Intercultural Competence in the Workplace: Tips to Make the Most of Employee Diversity

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Overview

Promoting diversity and inclusiveness in the workplace is essential to any company’s success in 2021. Globalization has made the workplace more diverse than ever. Whether you run an international digital marketing agency or a Book of Oz online gaming website, novel technologies have made it easy to employ remote workers from all over the world. That’s all great, but it also creates new challenges that need to get addressed constructively. Intercultural communication competence helps to create a globally oriented and open-minded company culture. Plus, it also enriches your business, making it more attractive and friendly. And here’s the most important part: the better everyone understands each other within the organization, the more productive they can be.

So without further ado, let’s take a look at some ways to make the most of employee diversity at your workplace. Ready?

The following sections will help managers benefit from employee diversity.

What Is Intercultural Competence

Let’s start by trying to define intercultural competence. In a nutshell, it’s a company’s understanding of different viewpoints and cultures. But we can also view it as a kind of measure of your employees’ abilities to work in a team with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. If everyone in the company takes the time to understand where their fellow employees are coming from, the whole team can get more efficient in working in a global context. 

Intercultural competence assessment consists of three components:  

 

  • Sensitivity: the ability to understand and appreciate cultural differences.  
  • Awareness of how a specific culture influences your coworkers’ behavior.  
  • Skills to interact with people from different cultures.  

As you can see, none of the components is something you can develop overnight. Building intercultural competence and interpersonal communication across cultures is an ongoing process. Here are our best tips to keep it going.

Educate Yourself First

What strategy can you use to increase intercultural competence? The most important thing is that it all starts with you. You can take the initiative and start getting to know your colleagues from different cultures. A simple “how’s your day going?” is enough to get a little conversation going that can lead to valuable insights. The cool thing is that learning about different work approaches can make you discover new efficient methods to do your work. Someone from across the globe might do their tasks very differently from you and still be successful. Applying their techniques to your own work can increase your productivity.

Another thing you can do is to stay knowledgeable about international politics. Indeed, politics is not exactly the best conversation topic. But being aware of the processes in your coworkers’ home countries helps you understand them better. One way or another, it affects their behavior and attitudes. And if your boss offers you a chance to go on  business travel, be happy to accept it. Business trips to other countries are not always the funniest travel experiences. But you can get a lot out of the trip if you take it as an opportunity to learn about local politics in action.

Use the Right Tools

The behavioral assessment scale for intercultural competence, also known as BASIC, was put together by Jolene Koester and Margaret Glebe. It’s a pretty useful tool to understand people’s behaviors by examining the way they communicate. 

Participants can be observed and assessed based on seven criteria: 

  • How they react to new circumstances and how much their discomfort shows.
  • How skilled they are in responding to other people in nonjudgmental ways.
  • How they behave in various team and task roles.
  • Are they able to act like others and feel empathy towards them?
  • The expressions they use to explain the surroundings and themselves.
  • Are they able to give responses to other people in non-evaluating ways?
  • Are they able to display respect for others?


Obviously, you don’t have to conduct a thorough behavior experiment with your employees, but if everyone knows the seven criteria, they can make better choices in their daily communications. You can send them out in a friendly email for everyone to read. And since intercultural competence influences all aspects of an organization’s development plan, from general policies to employee-trainings, you shouldn’t send the emails to only a selected group of people. Everyone in the organization should be well aware of your goals of improving intercultural relations. It has to be a genuine group effort.

  • Establishes a consistent mode of communication between managers and remote teams via phone, email, chat rooms, Intranet, IMs and virtual meetings. Technology, such as Slack and virtual water coolers also foster more informal interactions among the remote team so they can remain in touch with work-related questions, or engage in more socially-oriented discussions. 
  • By participating in virtual meetings and conferences, managers can be assured that remote team members are actively engaged with their colleagues and overall culture of the organization which reduces feelings of alienation and “other-ness.” In addition, virtual conference software which includes presence detection systems allows both managers and remote team members to see who is in attendance and participating and is a good tool for evaluating both engagement and job performance.  
  • Secure file sharing means that sensitive and confidential company documents are stored on the application’s server rather than employees’ personal equipment. 

Build Business Relationships With Everybody

Regardless of your position, you should seek expertise and advice from everybody in your organization. This creates an inclusive company culture and makes the business more attractive for a globally-minded workforce. We can see this strategy employed successfully by none other than the Catholic Church. The Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida, U.S.A., for example, is putting a heavy emphasis on how parishes communicate with diverse cultures. They are actively trying to expand their knowledge of the barriers that obstruct intercultural communication. As a result of fostering inclusion, they’ve had success in developing new parishes amidst rapid population growth.

Be Sensitive About Cultural Boundaries

People from different cultures have different expectations and boundaries. A request that’s normal for you might not be okay for someone else. For example, you shouldn’t ask a Japanese person to point at something. That’s considered rude in Japan.

Another everyday activity that has various nuances in different cultures is a handshake. Americans are used to a firm but free handshake even in business situations. But the French keep it light and brisk. The grip is loose, and there’s only one up and down motion. Not knowing this could leave an American with an impression that the French people are always in a hurry.

And remember: it’s okay to make mistakes. You can always apologize and do better next time. Your colleagues will appreciate your effort.

Build an Intercultural Holiday Calendar

Building a diverse holiday calendar and finding ways to celebrate different traditions is a great way to make everybody feel appreciated. The celebration doesn’t have to be a big party. It can be simply acknowledging the holiday by sending a good-wishes email to a colleague. If the Amsterdam Premium Cannabis Company in Battle Creek U.S.A., for example, wants smooth communication with suppliers from the Netherlands, they should know that the Dutch people celebrate Sinterklaas. It’s a holiday on December 5 that involves little surprise gifts and is especially dear to households with small children. Making a surprise gift to a Dutch colleague on Sinterklaas will be much appreciated. And if they should visit the cannabis store in Battle Creek that offers cannabis treatments for pain, you can safely take them to the FireKeepers Casino across the dispensary. Gambling is not generally a taboo topic in the Netherlands.

Developing Affinity Groups

Encourage people of different backgrounds in your organization to get together and celebrate their individuality. The get-togethers can be events like culture-appreciating evenings at the local clubhouse. But they can also be something as simple as creating a Facebook group for people of the same background. And again, whether you’re a manager or simply an employee, it is your responsibility to take the initiative and encourage creating affinity groups. In time, these groups forge a stronger connection between everyone in your organization. Because here’s the thing: once the groups are active, they can start interacting with each other. Having a strong and well-defined cultural identity only improves intercultural conversations.

Ask for Feedback

Building intercultural competence at your workplace is an ongoing conversation. To keep it going, you should send out regular surveys that ask for suggestions for improvements and feedback. Remember, the goal is to make everyone feel included. Honest feedback allows you and everyone to modify their approaches for even better results.

Conclusion

Use the tips from this article to make the most of employee diversity. Intercultural competence, by definition, is a wide range of skills that enable you to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds more effectively. You’re not going to master the skills in a week, but you can start moving towards improved results today. It’s all about embracing diversity and getting to know others on a personal level. And the efforts will be well worth it. Finding common ground and appreciating other cultures creates a more productive work environment and builds a solid foundation for future successes. And isn’t that what you want?

Thomas Glare
Thomas Glare
Thomas Glare is an online entrepreneur and a business coach. As an advocate for intercultural competence in the workplace, Thomas also loves writing blog posts about employee diversity. Developing affinity groups have helped his own company to create a more friendly work environment. And that has directly led to increased revenues.

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