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Multiculturalism: The Role of Active Listening In A Diverse Workplace

Do you ever find yourself forgetting the name of someone you were introduced to at a networking event or lunch meeting?

If so, you're not alone. Most studies suggest that the average person only remembers between 25% to 50% of what they hear, making it likely that your boss, colleagues, or customers may retain less than half of the conversation you have with them.

The problem isn't necessarily a lack of memory, but rather a lack of effective listening skills. This is particularly true in today's diverse workforce, where teams often include individuals from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Even if everyone speaks the same language, differences in dialects and speech patterns can make listening and understanding more challenging.

To optimize performance in multicultural work environments, active listening—a term used by experts to describe the attentive listening required to understand the true meaning of someone's words—is necessary. To effectively communicate across cultures, it is important to listen with empathy, which involves connecting with a person's feelings and thoughts.

According to multicultural expert and managing partner of Global Novations, Janet Reid, building multicultural muscle is necessary to listen to the cadence and rhythm of different cultures, rather than simply talking over people with a knee-jerk reaction. Procter & Gamble's "Cultures At Work" training program teaches employees about the differences between low-context cultures—such as German, Italian, and American—which tend to be more verbal and characterized by fast-paced conversations, and high-context cultures—such as those in Asia—which tend to be more reserved and deferential.

Understanding and respecting these differences is essential to being a sensitive and patient cross-cultural listener. Failure to listen carefully to others can lead to incorrect assumptions and misunderstandings. For example, imagine a white team leader has to select a team to work on a new project. They might just pick whoever they think is best for the team, only for an African American employee to see the team is all white. Do we automatically assume discrimination is at play? Is it ignorance? An accident of miscommunication? Cross-cultural training programs are needed to build better multicultural muscle and better communication skills like active and empathetic listening.

By taking the time to truly listen and understand different perspectives, conflicts like the example above can be avoided or better worked through, leading to a more successful and harmonious workplace.

Mona Lou International strives to enable globally diverse corporate work teams and their leaders to function harmoniously with a deep appreciation of the dimension of culture, enhancing productivity, & profitability.

We offer customized training sessions, coaching, and consulting programs geared to meet your specific needs. Do you want to excel in today's globalized world? MLI's programs can be just what you're looking for.

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