Tips for working with people from different cultures

Our workplaces are wonderful little microcosms of the society that we live in. And with Australia becoming such a melting pot of cultures, our work environments too have become fairly multicultural. Interesting as this may be, one might end up committing faux-pas without even being aware of it. It’s very easy to offend somebody belonging to another culture when you are not aware of that person’s societal norms. This becomes especially problematic when such issues occur at the workplace, where it’s especially important to maintain amiable relations with your colleagues.

Here are some useful tips to help you work better with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

Take the first step 

Very often, all that prevents people from developing good relationships is the fact that nobody takes the step to actually reach out and say hello. Whether you are working in a different country or simply want to reach out to a colleague belonging to a different ethnic background, simply take the first step and get to know the person. Even something as simple as simple as asking them their name and making an attempt to pronounce it correctly can go a long way in opening a few doors to better communication.

Effective communication 

Communication barriers are not limited to just linguistic ones. While both of you may speak the same language, it’s not necessary that people understand things in the same way. For instance, while some cultures love employing humour to convey camaraderie, others might find unwanted levity insulting. Which is why it’s always important to have open channels of communication and the best way to do this is encourage dialogues about whether or not the person in question is happy with his or her experience in the organization.

 Reflect on your biases 

Stereotypes have a nasty way of ingraining themselves in our minds without us being aware of it. When working with colleagues belonging to a different cultural background, it is important for us to examine how we ourselves view their culture. Ask yourself, what do you know about their culture? What assumptions do you have about it? Whatever answers you come up with, just dispel those thoughts completely and start with scratch. Which brings us to our next point.

 Read up on their culture and ask them about it 

It’s always a good idea to read up on the cultures of the people you work with. Even better, ask them. What is their story? What kind of a culture do they belong to? How different do they find your culture? These questions help in building a sense of understanding within the organization that strongly helps prevents problems caused by stereotyping.

Be open to differences 

There will always be some differences between people belonging to different cultures. And that’s ok. Learn to accept that’s its fine for some people to have a lifestyle that’s different from yours. Once you do that, you will be able to take the next step towards adapting to their worldview.

Adapt to a multicultural workspace 

Adapting to somebody else’s culture will never be a one-sided process. Again, it simply boils down to taking the first step. Once you show a willingness to adjust according to their needs, even they will start taking steps to meet you halfway. The aim here is to reach an amiable common ground of cultural tolerance.

 Mistakes will happen 

No matter how much you try, mistakes are bound to occur and again, it’s perfectly acceptable. Look at them as learning opportunities and be willing to apologize for mistakes. Too often, organizations are so afraid of making any errors that they end up distancing themselves from ethnic employees.


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