Effective communication in the work place is a very essential aspect of ensuring good performance in the work place. However we find that the work place is comprised of different individuals who come from different back grounds, with different ideas and views towards different aspects in the work place. These individuals are at the same time expected to work very effectively among different teams within the work place in order to realize the goals and the objectives of the organizations or the institutions. Effective communication is always challenged by various barriers that will alter the meaning of messages transmitted between two communicators or in the extreme cases it may lead to ultimate withdraw of communication (Gilbert, p12). Any work place can be subject to various barriers to communication if there no proper standards to control and maintain effective communication between the individuals and also departments within the work place. The common barriers to communication include conflicts, language and cultural differences, noise, among others. This paper will generally address the cultural and language differences as one of the major barriers of effective communication in the work place.
The work place today is comprised of different individuals from different cultural backgrounds both internationally and also within the local communities. In this case cultural differences can be a very great challenge in ensuring effective communication in the work place. Language difference becomes the very first factor that hinders communication between the individuals. The language spoken by one individual may not be spoken or understood by another (Walton, p16). The Multicultural work force may have different approaches especially in the social aspects, personal space, body language, religion, personal etiquettes among others. Within the social context, different cultures have different social status and responsibilities attached to individuals mostly in relation to their genders. A good example is the notion held by many cultures that a woman is supposed to be subordinate to a man. This may bring a lot of problems in communication especially where a man is working under a woman supervisor. Men from such cultures may also feel very uncomfortable working with women in the same level. On the other hand a woman who may feel their culture is more superior than the culture from which a male supervisor hails from may feel very uncomfortable working under them. Interaction and social relationships may become very difficult to establish between such individuals (Hall, p22)
Personal space is another aspect of culture that may hinder effective communication. Individuals from different cultures have different comfort zones for communication. Some cultures such as the Japanese and the Germans will always require a lot of space in terms of distance when communicating. Others such as the Americans stand about five meters away when communicating. The Latinos and the Arabs on the other hand usually prefer being close when communicating. Looking at these differences of preference of personal space, Individuals from the different cultures need to clearly understand each other to minimize the challenges that may be brought by preference of personal space. Another cultural aspect is the body language that is adopted by the different cultures. Body language is a very sensitive subject when it comes to communication since different cultures attach different means to different body languages (Walton, p20). This may lead to wrong interpretations of messages by the individuals or even communication of unintended messages between individuals. A good example is the shaking of the head. In some cultures nodding your head means that you have understood, but not necessarily agreed with the communicator. In other cultures, nodding the head simply means yes. In the American Culture, maintaining an eye contact during a conversation is very crucial as this is a sign of showing interest and concentration in the subject matter. In other cultures eye contact is exclusively discouraged as sign of respect for the other individuals. In other cultures such as the Americans, shaking hands is very important while other cultures will feel very uncomfortable to keep shaking hands. To an American this is lack of respect and ignorance. Body language is therefore interpreted differently by the multicultural working force (Hall, p26). Religion is another cultural barrier to communication in the work place. Religion is a very important aspect of life in most individuals and it dictates how they perform and respond to different issues. The best example of religious barrier is between the Americans and the Muslim religion. It is very difficult for most Americans to understand why the Muslims should pray for three times in a day. Religion comes with different aspects and each individual in the work place should respect the customs and beliefs of others. Another cultural aspect that influences communication is the personal appearance. Personal hygiene and code of dressing, eating habits varies across the cultures and also countries. Some may feel that their religious attire is part of their life and they will were them to the work place which may not be appropriate for others. Uniforms in the work place may also be uncomfortable for some cultures. Other cultures such as those from India usually add spices in their food which is emitted in the body. American workers interpret this as very unhygienic (Hall, p29).
In conclusion, the facts of cultural differences in the work place indicate that employers should always ensure various measures are in place to cumber the cultural challenges in communication amongst the multicultural work force. This includes work shop training on multicultural issues. The employers should always ensure a positive environment that is favorable for the work force to understand and appreciate each individual’s cultural background. Employees should also be encouraged to learn each others culture. The work place should also have an official language which is understood by everyone to avoid misinterpretations. This will help the work place to overcome cultural barriers and to enhance effective communication within the work place (Walton, p28).
Edward T. Hall.Understanding cultural differences. Intercultural press, 2006
Matthew Gilbert. Effective communication in the work environment. Conari, 2002
Sally J. Walton. Cultural Diversity in the Workplace. McGraw-Hill, 2008