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How to Use Diversity in Intercultural Communications

by Dr. Andrea S. Dauber

Intercultural communication is almost impossible to evade in modern workplaces. While it often creates problems for employees, successful intercultural communication can be trained and practiced. The principle of diversity is particularly necessary in improving intercultural communication because organizations can make use of human resources that are already in place. Intercultural communication isn’t restricted to employee interaction. In a globalized world it’s also becoming more important in customer interaction or in business partnerships.

Diversity in Intercultural Communications

Encountering unfamiliar cultures is always a challenge, particularly in a business context. In intercultural communication, there’s a greater chance that the sender’s message is not correctly transmitted to the receiver, especially because of non-verbal language such as mimics, gestures or cultural formalities. While organizations typically use diversity strategies to construct a more diverse workplace in terms of gender, race, religious background, etc., employers can also use diversity activities to point to the complexities of individuals. Diversity strategies can help people overcome cultural barriers, including stereotypes, prejudices and ethnocentrism, which will benefit their communication behaviors.

Cultural Barriers Vary

Intercultural communication problems vary depending on which cultures are involved. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all diversity model isn't the right approach. For example, a researcher of Kean University reported in the "Journal of Intercultural Communication Studies" that major barriers in the collaboration between American and Chinese employees are language, face concern -- the way we want others to see and treat us, particularly in conflict situations -- as well as different thinking patterns and communication styles. Employees from more similar cultures, however, will probably not find thinking patterns problematic, while language barriers could remain an issue. In any encounter involving different cultures, it will be beneficial to identify typical problems between the cultures involved before conceptualizing diversity strategies.

Cultural Diversity Must Be Managed

The best prerequisite to successful intercultural communication is certainly a multicultural organization where employees and management can train their communication styles on a day-to-day basis. In communication with other businesses or customers from around the world, everybody can then use the new knowledge to their own and the organization’s benefit. However, it’s tremendously important to manage cultural diversity appropriately, or negative effects are likely. An international team of researchers conducted a meta-analysis of 108 studies and reported in the "Journal of International Business Studies" that cultural diversity creates task conflicts and decreases social integration, but also comes with increased creativity and satisfaction.

A Diverse Organization Isn't Enough

Because cultural diversity must be managed, or else it could do more harm than good, employers need to be aware that effective intercultural communication does not simply emerge with a diverse workforce. According to the Whorf-Sapir Hypothesis, the language we grow up with determines our ways of thinking. While the hypothesis hasn't been rejected or confirmed yet, employers could take into account that language and culture are inextricably linked. Therefore, diversity training should first and foremost help members of the organization better understand the worldview of others and introduce differences in communication styles. After all, training employees to be better intercultural communicators will be a key success factor for businesses in the future.

About the Author

Dr. Andrea S. Dauber has been writing since 2008. Her areas of expertise are personal and career development. She has published everything from scholarly articles to book chapters. She holds a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Mainz, Germany. As a certified professional and career coach, she coaches clients and conducts workshops at universities.

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