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Communicating in a Diverse Work Environment: Opportunities & Challenges

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  • 0:01 Diversity
  • 0:54 What to Communicate
  • 2:54 How to Communicate
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Today's workforce is a very diverse group, including people from all walks of life. This offers specific challenges and opportunities for communication within a company. In this lesson, we'll examine how diversity affects corporate communication.

Diversity

Jill is an executive at a company with lots of different types of employees. She loves the great diversity of the company: there are people of many different cultures, races, genders, and ages. She thinks it is a great strength of the company that they have such a diverse workforce.

But there are some issues with that, too. For example, some of the younger workers tend to be very informal in the way they talk or email their coworkers. Some of the older workers prefer to be more formal in work communication, and this can cause friction between the two groups.

Workplace diversity consists of the variety of different people who work together. As Jill has seen, this can cause both positive outcomes and some challenges, too. Let's look closer at communication in a diverse work environment, specifically how diversity can affect what people communicate and how they communicate.

What to Communicate

Jill's diverse workforce is a good thing, but it does present some challenges when she is trying to negotiate communication in the office. For example, some of her younger coworkers believe that meetings and tons of memos about non-essential company news are a waste of time and make them less efficient. On the other hand, many of her older employees want to feel included in the company, and thus, they want information on every detail of the company.

What to communicate can be tricky with a diverse workforce. We've already seen that generational differences can make deciding how much to communicate difficult, but there are other challenges, too. For example, Yoko is a manager at Jill's company who was raised in Asia. Whenever Jill compliments Yoko, Yoko looks away and quickly changes the subject. Once or twice, she's even made an excuse to leave Jill's presence when Jill has complimented her. What's going on?

Cultural differences can create communication issues, too. Some cultures, including many Asian cultures, feel that accepting compliments in public is a sign of hubris or excessive pride. It can embarrass some people and make them feel uncomfortable. Likewise, women are more likely than men to respond to compliments with a self-effacing manner.

What can Jill do? When she notices that compliments make someone uncomfortable, she can praise their work in a private email. This usually makes people feel more comfortable and does not place them on the spot. Alternatively, she can focus on praising the team instead of praising the individual.

What about the communication preferences of Jill's staff? How can she keep some people in the loop without inundating others? Jill can offer information in an opt-in format or in a weekly email. That way, workers who prefer lots of communications can opt in to receive them, while those who prefer to be left alone to get on with their work can receive a minimum of communication.

How to Communicate

Okay. Jill understands that there are some things that she might not want to communicate in a diverse work environment, like compliments of an individual in a group or forcing everyone to receive constant memos about the company.

But even for things that Jill does need to communicate to her team, the diversity of her employees will shape how she communicates. For example, remember that many older workers prefer formal communication, while the younger employees prefer to be more laid-back in their communication.

Jill might make company-wide and whole-team communications formal, so that the older workers feel comfortable with it. At the same time, her personal communications with some of the younger workers might be more laid-back and less formal. She'll want to take the lead by the individual to keep from stereotyping. For example, if one of her older workers speaks and writes informally, Jill can respond informally, too.

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