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How

Do Cultural Differences In Interpersonal Communication Impact The Workplace?


Literature Review Final Paper

How Do Cultural Differences in Interpersonal Communication Impact the Workplace?

Jillian Ma

December 19, 2016

Communication in Relationships

Fall 2016

Hyunsook Youn
How Do Cultural Differences In Interpersonal Communication Impact The Workplace? 2

In this polychronic time culture, businesses are required to be task driven and organized to

keep up with their competitors. Employers must effectively execute strategies to sustain a

growing business. Therefore, it is fundamental for the workplace of these establishments to

perform efficient interpersonal communication among all employees. A business cannot operate

fully without the cooperation and dedication of its workforce. Employers and employees must

establish a communicative process where they can develop and share ideas. In the land of the

free, the American labor force consists of culturally diverse workers. These differences raise

difficulties in communication, even on a daily basis. It is essential to understand how cultural

differences in interpersonal communication can impact the workplace. A lack of cultural

understanding can affect every part of the company depending on how these variances of

cultures can collaborate. Differences in cultures can create controversies because people are not

familiar with these other traditions and refuse to understand them. Hence, resulting in

discrimination and less cooperation between workers.

I personally would like to learn more about these differences, how they impact other

people, and what can be done to deter these potential complications. As an employee of a

company that serves a very diverse group of customers, I face these problems regularly.

Miscommunication and misunderstanding happens between customers, employees, and

employers, even within the same race. People are products of their own environments. Therefore,

even from the same race, people can differ in language styles; depending on which culture they

grew up in. For example, some Korean-Americans, who are from Korean descent but are born in

America, are not fluent in Korean but are fluent in English due to joining the American school

system. They can have difficulties understanding and responding to other Korean people in their

own native language. This is greatly exemplified in the workforce where strangers are forced to
How Do Cultural Differences In Interpersonal Communication Impact The Workplace? 3

communicate. Although it may be possible to decode a message by predicting meanings of

nonverbal and verbal cues, it is not the most practical way. Due to language barriers and

misunderstandings of traditional communicative ways, the sender of another culture cannot fully

communicate the message the way it was intended. Cultural differences in interpersonal

communication have a major impact on the workforce and while these differences may pose

obstacles for successful communication at first, if the workers learn to be more accepting of

others diversities, then the outcome is a better workforce and happier customers.

There are so many different cultures yet there seems to be similar aspects in how they are

diverse. In Areas of Cross-Cultural Difference in the Workplace, Castaneda, Bateh, and Heyliger

(2013) wrote an article with the intent of raising awareness of cultural differences while not

ascribing them to a specific culture. From the Journal of International Education Research

(JIER), there are a number of characteristics of dissimilarities. One significant part of

organizational culture is the power structure. Castaneda et al. (2013) refers to the polarities as

one being vertical or horizontal between individualism and collectivism. Individualism focuses

on the well being of the individual over the group, while collectivism performs for the wellness

of the group. The vertical point of view explains that there is a hierarchical structure, whereas the

horizontal structure signifies equality. Park (2012) illustrates that the communicative styles in

American culture are portrayed as precise, assertive (regardless of status), logical, and verbal.

Thus, communicating verbal codes in a straightforward and explicit way. However, Park (2012)

mentions that East Asian cultures have more emphasis on collectivism and rely more on

situational cues, established hierarchies, and non-confrontational responses in communication

with others. Consequently, communicating with these individuals would require background

knowledge, traditional interpretations, and nonverbal cues to correctly understand the speaker's
How Do Cultural Differences In Interpersonal Communication Impact The Workplace? 4

intention. This exemplifies vertical collectivism in these cultures. Furthermore, Park (2012)

found that harmonious relationships are highly valued. Therefore, they may rather achieve

mutually satisfying and face-saving outcomes than to effectively complete tasks. This is an

important concept for the workforce to understand because they must act as a team and be able to

communicate their ideas successfully. With certain individuals not cooperating, it can create

obstacles in attempts to execute strategies.

Negligence of these cultural differences cannot only hurt the workforces productivity but

also the emotions of these individuals. Discrimination is viewed as a common defensive

mechanism used to make prejudicial distinctions in treatment of different cultures of people they

are not familiar with or intimidated by. People from diverse backgrounds seem to have no choice

when they have to deal with someones hurtful statements and wrongful treatments in the their

workplace. According to Hanasono from Communication Quarterly (2016), coping with racial

discrimination can be challenging and complicated. One key aspect from this journal was that

disengagement or engagement coping strategies can both result in various emotional damages or

damaged interpersonal relationships. A study from the Journal of Aging Studies, Nichols,

Horner, and Fyfe (2015) explored how cultures shaped relationships in aged care and to what

extent they supported a cohesive multicultural workforce. It acknowledges the range of beliefs

and values that the multicultural workforce brings to the workplace. The study presented how

some people are negatively affected by the cultural differences. Sixty percent of participants

from a culturally and linguistically diverse background had experienced negative reactions from

residents with dementia, linked to visible cultural difference (2015). The coping methods in

these situations were for the employees to ignoring these comments and tried to build resilience

towards this behavior. However, Nichols, Horner, and Fyfe (2015) also noticed that participants
How Do Cultural Differences In Interpersonal Communication Impact The Workplace? 5

reported prejudicial treatment from other staff members. These findings draw attention to the

need for organizations to address these complications and how to adapt to a diverse workforce.

Hanasono (2016), points out that even in the study of support communication for individuals

who face discrimination, there are limitations. Despite the vast amount of support, most

messages were only moderately person centered and it was found that it did not effectively

attend to the victims needs. As a result, cultural differences also impact how people consider

support messages. This can be useful knowledge in the workplace to help alleviate tensions and

advocate understandings of different cultures.

In order for an organization to run properly and be successful in the long run, conflict

must be reduced to a minimum and collaboration in the workplace must be high. In Hynes

Improving Employees Interpersonal Communication Competencies from the Business

Communication Quarterly (2012), companies that recognize the relationship between employee

engagement and business success will seek ways to foster and facilitate workers emotional well-

being. Hynes study showcased how the feeling of achievement and recognition motivates

employees to perform exceptional work. In addition, it was exemplified that incivility and

disrespect negatively affects the employees attitude toward productivity. Consequently, it is

imperative to incorporate some sense of ethical interpersonal communication in the workplace

and even other public areas to reduce damaging discriminations. Bedwell, Fiore, and Salas from

the Academy of Management Learning & Education (2014) propose an approach for integrating

interpersonal skills into a classroom. This gives ideas of how workforces should integrate

interpersonal skills. Workers of all levels should feel comfortable and should have a desire to

speak out when they have a good idea that may benefit the whole workforce. In order to create

an environment where all workers feel free to communicate and contribute, there must be an
How Do Cultural Differences In Interpersonal Communication Impact The Workplace? 6

overall acceptance of cultural values and customs. When everyone in the workplace is accepting

of one another, they will be more understanding of each others ideas and thus be more willing to

contribute in the execution of the idea. Acceptance of others in the workplace also helps create

an effective working environment, where operations can run smoothly due to the workers

confidence in the teams support.

A business that has a core competency of workers with strong interpersonal skills would

allow for a very collaborative working environment. Many corporations mention that students

graduating from college should acquire interpersonal skills before entering the workforce to be

successful. If the applicant is an excellent candidate for a certain job in a company but he is not

able to communicate as well as other candidates for the job, that company will be reluctant to

hire the student who cannot communicate because the management may believe that it may

hinder operations in the workforce. However, while the applicant might not possess strong

communicational skills, he may excel in other areas of the job that would help the overall

business succeed. If the business culture is one that can integrate employees of all backgrounds

regardless of their communicative tendencies not only will the workforce strive as a collective

unit but also, it will gain a competitive advantage among its competitors. A diverse workforce

implies that people from various social and ethnic backgrounds will be present and active in the

workplace. Ramadevi and Kumar (2012) in A New Paradigm on Workforce Diversity from the

International Journal of Research in Commerce and Management, suggests that adding diversity

not only in culture but also expertise can add a new dynamic to the work environment. An

effective management process should integrate how to limit misunderstandings and work

together to bring out the best in the workforce. Ramadevi and Kumar (2012) explain how

adopting a new environment that includes demographic factors helps maintain smooth
How Do Cultural Differences In Interpersonal Communication Impact The Workplace? 7

relationships among employees and their customers. A diverse environment allows full

education of interpersonal communication skills and adaption to different cultures for future

workers, employees, employers, and everyone within the business to be distinctively competent.

The employers of organizations with multicultural workforces must learn and adapt to

differences that may cause complications. Understanding major limitations can help ease

frustration and promote positive business ethics between cultures. Cultures all over the world

have different point of views in gender differences, formality, time, communication style, and

ethics. All of these distinctions show how people live their lives in various ways.

Communication style and ethics is more significant as it is more directly involved with

interpersonal communication. Employees of different cultures can attempt to communicate a

message but be misunderstood depending on how the nonverbal cues are interpreted. As

businesses can cooperate to limit discrimination within the workforce and promote further

adaptations to diversity, it has the potential to increase the customer retention rate. Having a

diverse workforce is advantageous for top management as its workforce will be more

knowledgeable and comfortable when effectively communicating to their diverse co-workers.

High employee moral will lead to happy customers and thus keep their customers loyal.

Hopefully, in the near future, there will be studies affirming that cultural differences in the

workforce have been minimized and have proven to maximize business successes. At the end of

the day, it is important to have a diverse team because a strong internal structure creates a

fundamentally sound environment where everyone can perform their best work. When the

internal and external operations of a business are more accepting of all cultures, it results in

content employees and customers.


How Do Cultural Differences In Interpersonal Communication Impact The Workplace? 8

Works Cited
Bedwell, W. L., Fiore, S. M., & Salas, E. (2014). Developing the Future Workforce: An
Approach for Integrating Interpersonal Skills Into the MBA Classroom. Academy Of
Management Learning & Education, 13(2), 171-186. doi:10.5465/amle.2011.0138

Castaneda, M. E., Bateh, J., & Heyliger, W. (2013). Areas of Cross-Cultural Difference in the
Workplace. Journal Of International Education Research, 9(2), 165-170.

Hanasono, L. )., & Yang, F. ). (2016). Computer-Mediated Coping: Exploring the Quality of
Supportive Communication in an Online Discussion Forum for Individuals Who Are
Coping with Racial Discrimination. Communication Quarterly, 64(4), 369-389.
doi:10.1080/01463373.2015.1103292

Hynes, G. E. (2012). Improving Employees Interpersonal Communication Competencies: A


Qualitative Study. Business Communication Quarterly, 75(4), 466-475.
doi:10.1177/1080569912458965

Nichols, P., Horner, B., & Fyfe, K. (2015). Understanding and improving communication
processes in an increasingly multicultural aged care workforce. Journal Of Aging Studies,
3223-31. doi:10.1016/j.jaging.2014.12.003

Park, S. (2012). Korean American Parents' Communication with European American Therapist
during Behavioral Intervention Services. Education, 132(3), 560-567.

Ramadevi, D., & Kumar, S. S. (2012). Whether Differences Make Differences? A New
Paradigm on Workforce Diversity. International Journal Of Research In Commerce And
Management, 3(7), 54-58.