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Filling the Cultural Gap of Communication
by Siddharth Sehgal


Just for an instance, imagine yourself to be an American executive, working on an overseas project of your company in Germany and the team which you are leading comprises of people from different parts of the world.  Now if I ask you, what’s the most crucial thing for the success of your project? Undoubtedly, your answer will be communication.

The period when only big multinational corporations had global presence and workforce, is a matter of history.  With fast expanding economies, globalization, open markets, free-trading and outsourcing more and more medium and small size companies are doing business abroad. It’s not uncommon for companies these days to hire people from different backgrounds, cultures and countries. It’s beneficial in number of ways for the organizations because internationals bring new skill set to the workplace; their diverse experience could be very helpful in opening new doors for business but it could also prove to be a not so profitable step if there is a lack of proper communication.

So what key factors should a manager keep in mind while working in a foreign country or working with people from a different background? What are the basics to fill a cultural gap of communication? Let’s explore some.

First, take some time to understand the culture and the background of your team mates. I remember talking to an entrepreneur from Alabama, who was doing a wireless business in China. His partner in this venture was none other than the communist government of China. He told me that he studied communism despite being a firm believer in democracy. He devoted time to understand the communist philosophy in the context of China and it helped greatly in bridging the communication gap between both these parties. This kind of research is not only insightful but it also helps in removing the misconceptions and setting the priorities for the business. Once, you clearly understand the rules of the game it would become a lot easier to play. You might feel amazed to know how small misunderstandings could embitter the relations.

Second, try to align your visions and goals with your colleagues. I remember talking to a CEO of a successful IT company, who also happened to be on the advisory board of my degree program, about the outsourcing experience. She told me that it doesn’t matter if your staff is Indian or American but it is important that they see the same picture of future as you do. She said that the easiest way to motivate others is by seeking a mutual purpose and it becomes especially important if you are working with internationals.

Third, always be clear and consistent on the interaction part and encourage your employees to do so. Those people who are completely new to the work environment of your company may have some hesitations or fears in their mind and in most cases people don’t speak until the water level reaches their nose. Take regular meetings, briefings and if possible just go out on a lunch with your colleague and try to know their experience in the new environment.

I am working on a marketing project of a printing company. Since, it was the first experience for me and my American employer to work with an international, the expectations were high but I felt a bit confused about the job and the work environment. Although, I was working very hard to live up to my boss’s expectation but somehow, I wasn’t able to deliver the anticipated performance. My project manager realized this communication gap. She sat down with me and discussed the requirements and tasks on my part. She also explained me how often she would like to be communicated and tried to understand my problem. This meeting not only solved my doubts but it also paved the way to build a mutual understanding and trust between us.

The business world is now more dynamic, adaptable and rigorous than ever before. We have to broaden our horizons in order to grow and our ability to communicate plays a key role in this growth. I would like to conclude this article with a quote that beautifully summarizes the essence of human life. "Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day."


The Author

Siddharth Sehgal

Siddharth Sehgal is a graduate student in the engineering management program of University of Alabama at Birmingham. Besides being a management student, he is a columnist in the newspaper kaleidoscope, director of community relations in the Intercultural committee of UAB and founder of a student club that promotes the Hindi language and Indian culture in the UAB campus.

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Copyright 2010 by Siddharth Sehgal. All rights reserved.

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