Diversity Issues in Business Communication

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Workplace diversity can enhance business communication, but issues surrounding it can also complicate and obscure the communication process. You might work with colleagues who have ethnic, cultural and social backgrounds different from your own. These differences can impact everything from one-on-one interviews to interdepartmental meetings, from internal memos to external news releases. Understanding the issues of diversity can help you better to navigate its impact on workplace communication.

Issues

In business, you encounter a variety of cultural and lifestyle differences among those with whom you work. Some of those differences can be as simple as a person's degree of formality or the style of dress, while other differences can reflect a complex blend of social customs and personal values. Issues can also develop over differing perspectives on the importance of work and the role of communication in the workplace. Even something as simple as how close you stand to a person with whom you are talking, can create problems in business communication.

Complications

These diversity issues can influence and complicate how people approach business communication. You and your colleagues reflect unique ethnic and cultural backgrounds. Everything from reaching an agreement to addressing a conflict can be challenging. For example, if you have a British co-worker, she may be more concerned with maintaining harmony than resolving conflict, which reflects a British cultural value. If you, on the other hand, are of Italian heritage, you may be puzzled and even frustrated by your co-worker’s seeming avoidance of the issue at hand. Other complications with business communication can result from differing values regarding verbal skills, dissimilar approaches to non-verbal communication and varying attitudes toward disclosure and candor.

Goodwill

One vital way you can navigate these types of challenges is by taking a few simple steps to encourage and increase goodwill between you and your colleagues. Practicing flexibility, for one, can help you to reach agreements without compromising primary goals in a business situation. Showing respect can help the other people involved feel as though you value them regardless of whether your perspectives or your practices are the same. For example, you may experience frustration when your colleague will not make eye contact during a conversation. Remaining flexible and respectful can help you to respond non-judgmentally to this situation. This may reflect a diversity issue between you and your colleague.

Understanding

Another way you can address diversity issues in business communication is through growing understanding between you and your colleagues. Take time to learn about your colleagues’ backgrounds or cultures, both by talking with them directly and by reading articles and books related to their practices and beliefs. For example, learning about Taiwanese business culture can help you understand why your new Taiwanese supervisor seems to be distant and unapproachable, a managerial style is valued and encouraged in Asian culture.

Opportunity

When you begin to cultivate goodwill and understanding with colleagues from diverse cultural and social backgrounds, you help every person involved to begin to see diversity as an opportunity rather than a limitation. People from different backgrounds and perspectives can actually bring new insights and skills into the workplace and into the process of business communication.

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References

  • Adler, Ronald B., and Jeanne Marquardt Elmhorst. Communicating at Work: Principles and Practices for Business and the Professions. 8th ed. New York: McGraw Hill, 2005.
  • O’Hair, Dan, Gustav W. Friedrich, and Lynda Dee Dixon. Strategic Communication in Business and the Professions. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2005.
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