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Communicating Across a Worldwide Workforce

‘Globalization’ is no more a jargon but an ordinary part of everyday life. Business leaders have learned long that the problem is not in ‘globalization’ or in ‘diversity’ but in the lack of cross-cultural competencies in communication. Executives, managers, negotiators, business leaders, or decision makers of any and every level can create barriers and hamper the smooth flow of business with their personal incompetence in cross-cultural communication creating pockets of miscommunication or negativity. To handle a workforce spread worldwide, a leader needs the following characteristics:

Communicating Across a Worldwide Workforce
  • Awareness of regional cultures
  • Emotional competence sufficient to handle culture conflicts
  • Ability to accommodate dissimilarity
  • High conflict management skills
Being just a subject expert makes you qualified to lead regional boardrooms, but you cannot handle a worldwide workforce without the qualities mentioned above.

Awareness of regional cultures:

To be able to communicate effectively in cross-cultural situations, business leaders need to be aware of their cultural conditioning and how his/her culture influences his/her perceptions, values, and other attributes. One needs to be mindful of the fact that people from other cultures are also similarly conditioned by their regional cultures and may have different values or characteristics which are not wrong just because they are dissimilar.

Emotional Competence:

When we talk about an ‘emotionally competent’ person, we indicate someone who can accurately detect and identify changes in their emotions and the emotions of others. To be held ‘competent’ such a person also needs to be able to regulate the flow of emotions and keep up productive communications and emotional well-being. An emotionally competent manager can interpret both verbal and non-verbal cues on the fly and act without being biased by personal cultural conditioning.

Openness to dissimilarity:

A manager or leader who is open to dissimilarity does not view difference as a threat but as an opportunity. He/she is willing to interact and develop relationships with others who come from diverse cultural and social groups. People who possess ‘openness to dissimilarity’ are not prone to making the in-group/out-group distinctions preached or practiced by ordinary people. Non-discriminatory behavior is an integral part of the attribute.

Persons who have ‘openness to dissimilarity’ are keenly aware of instinctive urges to associate only with others who share similar socio-cultural backgrounds, and consequently, they take both personal and social steps to curb such urges. An organization needs to establish social norms that discourage sub-groupings (on cultural distinctions) and promote diversity of backgrounds and perspectives to keep things running smoothly.

Conflict management skills are a separate set of skills which are not so much related to cultural diversity. They need to be brought into play in line with the other three factors to create a communicative and productive worldwide workforce.

Dennis Tourish, and Owen Hargie, eds., Key Issues in Organizational Communication (London: Routledge, 2004).