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Interacting with people from different cultures happens regularly at most workplaces. Some businesses have employees from across the globe. Others have customers in different countries. Some businesses have multiple offices in different geographic locations. Regardless of where your employees, customers and partners are from, it’s vital to focus on cultural sensitivity in the workplace in order to create a sense of unity and ease tension.
Importance of Taking Steps to Demonstrate Cultural Awareness
By introducing cultural awareness activities in the workplace, businesses show their employees that they value their differences. It’s a chance for employees to learn more about one another. This can help colleagues to work better together and create synergy in the workplace. Activities that focus on cultural sensitivity have many benefits:
- Improves communication among employees of different cultures
- Creates a more welcoming and safer environment in the workplace
- Increases productivity by helping employees better understand one another
- Introduces new perspectives that can lead to creative and innovative ideas
- Reduces misinterpretation and tensions due to cultural differences
Focus on Knowledge
One of the most important ways to promote cultural sensitivity in the workplace is to provide knowledge and training to employees about what cultural sensitivity is and why it’s important. Training about cultural sensitivity in the business includes elements such as communication, etiquette, negotiation, marketing and social norms.
If your company does a lot of business in another country with customers and partners, for example, it is prudent to educate employees about what business practices are like over there. That country may have a different style of negotiation than yours, or the consumer may prefer a different style of marketing than you’re used to. Even simple things such as a handshake or eye contact may be seen differently there, so it’s important to take note of the cultural differences.
Work Around Communication Barriers
One of the most common reasons different cultures have issues communicating is due to language barriers. If your business interacts with customers or partners who predominantly speak a different language, providing some training to front-line employees helps to enable effective communication. Similarly, if you have employees who speak other languages and are having difficulties learning the language of the business, providing them with business language classes can help to improve communication.
Value the Differences
Cultural sensitivity in the workplace means paying attention to the differences and placing value in them. Differences among cultures may include language, communication styles, working styles, religious beliefs and social norms. Differences can be as small as time zones.
If colleagues fast during Ramadan, for example, it’s culturally sensitive to avoid holding lunch meetings during this time since they are not able to eat with you. If some colleagues don’t eat meat due to cultural or religious reasons, it’s sensitive to provide them with alternate meal options at company functions.
Similarly, if business partners come from cultures where sales are conducted in a more subtle way, then the hard-sell approach won’t work with them. Understanding the differences helps to improve business relations.
Celebrate Festivals, Customs and Food
Steps to demonstrate cultural awareness include celebrating with employees, customers and partners. If your business works with remote employees in another country, don’t expect them to work on major holidays that differ from your own. Instead, celebrate their festivals by sending them a thoughtful card or gift basket.
Food brings people from all different cultures together. Invite employees to share dishes from their cultures once a month at a company potluck or bring in treats for staff during festivals they celebrate. Bonding over food is an effective way for employees to note their similarities and create connections. Food can be a gateway to learning more about other cultures.
- DeakinCo: Seven Practices You Can Implement to Increase Cultural Awareness in the Workplace
- PennState Extension: Cultural Sensitivity in the Workplace
- Hult International Business School: 5 Strategies for Promoting Diversity in the Workplace
- The Manager's Resource Handbook: 5 Simple Ways You Can Promote Cultural Awareness At Work Today
Anam Ahmed is a Toronto-based writer and editor with over a decade of experience helping small businesses and entrepreneurs reach new heights. She has experience ghostwriting and editing business books, especially those in the "For Dummies" series, in addition to writing and editing web content for the brand. Anam works as a marketing strategist and copywriter, collaborating with everyone from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups, lifestyle bloggers to professional athletes. As a small business owner herself, she is well-versed in what it takes to run and market a small business. Anam earned an M.A. from the University of Toronto and a B.A.H. from Queen's University. Learn more at www.anamahmed.ca.