Intercultural communication is defined as the exchange between people from two different cultures.
Intercultural understanding is defined as learning and engaging with diverse cultures so as to recognize commonalities and differences, create connections, and nurture mutual respect.
For effective intercultural communication, each party must have an understanding of the other’s experiences and cultural perceptions. This skill is becoming increasingly important in the workplace, as offices become more international.
In recent years, the DACH region has become a key player in the international job market. That’s due to large corporations such as Adidas, BMW, Puma, Siemens, and Volkswagen, as well as the thriving international startup community in cities like Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, Zurich, and Geneva. In fact, a study by Frontline.vc states that Germany and Switzerland are both in the top 10 destinations for tech talent in Europe.
As the DACH region job market becomes increasingly international, intercultural communication challenges come to the fore. A workforce from all around the world has many advantages, but it also comes with a new set of obstacles, especially when many people are communicating in their second language.
What challenges does an international workforce present?
When people communicate in their second language, there’s a greater chance of misunderstanding. That’s because they might not have the right vocabulary and may not feel confident expressing themselves in a language they’re not yet comfortable with. Similarly, a lack of confidence in a second language could mean people don’t speak up in meetings and miss opportunities to develop professionally.
Another challenge that comes with an international workforce is a lack of cultural understanding, which could lead to friction and conflict within teams. Employees who have a different background to the rest of their team may feel isolated, out of the loop, and lonely within the office environment and will likely be craving the ability to chat freely with a fellow native speaker. These negative feelings will impact the productivity of the individual, not to mention their motivation levels.
How can these challenges be overcome?
It’s important to implement intercultural communication strategies to make international employees feel more comfortable. To do this, management can provide the tools to learn new languages and implement diversity training to ensure the team understands the challenges international employees face. On top of that, management should make concerted efforts to ensure every member of the team is heard during meetings and champion a culture of inclusion and diversity where people feel comfortable speaking up and making mistakes.
How can you improve your team’s intercultural communication skills?
Step 1: Provide your team with the tools to learn each other’s language
Giving your team the opportunity to learn a new language or to improve their language skills will help them communicate more effectively with each other. But not only will it make collaboration more productive, learning a new language also gives employees the opportunity to learn about culture, become more open-minded, and develop empathy for one another.
A digital language platform such as Babbel can convey exactly that by offering the following benefits:
- Over 14 languages and different learning levels to choose from
- Business and industry-specific lessons
- Bite-size, 15-minute lessons that fit into busy schedules
- Optional 1:1 or group video lessons
A Babbel for Business customer says:
“For us, language skills combined with intercultural competence are an unbeatable team.”
- Miriam Baierlipp, Novanta University Coordinator
Baierlipp also explains that the learning experience gave English-speaking employees empathy and understanding for learning and speaking a new language — it isn’t always easy. Read the full customer story here.
Step 2: Train your employees to understand each other on an intercultural level
There are many fun and motivating ways to do this, and they often double as team-building exercises. Management can introduce cultural team lunches, where each week a team member prepares a dish they grew up with. Or start a monthly international film night to highlight cultural film or TV shows. Management can also organize an after work trip to a museum, restaurant, or cultural center related to an employee’s home country. Or for a fun, easy way to squeeze in some culture during work hours, organize language learning lunches to help your team get to know a new language.
Step 3: Invest in diversity training
Diversity training will help your employees have greater empathy and understanding of different cultures around them. It gives your team the skills to interact and communicate clearly with people from different places, and it’s designed to facilitate positive group interaction. A diversity workshop will:
- Help your team create common goals so that projects are completed efficiently.
- Confront unconscious bias that employees may have been unaware of, which creates a much more empathetic, happy, and inclusive company culture.
- Train language skills so that all language used is inclusive and makes everybody feel welcome.
- Give space and a platform for international employees to feel heard, seen, and understood.
What are the benefits of a team with strong cross-cultural communication skills?
There are many benefits to a team with strong intercultural communication skills that extend far beyond the workplace.
- Smoother communication and fewer misunderstandings
- A positive and inclusive work culture
- Heightened productivity and efficiency
- A truly diverse and understanding team
- Happier international client and customer base
- A multilingual team
- Increased creativity through championing new perspectives and cultures
- A focus on mutual respect
Investing time in improving your team’s intercultural communication skills will give employees a better connection with their workplace and coworkers. This will help attract international talent and manage the effects of culture shock, while also enhancing cultural awareness and mutual respect within the company.
Introducing Babbel for Business to your team is a first great step to effective cross-cultural communication, with a learning platform that will get everybody on the same page, whatever their native language and level. This way, employees will gain more understanding for each other, feel more connected, and thus collaborate more successfully.
Want to learn more about intercultural and multilingual communication? Download our free e-book here and take advantage of our communication specialists' expertise.