Cultural Intelligence: Steps For Surviving and Thriving in Culturally Diverse Workplaces

Culturally Diverse Workplace

The modern workplace is a culturally diverse environment that consists of people from many different countries, faiths, races, family structures, political beliefs and languages.  To communicate with your coworkers efficiently and effectively, it is critical to develop cultural intelligence and be nonjudgmental and open-minded.  To develop cultural intelligence, you must focus on listening and trying to understand the culturally diverse people you communicate with, not with imposing your own notions on them.

To survive and thrive in a culturally diverse work environment, employees must be attentive, appreciative and interested in understanding, conversing and working with people from diverse walks of life.  Here are some suggestions for aspiring leaders to practice. When you follow these suggestions, you will be better positioned to work with cultural intelligence and communicate and work with individuals from any culture.

respect others; cultural respect

1.  If you want to be respected, you need to respect others.  Learn how respect is shown in other cultures. In some countries, respect may be given through appropriate bows, handshakes, greetings and accommodations.  Other ways respect is shows is through gestures, signs, symbols, and eye contact.  Because one culture may be completely different from another, learn as much as you can about your coworkers and their ethnic backgrounds.

2.  Because empathy is one of the most important traits in today’s workplace, try to visualize your office and the world through the life of a coworker.  Given their different cultures, tastes and ways of life, imagine their thoughts, feeling and opinions.

Prejudices Prejudgments and inferences

3.  Projecting prejudgments and inferences onto the actions and ideas of others is a huge mistake.  Take time to listen to and understand the ideas and motives of others before rushing to judgement.  This hesitation shows respect towards others and allows you to be exposed to valuable, fresh ideas that you might  not have considered.

4.  Maintain an open mind to new ideas, customs, behaviors and attitudes when interacting with people from different cultures.

5.  Listen attentively and concentrate on the words, vocal inflections and non-verbal communication signs of others.  Avoid distractions, wandering eyes, fidgeting and any other behavior that lowers attentiveness.   Don’t allow cultural differences, including clothing or vocal accents, to distract you from concentrating on the message being presented.

6.  Appear welcoming, calm and relaxed.  When appropriate, exercise persistence.  Also recognize that different cultures have different concepts of time and timeliness.

7.  Seek out shared values and other points of mutual interest and common ground.

8.  Always ensure the messages you communicate are clear and concise.  Often culturally diverse workers who speak English as a second language may have difficulties understanding complicated, vague and wordy messages.  Also they are likely not to recognize connotations, whether subtle or not.  When necessary, hire a certified translator or certified translation services provider to assist in creating clear messages in the worker’s native language.

9.  Carefully consider your choice of non-verbal communication.  Because nonverbal communication is often misinterpreted, it should be carefully planned.

10. Analyze and be cognizant of your own prejudices, which may be considered good or bad.

11.  See people as individuals, not as members of a race, group or stereotype.  Recognize that each person has individual qualities that make them unique.

2 thoughts on “Cultural Intelligence: Steps For Surviving and Thriving in Culturally Diverse Workplaces

  1. Anya M. Willoughby


    I am a health science teacher in Houston, Texas. The school district I serve is located in Alief, a multi-cultural community. I have students that are interested in working part-time as translators during the summer. Would your company be willing to hire teenagers?

  2. Pete Detlef Post author

    Unfortunately, all our translators are required to have a college diploma, relevant work experience and pass a translation exam and a background check.

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