Cultural Barriers

Have you ever been in that awkward situation where you were going in for a hug, but the other person just wanted to shake your hand? Apart from the embarrassment, have you ever wondered why the two of you were expecting different ways to greet each other? It is most likely because the two of you come from different cultures and are used to different ways of greeting a person. Situations, where cultural differences play a part in miscommunication and misinterpretation, are usual in workplaces. Are you curious to know how one's culture affects their behavior and how cultural differences can act as barriers in the workplace? Read ahead to find solutions to cultural barriers with examples that will help you understand this concept.

Cultural Barriers Cultural Barriers

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Table of contents

    Definition of Cultural Barriers

    Every culture has its own set of accepted behaviors, thoughts, rules, standards, and beliefs that are accepted. These factors make up part of a culture's identity. How one communicates is also affected by their culture. Therefore, it varies among people from different cultural backgrounds. Therefore, when people from different cultures interact, there is bound to be miscommunication because of cultural barriers.

    Cultural barriers prevent people from different cultures from effectively communicating and working with each other. Cultural barriers can be caused by differences in languages, beliefs, or values.

    Cultural Barriers to Communication

    As humans, we grow with a certain mindset and have an understanding of the world around us. It's mostly our surroundings and the people we surround ourselves with that teach us their thoughts and beliefs. Therefore, people have different ways of thinking and understanding, owing to their cultural influences. It can give rise to communication barriers between people from different cultures. As it is one's culture that gives rise to the communicational barrier, they are known as cultural barriers of communication.

    Let's look at the key factors that lead to cultural barriers in communication. Six main factors give rise to communicational barriers, and they are:

    • Ethnocentrism,

    • Stereotyping,

    • Psychological barriers,

    • Language barriers,

    • Geographical distance,

    • Conflicting values.

    Ethnocentrism

    The first cultural barrier to communication is ethnocentricism.

    The belief that one's culture is superior to another's is known as ethnocentrism.

    It makes a person feel that only their way of doing things is right. Ethnocentric people look down on people from other cultures, making them feel undervalued. It hinders conversations between people as they would not be comfortable with each other holding a conversation. Ethnocentrism can be a conscious act or unintentional.

    Stereotyping

    People have preconceived notions about others based on their nationalities. It is the belief that people from a country or region will behave a certain way. But people tend to forget that every individual is different and may not or will not behave the way we would expect them to, based on our limited knowledge and judgments. Stereotyping a person can be insulting and unhealthy in a working environment. The person can feel unfairly judged, making them unnecessarily conscious. Such situations also act as communication barriers.

    Psychological Barriers

    When dealing with a multicultural team, we might have to mend our ways to accommodate everyone and help them feel welcome. While in some cultures maintaining eye contact is considered a positive sign of cooperation, in some, it is considered intimidating. Considering such instances are crucial to making everyone feel understood, encouraging them to converse. Even though sometimes it could mean having to change how we would subconsciously react to a situation.

    Language Barriers

    Not being able to fluently speak and understand a team's language can be frustrating. The ones that cannot understand might feel like they are missing out on things. Not being able to communicate well in a foreign language can also make them feel different and make them hesitant to participate in conversations or voice their opinions.

    In such cases, the native speakers must make it a point to communicate in a manner that accommodates the non-native speakers. It involves talking slower and using more recognizable words instead of local slang.

    Geographical Distance

    Although the increasing possibility of working from home has made working more convenient, it comes with challenges.

    Building a connection within the team becomes strenuous when the members are only connected virtually. The employees only meet during team meetings and discuss their goals and objectives. It hinders them from getting to know their co-workers personally, thereby preventing them from sharing more information or communicating. The company has to make an active effort in trying to build team relationships.

    Conflicting Values

    Everybody has their way of doing things. Communication between people can become strenuous when one's values and practices are disturbed.

    For example, certain countries address issues directly and offer solutions to fix them. On the other hand, companies in other countries address them through an indirect form of communication. When people from such cultures get together, communication can be tricky. The person who communicates directly may come off as insensitive, and the person used to indirect interaction may seem unclear to people from the other culture.

    Likewise, some cultures are strictly formal in workplaces, while some are not.

    Countries like India and Japan consider formality as a sign of professionalism, whereas countries like Australia prefer more informal workplaces. An Indian employee working for an Australian company might consider communicating more informally. Similarly, an Australian should communicate formally to seem more professional.

    These are a few instances where culture plays a role in how people communicate and perceive each other by people from different cultures.

    Cultural Barriers in the Workplace

    In today's workplace, it is not uncommon to have people from various cultures working together. It will therefore give rise to many uncomfortable situations or misunderstandings due to people's cultural differences. A few common instances where people in the workplace experience cultural barriers can be in their differences in greeting each other, making eye contact, being punctual, dress code, and so on.

    In some cultures, people greet with a hug, while others extend a firm handshake. While people in Britain might consider maintaining eye contact as a sign to intimidate them, people in South Africa maintain eye contact throughout their meetings to let others know they are paying attention. In most Asian countries, employees dress formally as a sign of professionalism, whereas certain European countries encourage a more informal dress code. Employees from countries like Singapore do not enjoy a well-balanced life inside and outside work. They must respond to work calls even after work hours. It would cause problems if the same were expected from a European employee.1

    Certain countries such as China, Korea, and Arab countries heavily rely on their set non-verbal cues of communication. A person's body language and tone will be observed and judged. It means that one should be aware of their actions and behavior. Such cultures are known as high-context cultures. On the other hand, countries such as Germany, Switzerland, and Britain are known as low-context cultures. Such countries rely on a direct form of communication. They communicate precisely and explicitly.

