Intercultural Communication in the Workplace

Essay by Slim67A+, June 2009

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IntroductionIndividuals employed in today's workforce have seen the results associated with organizations that have a different diverse outlook on their future goals. More organizations have begun expanding their services across the waters to distant countries attempting to strengthen their standings amongst their competitors for total domination. These changes caused added concerns for both the organization as well as the employees they employ. Intercultural communication both abroad and in-house continues to be a problematic concern due to the increased cultural differences.

The intent of this paper is to review a scenario in which intercultural communication is an issue. In the process, the situation will be evaluated and strategies will be provided as to how the issues could have been prevented. The United States Army is one of the largest military forces in the world. Intercultural communication can sometimes become very complicated due to the vast amounts of ethnic groups the Army employs.

Communication Issues4th CMMC is one of the units associated with the army and has just received a new soldier PVT Sied to the G3 section. From what were able to gather Sied was a native of India and practiced his cultural beliefs daily. Upon his arrival to the unit, the unit assigned PFC Jones to be Sied's liaison, which was customary of all newcomers to the unit. Jones was an American born and raised individual who has different standards from the Indian beliefs. The initial meeting between Jones and Sied, was very passive. Because he was from India, she immediately assumed Sied was smart, friendly, reserved, polite, and extremely religious. Sied and Jones appeared to have hit it off well and all seemed to be in order. They engaged in interesting things to do around the Fort Hood area. What Jones did not realize was that Sied perceived her kindness differently.

Diagnosis of communication issueIn the United States, customary behaviors are for men and women to engage in things such as lunch, social gatherings, movies and other events. Sied on the other hand, believed that these events represent a woman having an interest in him and associated this interest with dating and eventually marriage. Sied's culture recognizes these events as a woman having an interest in the men. Since Jones was unaware of her actions, she did not realize that Sied perceived it to be differently from what Jones had intended (Business Intelligence Lowdown, 2007).

Jones was American born; her cultural norms were different from Sied's. What she was doing was customary in America. In her eyes, she was being friendly to the new soldier who was assigned to the unit and she believed that nothing else should have become of the situation. In America, "what is said is not what is meant" and Sied did not understand this way of things (Business Training Works, 2008). Sied had developed the notion that since Jones was being extremely kind to him she has an interest in him.

In India their comfort zone does not consist of the customs, which are acceptable in the United States. When Jones began speaking with Sied he noticed her friendliness, smiles, and attention toward him. Although Jones did not mention that she had a husband she wears a ring on her left hand however, Sied did not notice it or if it was noticed, he did not pay much attention to the ring. Sied believed was coming on to him. Sied was very attentive to Jones behavior due to his cultural beliefs and possibly due to his lack of romance.

Jones explained to him she has no interest in him and that she is happily married. Sied became very confused as he began to realize that Jones had no interest in him and he began to get very frustrated. Because of this occurrence, Jones became very angry since she presumed this would have affected her at the unit if it were to be discovered. If both parties would have had, a better understanding of each other's cultural norms this incident will not have occurred.

Strategies for addressing this communication issueThis is a classic scenario of how intercultural communication conflict can occur. Sied and Jones were both guilty of stereotyping, assuming, and being ignorant of each other's cultural beliefs. They both conveyed through verbal, nonverbal, and body language an interest in each other and they were both misunderstood. According to Jameson (2007) in order to have a better understanding of intercultural communication, one should "shift focus from understanding others to understanding oneself" (Jameson, 2007, p. 201).

Intercultural conflict occurs because of an individual's lack of knowledge regarding external cultural norms and values. Neither of these individuals communicated effectively with each other and the messages conveyed were not as the communicator intended. This created a sense of vulnerability and frustration for both the parties involved. To operate effectively and successfully in a multicultural organization, managers are finding ways in which to educate personnel with understanding cultural differences.

By doing so, managers are ensuring that the assigned personnel will avoid engaging in intercultural conflicts such as the one, which occurred in this scenario. Stereotyping due to overgeneralization is a common occurrence, especially among those who seldom interact with other cultures. When an individual faces the unknown, the mind will revert to a similar situation, which the individual was involved with and search for the similar answers. This allows the individual to establish a comfort zone of familiarityThis can create problems because each situation is different and may have varied results. Successful intercultural communication is a fine balancing act that requires willingness and enthusiasm when addressing cultural barriers. One way to look at things is that understanding the traditions and the values of the different culture will assist in understanding the cultural behaviors.

If a person obtains knowledge of possibly meeting individuals from other countries, attempting to learn these native languages would certainly demonstrate a sense of respect and willingness to develop rapport. In addition, they should also pay close attention to nonverbal communications as well.

Other tool, which may be useful, is to practice active listening when communicating. This provides a descriptive ay of understanding their ethnocentrism. When people cross cultural boundaries, they often choose actions, which is in line with the way they have became familiar with the selected environment. These individuals will frequently read these actions in terms of their own adoption of the behavior patterns of the surrounding cultures. This type of behavior will lead to unfavorable conclusions if continued.

Nonverbal language consist of 95% of our communication and may include eye movement, our voice tone, our posture, facial and hand gestures. This type of communication may send mixed signals to the receiving parties which can warrant them to perceive differently form that is intended. By creating an open atmosphere, all involved parties establish a good relationship, which is attentive to each other.

In conclusion, if Jones and Sied will have followed these few suggestions the incident between them will not have happened. This is because each party will have had a clear understanding of the other and will have respected each other in terms of the individual cultural beliefs. Jones should have taken time out to familiarize herself with India's cultural beliefs, as and Sied will have became more familiar with the American customs.

Although Sied lived in the United States, he was isolated primarily to his cultural upbringing and did not understand the full extent of the American culture.

Reference:Jameson, D. A. (2007) Reconceptualizing Cultural Identity and its role in intercultural businessCommunication. Journal of Business Communication 44(199), 199-236. Retrieved April 9,2008 from cec59daa6f898a7246a59af90b19a27/ Intelligence Lowdown, (2008). Doing Business in India: 20 Cultural Norms you needto know. Retrieved April 10, 2008 from