The Key to Communication in Multicultural Environments
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The skills sets required by employers have become far more diverse in recent years – not only must one possess the necessary ‘hard skills’ required to undertake the role (be it a law degree for lawyer, or a science degree for an environmental biologist), but it has also become essential that potential employees possess ‘soft skills’ which are transferable between roles, and which augment employability.

These soft skills often include aptitudes for problem solving, high levels of resilience, and an ability to communicate on all levels, both within and outside of the workplace.

Most firms in the 21st century are multicultural environments where the need for communication with others from varied backgrounds, of differing cultures or religions, and who speak a different native language, are highly likely.

In order to ensure maximum understanding within the workplace, give greatest productivity, and develop good team ethics, communication is the key foundation upon which all these elements can evolve.

The following points are worth noting when advancing communication techniques and skills:


1. Communication and Empathy

Good communication relies heavily on our ability to empathise with the person or people we are communicating with.

For example, in order to understand another’s perspective or viewpoint, it is usually necessary to have a level of empathy for them, or their situation.

Empathy enables a deeper appreciation of environment and personal needs, and leads to improved communication which can facilitate conflict resolution and increased efficiency.

Within multicultural environments this is especially relevant as there are often different approaches to work, problem solving, hierarchies, and personalities which can all be found within one setting.

A positive way to increase empathy, and improve communication, is to complete a cultural awareness training course that covers communication within a multicultural environment. These can offer tried and tested methods for encouraging communication and understanding for a variety of cultures and languages.


2. Active Listening and Communication

When we actively listen to another’s view, we aren’t listening in order to form our response, we are just listening for the purpose of understanding.

For instance, when having a two-way conversation with friends we will often interrupt or, finish sentences for each other, or switch topic altogether.

However, when actively listening, we should not consider it an opportunity to express our point of view, but instead a chance to understand the other’s perspective by truly listening to what they are saying.

In order to do this effectively, we have to ask open ended question such as, “how do you feel about that?” Or, “what makes you feel that way?”

These open questions lead the speaker to express themselves more freely, giving us the chance to gain insight and knowledge into their perspective.


3. Confirm your Understanding

When actively listening it is also worth confirming you have understood what has been said.

You can do this through repeating parts of the conversation back to them. For instance, if the speaker said “I had a terrible day” you could ask “what was ‘terrible’ about it?”

Repeating the exact word back to them shows that you have listened to them, and are displaying interest in finding out what happened, and how they feel about it.


4. Silent Communication

Listening to the words of someone we are communicating with is vitally important, but, it is only a small part of communication – especially in multicultural environments where language may be an issue.

If you are communicating with someone from a different culture, or who speaks another language, you will probably need to rely heavily on other elements of communication such as, body language and tone of voice.

These two other factors have a huge impact upon the intent of the speaker and it is essential we understand them if we wish to fully grasp the context of the conversation.

Humour, sarcasm, eye contact, metaphors, nail-biting, tapping of fingers, and so all, all help to communicate, in a non-verbal way, how someone is feeling.

Being aware of, and able to understand these factors, will give you a head start when communicating in a multicultural environment.

However, be aware that differing cultures may use body language in various ways so ensure you are up to speed.


5. Cultural Awareness

As you can see from the above points, one of the greatest factors in successful communication is awareness.

This includes self-awareness, being conscious of our own body language and how others perceive us, and also, awareness of others, such as, their culture, language, religions, views and opinions.

The more culturally aware we are, the greater the chance of success with interpersonal relationships, as we are able to understand perspective, listen without judgement or fear, and display an interest (or knowledge) in various topics.

Cultural awareness training can offer specific advice, guidance and information on different cultures. Training gives valuable insights into different ways of doing business, altered body language traits, cultural norms and expectations, and societal structures and hierarchies.

Fully grasping the above concepts helps to maintain open communication which benefits all cultures and people, both in the workplace and out.