asset to the successful communication of messages.

Developing Successful Communication

The success of intercultural communication depends on the level of appropriate communication, which is a synthesis of appropriate knowledge and actions. Factors such as the organizational culture of the region e.g.: in the case of subsidiaries and headquarters, the type of business, and the local company culture must be taken into consideration, along with the previous individual negotiation experiences. The effectiveness of the communicative encounter depends greatly on each individual.  The effectiveness can be measured by the success of goal achievement that is directly influenced by the strategies applied during co-operation.  Therefore, it is important to take into consideration that various cultural groups have diverging ideas about effective strategies. For instance, Western cultures are greatly influenced by the time factor in negotiations, while South American cultures focus more on the development of trust/personal relationships, and less on how long it takes to actually reach such an agreement. Consequently, the effectiveness of intercultural communication can be facilitated by adapting and thinking outside of our cultural boundaries and customs and avoiding excessive generalizations while acquiring knowledge and intercultural experiences.

Dealing with Misunderstandings

When a conflict occurs due to the diversity of values, it is important to be patient and seek additional information to understand whether the conflict is merely based on a misunderstanding due to various perceptions of the same problem. Often simple gestures may lead to communication blocks and can be resolved by the mere understanding of this factor. For example, employees seeking a more direct method of conflict management via honesty may be misunderstood as too direct or even aggressive by employees who apply indirect conflict management strategies. Such differences may only complicate matters based on a misunderstanding of intentions. Therefore it is important to be empathetic and open to new values and forms of expression.  Empathy provides a common ground and can be later used to develop a more personal relationship with co-workers. Although a work environment is a professional environment, it is still powered by human beings with feelings.

Universal and Individual Values

Overall, intercultural communication at the workplace is a rather complex activity that is based on both universal and individual values, it is therefore important to learn, adapt, and continuously develop skills to successfully work with our foreign co-workers, and maintain a healthy business environment and dynamic workplace.


Xenia has written a Master’s thesis on the subject of intercultural communication competence, and she has an interest in modern lifestyle and travelling. She currently writes for the Passion for Fashion blog in the UK and Ireland.

Image Credit: InterNations

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