How to Overcome Communication Barriers in the Workplace
Different types of communication barriers, like language, cultural and interpersonal barriers, can be overcome or mediated; however, we shouldn’t assume that it's the employee's responsibility to seamlessly adapt to the workplace. It requires the organizations’ efforts to help the individuals break down these barriers.
1. Run meetings to expose your employees to other cultures
Introducing employees who will be working together in a non-threatening environment enables a good working relationship for long term. A peaceful environment will promote learning about each other’s cultures, languages, rules and norms for establishing better communication. It also helps prepare employees to deal with cross-cultural challenges as they arise. Changing preconceptions can lead to more conducive working relationships.
2. Conduct activities to demonstrate how dependent we are on language
For example, dedicate a day to being silent. Have each employee develop a contract stating what they hope to learn, how long they will remain silent (what exceptions can be made) and how they plan to cope without speaking all day. After experiencing a day with limited communication, participants can typically relate to being in a foreign environment more easily.
3. Provide workshops, tips and techniques for communicating effectively in cross-cultural work environments
People act according to the values of their own culture. Others from another culture might interpret behavior differently. Practicing such strategies as active listening (paraphrasing what is said to ensure understanding can be achieved) and using multiple forms of communication, such as written, audio and visual, can enhance employee involvement in assuring that conflicts do not arise because of cultural misunderstandings due to lack of awareness.
4. Coach employees to mediate conflicts related to cultural misunderstandings
Provide opportunities for employees to respond to situations from viewpoints different than their own. Divide a group of people into pairs to conduct role-playing exercises that allow participants to acknowledge culture difference exist. Encourage each pair to think about a conflict they have experienced recently due to cultural differences. Have each participant describe what they might find offensive or unusual. Let each participant suggest how the problem would be handled in their own culture. Together, have the participants develop a resolution to the problem. Have each pair report to the larger group on their experiences.1
1Cathy Habas 2020, accessed 15th of January 2021,
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