Successful Communication In Multicultural Environments

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Successful Communication in Multicultural Environments
What can native English speakers do in a multicultural setting to promote the clear, accurate communication that is critical for success?
By: Chad Lewis

The United States is an increasingly multicultural society and while American English is the predominant language in the U.S., the number of non-native English speakers continues to grow. Many programs exist to help non-native speakers learn and adapt to communicating in English; however, communication is a two-way process. The question becomes what can native English speakers do to communicate more effectively with their non-native counterparts? This paper will focus on assisting native English speakers to understand the communication process better and to communicate more effectively in today’s culturally diverse environment.
Why is this critical? How will this information be helpful to you? Consider the organizations with whom you work. Did the people in these organizations all grow up in the same town, in the same state, in the same country? Most organizations today have people from many different backgrounds and cultures who work together.

In addition, the number of

organizations operating internationally is also rapidly increasing. These changes are not limited to multinational companies; they include all types of institutions: government, nongovernmental organizations and the academic sector among many others. There is also more diversity within the consumer base, client groups and partners. A key aspect of this trend is a significant increase in contact between people from different cultural backgrounds. This diversity allows the opportunity to connect, share and work with people from new and different backgrounds. For organizations, this interaction is often beneficial, as diversity fosters fresh ideas and new approaches to projects and problem solving.

The correlated

challenge is that people from different cultural backgrounds bring different understandings and expectations regarding group dynamics, management style, social customs and communication norms.
Cultural differences may seem minor and easy to resolve, such as learning a new way to say
‘hello’ or adapting to a different style of dress or trying new food. Culture however is multiCopyright © 2008 Chad Lewis. Intercultural Focus.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed in whole or part with out the express written permission of the author.


layered and differences may not always be evident, for example the importance of time or non-verbal communication patterns.

Consequently, in the workplace, obstacles to

communication and management will come from obvious as well as unseen differences.
Additional difficulties in the workplace will arise from the lack of knowledge, underlying apprehension and distrust that is normal when people from different cultures work together.
These concerns can quickly escalate into larger problems and, if left unaddressed, can have a significantly negative impact on productivity and organizational cohesion.

The question

becomes: how can one create an environment attentive to diversity that still has the required structure needed for success?
Although many tools can help to create a productive multicultural environment, one of the most critical is good communication skills. Communication is at the core of any business. It is how we share information, how we establish trust, how we develop relationships and how we maintain relationships.
Is communication difficult? No, at a very basic level communication is easy, for example pointing to indicate something is generally easily understood. However, success in business requires much more than basic communication skills. We need communication skills that allow us to share information accurately as well as build