7 Ways to Bridge Language and Cultural Gap at Workplace

In today’s challenging business environment due to globalization and economic liberation, many SMBs and large MNC’s with the diverse cultural backgrounds are venturing together to stay competitive and strengthen their position. The workforce today is a mix of employees coming from the different cultural backgrounds and religious beliefs. This has led to an increase in linguistic and cultural diversity at all levels in the workplace, which in turn has created many complex challenges. One amongst those is to find how best enterprises can bridge linguistic barriers and the cultural gap at the workplace.

Communications being considered as a lifeline of any enterprise, it has become essential for employees to thoroughly understand cultural differences among their workforce. Having differences in linguistic and cultural differences are considered as an invisible source of having a misunderstanding between the people of various cultures at the workplace. Lack of understanding in areas such as non-verbal communication, language, values, and etiquette might lead to damaging consequences.

Alternatively, having a thorough knowledge of language barriers and cultural differences will make way for effective communication at the workplace.

Possible challenges at the workplace due to linguistic and cultural gap

Despite issues arising out of cultural diversity and linguistic barrier, it is still important to have a diverse workforce from various backgrounds as it helps to have different perspectives which result in innovative solutions. In some instances, poor-performing employees leverage the situation to their convenience to avoid changing their behavior. On the other hand, there are percentages of employees who are ready to give their full potential at work by coordinating with their teammates but fail due to a lack of communication ability.
The linguistic barrier makes it complicated for the employers to give proper guidance, convey their expectations, and give their performance feedback with whom they can’t easily communicate.
Therefore, enterprises have come up with the idea of bridging cultural differences and linguistic barriers to ensure productivity and efficiency at the workplace amongst the workers of different cultural and linguistic groups.

7 ways to bridge linguistic barriers and the cultural gap at the workplace

  1. Be repetitive and ask for clarification

Most employees don’t learn things the first time they hear. For a better understanding of the concepts, they need to hear the same twice or thrice to get a full grasp over it. This holds true to all employees whether they possess a language barrier or not.
Never assume on what has been conveyed. Ensure your information is correct and make necessary clarifications if required. When employees are not asking any questions, there are chances of being unclear on what is being conversed. The same goes with enthusiastic nodding also, the person might be doing it to create an impression of being understood. When it comes to the language barrier, have patience. Smooth communication doesn’t happen over-night, it needs time.

  1. Interpreter assistance

When employees are given feedback or instructions, it would be better to have someone at the organization that can conveniently speak both languages and conveys the same to employees precisely. It will be better to hire a trustworthy person to translate your feedback and instructions properly to employees whose native language is other than English.
As per the latest data available, there are more than 40 million Spanish speakers in the US alone. Hence, the need for interpreter assistance has drastically increased over the years. In fact, translation services have become a vital part of many enterprises not only in the US but also in other major countries as well. Neglecting translation services has led to safety issues, legal proceedings, and lack of morale.

  1. Is specific cultural difference need for the job?

There might be certain cultural differences with employees, which the employers have to determine whether they are acceptable or not, to build a productive and diverse work environment.
Employers have to determine if certain behaviour or characteristics of the employees are absolutely compelling to succeed at work or can succeed equally even without those qualities.

  1. Be respectful

Speak slow and clearly, not loudly. People from distant culture and language can hear fine and grasp it if employer delivers the message intelligently. Employees can’t learn when something is not conveyed in a proper way.

  1. Use visual communication techniques

When words fail us to explain, visuals can go a long way in explaining the concepts. Make use of photos, diagrams, and infographics to make people understand what actually you are trying to convey. Encourage employees to apply the same in their emails and presentations. Visual cues are essential where there is a language obstacle and to bridge the gap created by it.
In the current scenario, visual communication plays a vital role in engaging employees and increasing productivity as well. Did you know? Visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than textual content.

  • 10% of the people remember what they hear
  • 20% remember what they read
  • 80%remember what they see

Dashboards are considered essential components for real-time communication and internal communication as well. In fact, more number of technologies are hitting market integrating multiple data in a visual platform.

  1. Communicate better with your body language

Prior entering workplace, be mindful of body gestures. Sometimes the way you say matters than how you say it. Use a neutral and calm voice when speaking. A simple nod and smile to show up positive attitude and understanding can clear up all sort of miscommunication.
Body language is indeed an initial and essential part of effective communication. According to Albert Mehrabian’s study, words have only 7% of the effect on how communication is professed. On the other hand, tone and body language have a much greater impact of 38% and 55% respectively. This data explains that non-verbal cues matters and can make a world of difference the way we communicate with others.

  1. Be wary of cultural dissimilarities

People of various cultures and race work together under the same roof and are likely to get along. It is easier said than being done. Cultural sense of an individual varies from place-to-place and person-to-person. What you consider right might be wrong from others perspective and vice-versa. In the same way what you interpret in a usual way might seem odd, sometimes even offensive to others. Indeed, this is rather a common problem in a multicultural environment. The best way to overcome this issue is to encourage the employees to open up with their concerns which gradually reduce misunderstandings.
Language barriers and cultural gap is a challenging issue, but engaging with people from diverse background and culture is what brings creativity, innovation, and success into work atmosphere. So, don’t let these barriers come in the way of building a diverse workplace. Nevertheless, the sooner you follow these business best practices, the sooner you will reap the full potential of the workplace.
Bridging linguistic barriers and cultural gap is a dynamic process and cultural intelligence is the key to overcome it.

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Billie Keita is known for her exemplary skills in implementing project management methodologies and best practices for business critical projects. She possesses 10+ years of experience in handling complex software development projects across Europe and African region. She also conducts many webinars and podcasts where she talks about her own experiences in implementing Agile techniques. She is a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM) and PMI Project Management Professional (PMP)®, and has published many articles across various websites.


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