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How To Overcome Cultural Barriers At Work

How To Overcome Cultural Barriers At Work

In today’s world, we see a lot of cultural barriers at the workplace. Thanks to globalization, people work in increasingly diverse environments, which means a mixture of cultures under the same organization. Sometimes, this can do more harm than good if people choose not to get along.

Cracking the code to cultural barriers however is as difficult as counting all the stars in the sky; there will always be something that goes unnoticed. Cultural barriers also exist pretty much everywhere, from the workplace to school and the local gym. Even at your local café, the act of tipping can be seen as necessary or something to be avoided depending on which country you live in.

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Although there is no single answer to cracking the code of cultural barriers, there are some practical things you can try out in order to make the most out of your time at work, and even gain some useful skills along the way.

1. Do Your Homework

It has become even more important to appreciate and learn about different cultures in order to fully appreciate the place you work in. Understanding is a big part of successful communication – for example, knowing that there are over 10 language dialects spoken within China, or that being British could mean coming from England, Wales or Scotland. Don’t even get me started on how many dialects and sub-cultures there are within Great Britain alone.

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Do as much research as you can on the city or country you currently work in, and there are a wealth of online resources to use, and friends and family to ask. Knowing whom you are getting into bed with, as they say, is one half of the equation to overcoming cultural barriers at work.

2. Use The Pantry

But research is not enough to help you. The other half is to live out your understanding in practice. There is no better way to immerse yourself in a new culture than to meet the people currently living it. Using the pantry, so to speak, is a way to informally meet and get to know colleagues during work. For example, British workers love drinking tea throughout the day and so, often frequent the pantry to make a cuppa. You may find a great chance to bond over small chat about weekend escapades in this setting. If no such common room exists, having informal meetings in your office, at your desk or the local coffeehouse is also a great way to get to know others.

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3. Speak Their Language

If the cultural barriers at work are language related, this does not mean you have to take ten-hour lessons a week and learn to speak like a native. However, it always helps to know some basic phrases that you can use with a smile. Even a simple “¡Hola!” can make a whole lot of difference, because others will appreciate your sincerity in being approachable. However, if not using the local language is seriously hindering your ability to work with your colleagues, then it may be worth finding a tutor or language exchange group after work.

4. Try Everything Once

There are bound to be certain foods and activities that are commonly location specific, such as heading to a karaoke bar after work in Japan or a pub lunch at work in England. If you aren’t accustomed to these practices, go and try it out. Likely, you will enjoy it or you will hate it. Either way, you’ve gained a greater appreciation of what your colleagues enjoy doing and perhaps learn to love it or live with it as you continue working alongside them.

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It is also important to remember your own values and limits however – if you are a vegetarian then politely refusing meals with meat is fine. Or if you don’t drink, but work where work relationships are sometimes made alongside heavy drinking, as with some Chinese companies, you can refuse to join. Make your values known in a firm yet respectful manner, by accepting these practices with a nod, smile and a polite ‘no, thank you’.

Remember that ultimately whatever cultural norms exist, you are not bound to conform. Rather, appreciating your differences and building on things you have in common is the key to working alongside any culture in the world. Not everybody will want to befriend you but at least you will have gained a first-hand understanding of a different culture, at both your workplace and city.

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Last Updated on March 29, 2021

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

The Dream Type Of Manager

My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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“Okay…”

That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

The Bully

My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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The Invisible Boss

This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

The Micro Manager

The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

The Over Promoted Boss

The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

The Credit Stealer

The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

1. Keep evidence

Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

2. Hold regular meetings

Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

Good luck!

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