By Paola Pascual on Jun 20, 2019 8:40:00 AM
Diversity in the workplace is probably one of the top HR trending topics of the year. But, as part of HR in your organization, how much do you really care about it on your day-to-day life? Well, if you need some convincing to really take language and cultural diversity into serious account, this post is all about that. Ambitious? Perhaps. But also of crucial importance in these global times.
The benefits of hiring employees coming from all corners of the world are exceptional, ranging from adopting a global mindset and being exposed to new ideas to having a better chance of finding the perfect candidate (since you are no longer limited to your city).
But, of course, all remarkable benefits tend to come with a little downside, and language and cultural diversity in the workplace does, too. Are you aware of all the pitfalls and challenges that come with it?
Our experience shows that the following are the top 5 challenges you will potentially encounter.
#1 If they feel less, you get less
“When I speak English in front of native speakers, I feel very self-conscious and this makes me participate less and not share all the great ideas I have.”
Do you have an international team? If so, it is very likely that among your non-native speakers insecurity is one of their main struggles.
Language-based anxiety is very common in the international workplace, and when an employee perceives that their language proficiency is worse than their peers, they risk feeling less capable of bringing new ideas to the table. This means that the whole team will miss on potentially great new proposals, simply because they are scared of sharing them!
Excellent language skills are a very powerful tool, and without them, your people feel weaker and less positive. If they feel in any way less than their peers, they will contribute less and your whole team will get less awesome ideas.
If your people are collaborating with an international branch or communicating in English (even more so with native speakers), it is important to be aware that language barriers might give rise to negative feelings, especially at the beginning of a team’s cooperation, as members of Tübingen University in Germany observed in their paper.
#2 Trust is the glue holding your organization together
As an HR Manager, you will agree that trust is the glue holding most collaborative relationships together, so it is important that your workforce feels unified and integrated. Language diversity can have an impact on trust, both positive and negative.
If your employee is the only one not proficient in the business language, they risk feeling left out and not engaged in the company. If they perceive that they don’t belong in there, they will have trouble trusting their colleagues. Now, it is also possible that you have a number of workers that share a common language, different from the rest of the team. And, of course, this comes with the dangers of a divided workforce.
Also, when you are talking with someone whose level of English is considerably low, has it ever crossed your mind that that person was less competent? In most cases, this is not the case, but as this paper indicates (The Impact of Language Barriers on Trust Formation in Multinational Teams), some team members might perceive colleagues with lower language proficiency as less competent and are therefore less inclined to trust in their expertise, even when that is not the case.
#3 When I say yes, I mean maybe
Coming from a company that specializes in business English communication, we can tell you - one of the trickiest things about teaching a language is not the language itself, but all the culture that comes with it.
It turns out, you cannot translate word by word and have the exact same effect in the new language. It would be great, easy, and cost effective. And Google Translate would also be enough to communicate. Unfortunately, though, languages have many more intricacies.
When you work in a different environment, it is important to understand that “yes” and “no” don’t necessarily have the same meaning in different countries (let alone in different languages). The fact that your employees are able to speak English fluently doesn’t mean that they are able to fully grasp these nuances perfectly, and this can also mean that they might have a different understanding of authority.
The way we speak, the words we choose, and even the tone, can have completely different connotations depending on where you are. For example, when you are negotiating, for some cultures “no, I’m not interested” only means “you need to persuade me more”, while in others, it actually means that they are not interested. On the other hand, “yes” tends to be a firm decision in countries like Germany, while in other nations it can be a rather “maybe”.
These are only some examples of how different words have different meanings in every culture. All these differences can be bridged, but if members perceive a large power distance between them and their superiors, they will likely refrain from asking for clarification, which can result in unresolved issues within an organization.
#4 Frustration among coworkers… and clients!
If English is not your first language, it is very normal to switch back to your mother tongue whenever you can - with colleagues that share that same language, for example. In theory, this shouldn’t be a problem, but did you know it can actually be tricky?
If this happens in front of other people, they will feel frustrated for not being able to follow. These people could be other coworkers, or perhaps even customers and potential clients.
#5 ‘Sorry, I don’t understand’ is difficult to say
Let’s not underestimate how difficult it is to admit we don’t understand something at work. If your employees do not fully understand the language, communication problems and language barriers can have some pretty disastrous consequences.
From misunderstood instructions and missed deadlines to embarrassing and tricky situations. Have you heard of false friends? They are words that sound similar in two languages but have completely different meanings, and can become an evil enemy when one learns a new language. Sometimes it will all end up as a funny anecdote but others they can get your non-native employees in trouble.
Ever felt your organization was suffering from any of these top 5 pitfalls? Don’t panic! We have combined our experience as a provider of business English training and our the expertise of HR managers at multinationals around the world and the result is a fantastic guide with great insights. Want to hear about the solutions to these challenges? Download the ebook for free!
Talaera is an online platform that provides one-on-one English language training, anytime, anywhere, with 100% personalized lessons, HD video quality, and qualified teachers that will help you achieve your learning goals.
If you enjoyed this article, we have some more goodies for you: