Thanks to the internet and the massive rise of remote work, the world is more connected than it’s ever been. Emails and the plethora of video conferencing software have allowed businesses to transfer and share information across borders, leading to a more culturally diverse office environment.
While it isn’t rare to have culturally diverse employees in the modern age, it’s easy to forget that the people around you have perceptions and perspectives different from your own.
Cultural intelligence can play a large role in how your employees evaluate your company culture. By bridging cultural gaps that come from traditions, disciplines, and nationalities, you can help your employees gain a new outlook on how to speak, act, and work with others.
Why Cultural Intelligence is Important in the Workplace
In the workplace, the aim is to work with your colleagues to achieve a common goal. For this reason, employees are expected to practice cultural intelligence and embrace a multicultural approach in their workplace. However, some of your employees may need help on this matter.
That doesn’t imply that your employees are saying insensitive things on purpose. If they are, more severe action should be taken. Regardless of intent, different types of unconscious bias at work can lead to lasting effects, like employee turnover, bullying, or general intolerance.
Benefits of Cultural Intelligence in the Workplace
Cultural intelligence helps people develop an in-depth passion for learning and understanding a person’s background. Although implementing a diversity programme may take a lot of work, it’s worth the effort because your business will benefit from the following:
- Higher productivity, efficiency, and acceptance of different ideas and perspectives.
- General workplace harmony, leading to less infighting between groups and office politics.
- Improved corporate brand investment, especially on an international scale.
- An increased ability to speak and interact with culturally diverse customers.
- A workplace that looks at people based on their merits and strengths.
By creating a diversity programme, your business automatically gets a competitive edge. If you ever want to expand internationally, you’ll need a culturally diverse and culturally intelligent staff.
What a Cultural Intelligence Programme Looks Like
With a cultural intelligence programme, your employees gain cultural diversity, allowing businesses to enter international markets. Cultural intelligence programmes also:
- Removes barriers that may prevent others from working with each other.
- Removes xenophobic attitudes that accentuate prejudice.
- Removes narrow-minded thinking that stalls creativity and growth.
To develop a programme that works, employers should start with a culture assessment that looks at how others view cultural diversity in the workplace. Then, create a programme that tackles:
- What cultural intelligence looks like in the workplace.
- How cultural intelligence gives you a competitive advantage.
- Cross-cultural communication skills that enhance employee engagement.
- Intercultural skills that improve customer relationships.
- How to market and present your business as an international brand.
Any great cultural intelligence programme will combine cognitive skills, physical cues, and emotional understanding. Your workplace needs to be able to practice active listening, empathy, and patience with topics, people, or cultures they don’t understand.
At the same time, your employees need to look at these moments as growth opportunities. As long as your staff tries to understand each other, acceptance is just around the corner.
little Things That build Cultural Intelligence in the Workplace
While a cultural diversity programme can go a long way in developing cultural intelligence, there are little things you can do that can help all of your employees feel more comfortable.
Celebrate Different Holidays or Celebrations
Is your workplace truly culturally intelligent if it doesn’t bring different cultures into the workplace? While many Christian/Catholic prominent countries celebrate Christmas, December is filled with other holidays, such as Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Omisoka (Japanese New Year).
Festivals like Eid, Vesak (Buddha’s Birthday), and Diwali are likely observed by many of your staff members too. By celebrating these festivals, along with their meals, dances, music, and other traditions, you can help your staff learn and share different cultures with one another.
Create a Common Ground in the Workplace
Some cultures are different from yours, but most humans share some basic traits. It’s common for other cultures to share similar cultural practices, but you’ll never find out unless you ask. By finding common ground, you can help eliminate barriers and communicate better.
Be Aware of How You Speak
If you or one of your employees is not aware of how to ask questions about someone’s culture out of fear of coming off as disrespectful, consider why that may be. Is your question too personal? In that case, don’t ask. If it’s a general question, ask it out loud to yourself to see how it sounds.
Your employees will be happy to talk to you about their culture if you don’t come from an accusatory place. For example, asking why a certain community celebrates their festival shows curiosity, while asking why they don’t celebrate your important festival may come off as otherizing.
Profiling a person based on their looks isn’t fair, nor is it a way to cultivate a long-lasting relationship with your employees. Judge a person based on their own merits. If you see others stereotyping your employees, make it clear that this behaviour isn’t appropriate.
Keep Learning, Researching, and Growing
Learning a new skill, whether it’s enhancing your emotional intelligence or stress management, requires a lot of preparation and research. Acknowledging that you barely know anything about a person’s culture is a great starting point, because then you can start the growth process.
Start learning about a new culture by searching the web and try to absorb everything you can. If you begin a conversation with an employee, perhaps with some knowledge under your belt, you’ll help them feel more comfortable and appreciated. They’re also more likely to answer your questions.
The path of cultural intelligence starts with ignorance. Instead of seeing a lack of knowledge as a bad thing, take it as a cue to begin your journey. Without acknowledging that you have more to learn, it will be difficult for you and your employees to fill in the gaps.
Doing the work to remove cultural prejudice isn’t just important – it’s necessary. In today’s global work environment, it helps you become a better human being and a business owner. Cultural intelligence helps you communicate and connect with people of different backgrounds, cultures, and races – which is essential in our inter-connected world.
Author: Rupert Jones – Owner at Finance Rupert Consulting
Photo credit: Anna Shvets from Pexels