Seven practices you can implement to increase cultural awareness in the workplace

  • DeakinCo.
  • 22 September 2017

If you can help your employees overcome cultural differences, they’ll be able to act as a single unit in pursuit of a common goal. But how do you go about doing this? The answer; by promoting cultural awareness in the workplace and improving your employees’ cultural literacy skills. This is particularly important in today’s multicultural environment. It can help prevent cultural conflicts and allow your employees to better deal with foreign customers and colleagues.

If you and your employees have the training, skills, and knowledge to work effectively with a diverse group of people, you’ll also be able to open more doors for your business. So here are seven things you can do to promote cultural literacy and awareness in your business.

1. Get training for global citizenship

First, you should build the cultural knowledge of your employees. You can hold training classes to teach them about different cultural practices. These classes should be framed in a way that allow your employees to learn how to deal with working in an increasingly diverse global economy and society. And if your company does a great deal of business in China, for instance, get some formal training from someone who has worked in China.

In a business setting, formal training will cover things you need to be aware of when it comes to business. It’ll also address topics such as communication, business etiquette, negotiation skills, and marketing skills. You can also sign up for DeakinCo.'s Global Citizenship credential, which shows you how to promote cultural literacy and awareness in the workplace.

 

2. Bridge the culture gap with good communication skills

Good communication skills are important when dealing with different cultures. How you communicate to others, both verbally and non-verbally, can be a deal maker or deal breaker. It’s great if your employees know the language of the country you have business with, but they can still be effective communicators if they have a thorough understanding of the local culture, and work alongside a skilled translator.

On the other hand, if you have foreign customers and employees who don’t speak English very well, tell your other staff members to stick to the point, use short sentences, and avoid humour and colloquialism. You can also have your English-speaking employees ask foreigners to further clarify what they’re telling them or asking for, whether it’s via email, phone, webcam, or face-to-face. This will prevent any misunderstandings and mistakes.

3. Practice good manners

Wherever you are in the world, it’s always good to have manners. In some countries, saying “please” and “thank you” is an important and crucial part of business conversation. It shows you’re polite, respectful, and caring, and this will be sure to open doors for you and your business. Plus, informality can be inappropriate in some countries. You should also tell your employees not to address a foreign customer by their first name at the initial contact, and to allow the customer to take the lead.

4. Celebrate traditional holidays, festivals, and food

Celebrating diversity can help increase cultural literacy, awareness, and acceptance. Start by including the holidays and festivals of other cultures in your company email or news bulletin, and then celebrate them at work when appropriate. This will show your employees that you recognise and accept their cultures. You could also host a staff dinner or an international food day with cultural awareness as the theme, and have your employees bring a traditional dish from their homeland.

By introducing your staff to other traditions, you’ll increase their sensitivity to cultural differences. They’ll also be able to learn words in another language that they can hopefully use when communicating with foreign colleagues and customers.

5. Observe and listen to foreign customers and colleagues

Another way to help your employees become more culturally aware is to tell them to observe and listen to foreign customers and colleagues. If they’re in a foreign country, they should look at how those around them conduct themselves and their business, and then follow suit. And if they listen more than they talk, they’ll learn more quickly.

Moreover, it’s important to observe the attitudes and behaviours of foreign customers and colleagues, and know the underlying logic and set of values that shape their actions and behaviours. Even though these behaviours may seem odd, confusing, or even annoying at first, your staff will be able to respond to cultural differences in a calm and rational way. This can help to prevent cultural conflict.

6. Pay attention to differences in culture

You can also help your employees be more culturally sensitive by telling them to pay attention to differences in a foreign customer’s culture. This way they won’t bother them on national or religious holidays, and they’ll know not to bring up or discuss politics or religion if it might get them into trouble.

You should also tell your employees to do some research on a foreign customer’s local customs and etiquette before working with them. Some cultures don’t like talking about pricing upfront, so your employees will need to customise the way they discuss their estimate for a project. Also, the 'hard sell' is a turn-off in some countries. For instance, in Australia you’re more likely to get a better reception by making a self-deprecating introduction, instead of a self-promotional one.

7. Be aware of different time zones

When contacting foreign customers and meeting deadlines, tell your employees to be aware of the different time zones. This includes keeping note of business hours and lunch hours where the customer is located. By paying attention to time zones, they can avoid contacting a customer when they’re finished working or, worse, when they’re asleep. They’ll also know whether to say “good morning”, “good afternoon”, or “good evening”.

Ask your employees to check The World Clock to keep track of your foreign customers’ time zones.

Why culturally literate employees create better work

Developing culturally literate and aware employees can enhance communication, productivity, and unity in the workplace. And when these employees deal with foreign Developing culturally literate and aware employees can enhance communication, productivity, and unity in the workplace. And when these employees deal with foreign customers and colleagues, there will be little to no misunderstandings and no mistakes, allowing them to create better work because they can understand others who are different from them.

So, do you want to know more about how to promote cultural literacy and awareness in the workplace to help your team function better and help you manage more effectively? Get Global Citizenship training today.