    Examples of Cultural Barriers to Communication

    Coming from different cultures can make it difficult for people to understand each other and interpret the messages correctly. As a result of cultural differences, some examples of cultural barriers to communication in the workplace can be:

    • Employees communicate and interact following their culture without considering the cultural differences of the employee from another culture.

    • Employees with cultural differences can find it difficult to express their disagreements with employees from other cultures.

    • Perception of personal space varies among cultures.

    • Expressing ideas and solutions can be difficult.

    • Negotiating techniques vary in every culture.

    • Different cultures employ different techniques to evaluate their employees.

    Cultural Barriers Solution

    Cultural barriers play a crucial role in smoothly running an organization. Organizations have to identify cultural barriers and make efforts to fix them. Some of the techniques to correct cultural barriers are as follows:

    Learn About Different Cultures

    The fundamental cause of cultural barriers is people's ignorance towards other cultures. When employees take time and effort to understand their co-worker's cultures, it encourages them to appreciate cultural differences. Such actions also help to reduce cultural discrimination and ethnocentrism in the workplace.

    Accommodate Cultural Differences

    People fail to accommodate cultural differences because they are biased and judge a person or situation unconsciously. To prevent this, one must identify cultural biases and work against them. It involves understanding how different cultures function and that each individual is unique. Organizations can make employees from different cultures feel welcome by understanding and acknowledging their cultural beliefs.

    Clear Communication

    As language is a cultural barrier, employees should consider this situation while communicating. It will help to use polite and clear language with simple words. Visual aids further help in clearing any misunderstandings. Local slang can also be confusing for a non-native speaker. Avoiding them can also be considered an act of consideration.

    Diversity Training

    Practising inclusivity among co-workers from different cultural backgrounds can be very helpful in eliminating cultural barriers. It can help in creating a positive workplace environment. Diversity training will encourage better teamwork and an inclusive working group. It is a great way to start understanding and embracing different cultures.

    Knowledge Sharing

    When people are made aware of cultural diversities, it becomes easier for everyone to interact with each other. People share the knowledge they have gained throughout the years from different cultures and experiences. It boosts innovation and communication among co-workers.

    Cultural Barriers - Key takeaways

    • Cultural barriers are the communicational challenges faced by people due to their differences in cultures.
    • Six main factors that give rise to communicational barriers are:
      • Ethnocentrism,
      • Stereotyping,
      • Psychological barriers,
      • Language barriers,
      • Geographical distance, and
      • Conflicting values.
    • Some examples of cultural barriers in the workplace can be:
      • Employees communicate and interact following their culture without considering the cultural differences of the employee from another culture.
      • Employees with cultural differences can find it difficult to express their disagreements with employees from other cultures.
      • Perception of personal space varies among cultures.
      • Expressing ideas and solutions can be difficult.
      • Negotiating techniques vary in every culture.
      • Different cultures employ different techniques to evaluate their employees.
    • Cultural barrier solutions include:
      • Learning about different cultures,
      • Accommodating cultural differences,
      • Maintaining clear communication,
      • Providing diversity training, and
      • Knowledge sharing.

    References

    1. Ivana Fisic. How to overcome cultural and language barriers in the workplace. 28 March 2022. https://clockify.me/blog/managing-teams/cultural-and-language-barriers-at-work/#Types_of_cultural_barriers_in_the_workplace
    Frequently Asked Questions about Cultural Barriers

    What are examples of cultural barriers? 

    Some examples of cultural barriers in the workplace can be:

    • Employees communicate and interact following their culture without considering the cultural differences of the employee from another culture.

    • Employees with cultural differences can find it difficult to express their disagreements with employees from other cultures.

    • Perception of personal space varies among cultures.

    • Expressing ideas and solutions can be difficult.

    • Negotiating techniques vary in every culture.

    • Different cultures employ different techniques to evaluate their employees.

    What are the 4 cultural barriers? 

    There are six factors that act as cultural barriers, and they are:

    • Ethnocentrism,
    • Stereotyping,
    • Psychological barriers,
    • Language barriers,
    • Geographical distance,
    • Conflicting values.

    What are cross-cultural barriers? 

    Cross-cultural barriers, also known as cultural barriers, are the communicational challenges faced by people due to their differences in cultures. The main cross-cultural barriers are ethnocentrism, stereotyping, psychological, language, geographical distance, and conflicting values. 

    How do you overcome cultural barriers? 

    Cultural barriers can be overcome by:

    • Learning about different cultures,
    • Accommodating cultural differences,
    • Maintaining clear communication,
    • Providing diversity training, and
    • Knowledge sharing.

    What are cultural barriers in the workplace? 

    A few common instances where people in the workplace experience cultural barriers can be in their differences in greeting each other, making eye contact, being punctual, dress code, and so on. 

    What is a cultural barrier?

    A cultural barrier prevents people raised in different cultures from understanding each other. It can be caused by differences in language, values, or beliefs.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    While in some cultures maintaining eye contact is considered a positive sign of cooperation, in some, it is considered to be intimidating. This is an example of a:

     It becomes harder to build a connection within the team when the members are only connected virtually. 

    Varying negotiating techniques are an example of cultural barriers in the workplace. 

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