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Communication and Conflict in the Modern Workplace

Communication is an inevitable aspect of human interactions and the basis of all interpersonal relationships. Communication is purposive because every time we talk, write, listen and even stay silent, we are engaging in a communication process that somehow impacts us and others. Communication can be either verbal and nonverbal. The use of language spoken or written refers to the “what”, while the “how” refers to the nonverbal communication that defines the boundaries and outcome of the communication.

Interpersonal communication is not a random phenomenon but a process that involves participants that consciously or unconsciously engage in the process of exchanging information, sharing of ideas, opinions, facts, feelings with intention to reach a common understanding. Communication is fundamental to the existence and survival of humans and organized systems.

In today’s diversified workplace effective communication can be challenging since cultural factors can become barriers to effective communication as well as a source of miscommunication and conflict. Embracing cross cultural communication in the workplace ensures team collaboration, performance and prevents workplace failures. Cross cultural understanding is a significant factor for effective communication for every individual within the organization.

In a globalized working community each and every person’s beliefs and values depend on his culture. Understanding culture involves understanding of similarities and differences of people of different backgrounds and groups can help you adjust your communication style and create meaningful interactions. Culture refers to the values, norms, beliefs, behaviors and may be defined by geography, religion, race or ethnicity.

With the continuous globalization, organizations need to understand and overcome the cultural barriers to effective communication in the workplace in order to foster an inclusive organizational climate and leverage the differences in communication, decision making and task/work approach styles. These differences can lead to anxiety, misunderstandings, and conflict in the workplace.

Some barriers to cross cultural communication include:

Cultural Awareness Limitations

Failure to be open and understand the norms, values and beliefs of the different cultural backgrounds.

Stereotyping or Value Judgments

Forming opinions of cultural groups based in stereotypes portrayed by the media or inadequate information.


Assuming that people of the same cultural background will have similar beliefs, values and behaviors or misinterpreting nonverbal cues such as eye contact or dressing codes.


Thinking that our own culture is “right” or “better” and perceiving our group behaviors as the standard against which we evaluate other people’s behaviors.

Tips for Improving Cross Cultural Communication

Adopt an Open Mind

Embrace an open mind to learning about other cultures, that includes language, customs and values. Feel free to ask questions when appropriate. Avoid making assumptions or judgments about the other culture.

Develop Self Awareness

Be aware of our own cultural biases and assumptions. Respect the differences between cultures and avoid imposing your values on others.

Embrace Empathy

Build relationships based trust, respect and genuine interest.

Face to Face Interactions

As remote work become more prominent face to face interactions become less of the norm, face to face interactions is an important element to understanding; hosting face to face dialogues over zoom or team allows people to get to know each other and interact easier. Human interaction is an important element of human evolution.

Other tips

  • Avoid using slang language

  • Allow space and time for the other person to speak

  • Listen actively

  • Speak clearly and succinct

  • Provide feedback

  • Ask questions to confirm understanding or clarify

  • Be respectful and use proper etiquette

Cultural diversity is one of the biggest work-related buzzwords as the number of people moving across borders continue to rise and diversity is increasing, understanding cross-cultural communication demands a clear and respectful discussion. A recent study cites that 86 percent of respondents blame lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures; similarly, 92 percent of respondents also agree that a company’s tendency to hit or miss a deadline will impact bottom line results. Embracing key cross cultural communication strategies can help you to overcome some of the challenges and ensure that everyone feels valued and respected.

At IMEQ Center, seafarers are our priority. Our motto, “Happier Seafarers Safer Journeys”. We are committed to helping maritime companies and organizations create psychologically healthy and safe workplaces by providing recruitment services, mental health trainings, and consulting services to increase organizational well-being, optimize workplace safety and enhance employee satisfaction.


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