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Tackling culture head on

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No two offices will have the same culture. The culture of the company next door could vastly differ from yours, much less one located in another country.

The business world is also becoming increasingly borderless, with more employees taking on mobility programmes or local offices hosting expatriate staff.

As such, companies should have programmes in place to help employees, line managers and leaders themselves better manage culture diversity within the workplace.

In Asia alone, there are more than 10 major languages, posing challenges if you’re suddenly working in an office just three hours away by flight. Along with different languages come different communication styles.

The first step to making sure communication doesn’t become a problem when it comes to different cultures is to listen. Active listening is a secret weapon for cross-cultural interaction as it forces the listening party to repeat what their counterpart has said to ensure there is no miscommunication.

Another tip to keep in mind is to always err on the side of caution when it comes to formality. Some cultures immediately default to a friendly tone while others may be more comfortable taking on a more serious note. It might be best to start any conversation with a more formal tone – although it doesn’t have to be a serious one. Once you’ve established common communication ground, adapt your communication style accordingly.

Aside from verbal communication, cultural differences can also be overcome through team-building activities. Such activities could prove to be a simple way to break down cultural barriers and allow people to build strong relationships with each other, which would no doubt help in overcoming any potential differences in the future.

It may also be helpful to remember that change won’t happen over night. This is regardless if you’re hosting a one-off meeting with somebody from a different working culture, temporarily working in a foreign country, or are new to managing a regional team.

Try to turn the differences into opportunities. Remaining open-minded, respectful and willing to learn and adapt to new cultures may give you an advantage. You’ll be able to see problems through a different point of view, and be more flexible and adaptable.

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Sabrina Zolkifi
Deputy editor
Human Resources Magazine Singapore

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