Courtesy of Pixaby
Courtesy of Pixaby

I assume that of those business people who fly business class, most of them don’t express bigotry about ethnic or racial groups because they are often doing business with such groups. Whether they’re doing so on moral grounds or just because they want to make money, there’s a certain level of respect that is required to be maintained in their operations. Today’s professional landscape is increasingly global; cultural borders have become blurred with the advancement in technology and the increase of diversity in workplaces. Employees interact with colleagues from different parts of the world daily. Without a doubt, successful leaders need to take the initial step of understanding cultural differences, and with enough consideration, embrace them as well.

To successfully compete, leaders in any profession need to have at least a basic understanding of the cultural nuances of the different people they’re teamed with. Otherwise, they can face misunderstandings, conflict in the workplace or other settings and ultimately, loss of respect and efficiency.

The nation’s top companies are looking into highly diverse college campuses to hire employees. They’re seeking diverse talent pools because they aim to reach customers across border lines. Most universities are international institutions and they reflect the social climate of globalization. So, naturally, universities are the perfect training ground for cross-cultural awareness. There, you see clashes and conflicts coming from miscommunication and misinterpretation all the time. Some are trivial classroom politics; some show up in the nightly news. I have lived in the U.S. long enough that I have less difficulty being easygoing in my social navigation. However, I often see my international-student acquaintances struggle to express themselves. And they shouldn’t have to if everyone else kept in mind that people can be unified in goals but not necessarily in methodologies.

These existing difficulties in communication on campus are telling about how we often we fail to understand other cultures, and therefore need to improve such understanding. It seems like cross-cultural intelligence is hard to come by, but with slight and constant changes in our thinking on language, non-verbal cues, roles and statuses and motivations, we can be a little bit more tolerant and considerate. The goal is to welcome people from a variety of cultures and ethnicities to share what their varying perspectives bring to the table.

We can improve our understanding of cultural nuances in student social groups. Many of my non-immigrant colleagues pride themselves in being progressive because they are surrounded by a diverse crowd, yet, in their ways of approaching collaborations, they seem to assume that everyone else navigates a given process with the same hubris. Miscommunication is one of the biggest contributors to a dysfunctional team — whether it be a student organization or a tech startup. A team falls apart when somebody’s “norm” doesn’t come across to others. A diverse and effective team depends significantly on how you interpret the motivations of everyone involved.

Improvement can be made by faculty as well. Oftentimes, professors and TAs will express their frustration over the supposed nonparticipation in a class. It sure can be disappointing when you don’t receive any feedback from your audience. It feels like you’re the object of a spectator sport, but an unresponsive crowd or individual shouldn’t simply be assumed as not being engaged. In many Eastern cultures, the time for lecture is for everybody, so voicing your opinion would be considered taking up other people’s time or seen as “talking back.” Some cultures value collectivism over individualism. In Japan, one showing strong emotion in public can be taken personally by others, and is taboo. Speaking up and expressing emotion are all perceived through culture-specific lenses, and such judgments are not always in plain sight.

Fortunately, we have technologies that can alleviate the issue by acting as the middle men. Clickers help educators get responses out of their students without making them feel out of place. However, do the two sides get better at communication? People don’t use clickers at workplaces and other social gatherings. Better communication starts with empathy and cultural intelligence. It is a sign of respect when students are willing to exercise different ways of taking an active part in class. And, it also shows respect when educators understand that students engage in a variety of ways. We must meet each other halfway in our cultural understandings; it heightens efficiency to commit completely.

I’m not saying people should start imitating their peers, but they should try to understand the different ways in which people go about their work. How different cultures view social cues is important for good leaders to consider. If anything, improving your cross-cultural interactions is a good mark in work experience for your resume.