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Cultural Barriers in the Workplace1

by Chris Blank, Demand Media

American workplaces in the 21st century must deal with several personnel challenges, including increased cultural
diversity and a range of ages in their work forces. These factors often produce cultural barriers between co-workers that
can have an adverse effect on productivity and morale. Demonstrating awareness of these cultural barriers often
reduces their detrimental impact.
Verbal and Language Barriers
With the increased influence of globalization, many workplaces feature individuals who have moved from other areas of
the country, or who are from other countries entirely. Regional differences in informal language and communication style
can produce misunderstandings that are often amusing, but sometimes result in serious consequences. Workers who
speak with a strong regional or national accent may find their colleagues have difficulty understanding them. Minimizing
the use of slang and including visual aids with oral presentations can reduce the impact of language barriers.
Nonverbal Communication and Personal Space
Nonverbal communication often has a significant impact on interpersonal interactions, and presents another area where
misunderstandings can occur. For example, many women from non-Western cultures find it difficult to act assertively
with men, even when they hold equal or supervisory positions. People from Latin cultures maintain less personal space
than many American, German or Japanese individuals find comfortable to maintain. Many Americans take an informal
approach their colleagues, referring to nearly everyone by their first names, a practice that people from more formal
cultures may find disrespectful or even offensive.
Generational Barriers
Many offices and factories in the 21st century include workers from four different generational groups: mature workers
near or past traditional retirement age, baby boomers in their late 40s to early 60s, Generation X workers in their late
30s and 40s and Generation Y workers in their 20s and 30s. Each age group has a different general approach to work,
which often leads to conflicts with older workers describing younger workers as "slackers," and younger workers
criticizing older workers as being "out of touch."
Status and Resistance
Workers who are accustomed to workplaces where seniority and status are emphasized may find it difficult to adapt to
more fluid environments, where job titles are de-emphasized and production methods do not always follow a
predetermined set of guidelines. Other workers may also resist the development of a more diverse workforce. These
workers often persist in holding stereotyped opinions about particular cultural groups or workers who are otherwise
"different" from themselves.

1 http://smallbusiness.chron.com/cultural-barriers-workplace-22617.html, accessed on 10th


January 2014
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Comments and Personal opinions


Intercultural communication refers to the effective communication between people of different cultural backgrounds,
considering the chosen article, the communication between co-workers. There is a great need for knowing and
understanding the differences between cultures, how to approach them in order to have success with any international
business, and how to get workers from different cultures and backgrounds to work together as a group.
We live in a time now where more nationalities, cultures and languages are linked together in order to work for a
common purpose. Intercultural communication facilitates the collective acts of sharing knowledge, group learning and
networking.
Verbal and language barriers can produce confusions in the work place if not treated seriously. In this case assumptions
should be avoided and also the use of slang or idioms, but words that convey the most to their specific denotative
meaning. Even if the regional differences in the informal language or pronunciation could become funny, people might
get offended or embarrassed and that could lead to problems between the co-workers. The use of symbols, diagrams
and pictures with any presentation could help minimize the misunderstandings.
Nonverbal communications plays a very important role when it comes to intercultural communication because of the
cultural differences people have different perceptions about the ways of acting or reacting to certain situations and also
regarding the personal space. It is very important to take every culture's perception and the differences into
consideration.
Knowing and realising certain communication rules for a culture are necessary but it should also be acknowledged that
no rules function in all situations. Intercultural sensitivity and situational adaptability are required in order to conduct
good multicultural communication.
Generational barriers have always been a source of conflict if not treated with an open-mind, non-judgmental and with
tolerance. It is important that the 'newcomers' act with respect and prove their position in the work place. Also,
considering traditional knowledge and practice as 'out of fashion' is not at all the way to act, and it is advised to listen to
the older generations.
Status plays an important role when it comes to the social ladder or even at the work place. Considering the profile of an
intercultural person, great adaptation skills are needed in order to have a good managerial mindset, in order to build
good relationships between the workplace and also with clients.
Some of the qualifications for international work consist of having an open mind, being flexible and understand the
concept of culture and its differences, having great adaptation skills and being motivated to work along and interact with
different cultures for a common goal.
A multicultural person should adapt when encountering difficulties in communicating or understanding, being capable to
interact in various situations. Culture influences people and how they communicate. Due to globalization it is impossible
not to encounter diversity in day to day activities or at the workplace. Diversity is a challenge as well as an opportunity in
this case, with both positive and negative outcomes.
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Acknowledging, understanding and accepting the differences among people and turning them into something positive
and something to learn from can create new opportunities and better job possibilities.