These days, no matter what kind of business you run, it is most likely in some way international. People travel the world and settle in different areas creating a wonderful mixture of culture, race, and language everywhere. While this is a great thing in the modern world, it can cause issues when running a business. Language and cultural barriers can strike fear into the heart of company owners with questions like “how do I communicate properly with those who speak other languages?” We have brought you this short guide to help deal with issues like this after speaking to business owners around the world to get their top tips on overcoming linguistic and cultural barriers in the workplace.
Problems in communication can be pretty disastrous for businesses. Dealing with language barriers is a concern raised regularly by managers with multicultural teams. The main concern is that you won’t be able to adequately manage someone who doesn’t understand you properly, leading them to not completing the appropriate work or causing stress and upset within the workplace. On the customer side, the problems are just as large. Miscommunicating with a customer can lead them to disappointment, complaints, and a negative feeling about your company. So, how can we address these issues?
When it comes to communicating with customers, there are a couple of well-respected choices. These come in the form of translation software or human interpreters. In the medical field, for example, many businesses, both private and public, hire a medical translation company since these are experts in linguistics who also have an understanding of the subject matter at hand. There are specialists in this field for all types of business outside of the medical field, too. Translation software is also improving massively as technology advances. It is not always perfect at communicating exactly how you are expressing something, but it is now more than good enough to aid you in getting your message across. You can implement translation software within a showroom, store, or online.
The same applies to communicating internally with your employees. If you are struggling, consider hiring an interpreter to help break down those barriers and get the conversation flowing. You could also use the same software used to communicate with customers and have all your documents, briefs, and meeting notes presented in multiple languages. This also helps the employee feel recognized and accepted in your workplace.
Cultural barriers can be harder to overcome or understand. It is sometimes hard to understand why people from different cultures react – or act – differently in certain situations. Maybe they are, in your mind, too quiet and never speak up due to their respectful culture, or maybe they feel left out due to feeling different from everyone else in the break room. These things can be frustrating and hard to figure out for managers. If you spot one of these culture clashes, you need to act on it to help everyone feel better in your workplace.
Identify the issue and work out how to accommodate it within your team. Note that someone’s background and culture should very rarely actually affect their ability to do a job. Just because they may work slightly differently to you, it doesn’t mean it’s bad.
When it comes to language or culture, it’s best to address these issues head-on. With language, it is simple. Bring in a language expert to help give your employees lessons in your native language. Don’t expect a change overnight, but these lessons could really help their confidence and communication at work. It works both ways, too. If you take the time to learn some keywords and phrases from your employee’s language, they will surely see you putting in the effort and feel grateful for that. When it comes to culture, the issues can be more complicated to deal with.
Addressing it head-on in a face-to-face meeting doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. There are, again, experts who can help you here if needed. People who may understand multiple cultures and how their mild differences can actually be a good thing. They, with you, could run seminars on understanding and respect between people at work, wherever they are from. Doing this will help you, and everyone else, understand where people differ and how to work together.
With these tips from the experts, you should have much less fear about hiring, working with, or selling to people from multiple cultures and who speak different languages. Though it can be a challenge, it’s definitely worth it. There’s nothing better than a workplace rich in culture, language, and interesting people.