Navigating Cross-Cultural Communications in The Workplace

What it takes to be an effective manager or team member has changed entirely in the last ten years.

The UAE is home to over 200 nationalities; most of us are working with colleagues, clients and suppliers from all over the world. So, the question that we all need to ask ourselves is: “Do I have the skills to work and communicate effectively in this cross-cultural space?”

As global team workers, it is really important today to move away from stereotypes and over simplistic images of any culture, to understand how various cultures perceive one another (we call it cultural relativity).

If you don’t know how to adapt your persuasion style in order to get people to back your ideas, it’s very hard to effectively communicate and be productive in the workplace. What I have seen is that every year more and more with globalization, culture is impacting communication, management and leadership. We all need to be working very actively in order to increase our ability to understand that cultural impact.

So, to start fine-tuning your cross-cultural communication skills and navigating yourself at work place, I would suggest paying attention to the high and low context communication and investing some energy on adopting different communication styles (authentic flexibility).

When people of high context cultures (such as East Asian, Latin American, Southern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries) communicate, it is not necessary for them to say everything explicitly. Non-verbal cues often communicate what is not said, and silence can have great meaning! In parallel to this are low context cultures (such as America, Canada and Western European countries). These communicators prefer clear descriptions, unambiguous communication and are highly specific. Low context communicators do not trust or reply on
relationships in business communication; they rely on the spoken and written word.

So, if you are a person from low context communication culture and you happen to be based in high context communication culture, such as the UAE, you have to be attentive towards this sort of communication methods. Because of these culturally different methods of communication teams with mixed communication cultures might have misunderstandings or even conflicts. Knowing all the differences that are coming from low and high context communication styles will definitely help you navigate through multi-national relationships and make you an effective communicator at your global workplace.

Most of the UAE based companies have multi-global teams with team members from many different countries who are collaborating together. Every day we are challenged to understand how various cultures perceive one another; and how we can improve collaboration between these cultures while being a part of the multi-national team. We need to be constantly teasing out how our own cultural bias is impacting our effectiveness and how to adapt our style, so that we can get the results that we need.

In different cultures we build trust in different ways, the decisions are made differently; what it means to be a good communicator is different from one part of the world to another. We need to be thinking carefully about
these differences. People you are most successful with this are the ones that are really looking closely what the cultural differences are and trying to be flexible across them. We can call it authentic flexibility. This means that, of course, each of us has its own natural/authentic style of communication, but at the same time we need to be working and learning to adopt our style to the culture that we are working with, in order to get the results that we want.

The problem with people, who never work by adopting different styles, is that they are “limited”; they only have one way to get things done. On the contrary, for people who have really invested a lot of energy in developing authentic flexibility in their communication style, the beauty is that they have a choice - they might choose that in one situation they are really going to do a German way, because it might help them to get better results; and the next week they might use their authentic/natural style to get the best result.

If you have the ability to know both what your authentic communication style is, and what you need do in order to adapt to the country are working with, then you are really set up for success in the global workplace.

Gayané Grigoryan

About the author 

Gayane Grigroyan is an international marketing communications and PR strategist.
She has worked for major hospitality leaders, such as Kempinski Hotels, Accor Group (Sofitel, Novotel), Swiss-Belhotel International, Best Western, Royal Tulip, Rotana Hotel Management Corporation, Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts. 

Her approach is to create decisive communications campaigns that help companies communicate the purpose of their business, enhance reputation and communicate successfully through transition, restructuring and crisis. Currently, she holds the position of Marketing and Communications Director at the IRIS Media and PR Agency based in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

Previous article publications include Forbes Middle East, Executive Women, Gulf News and several other media outlets across the GCC.

You may reach Gayane via LinkedIn

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