Cross-Cultural Communication At Work: What Is It & How To Avoid It


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As human beings we have developed communication (1) over the years, it is said that at the beginning of time we communicated with drawings, shouting (without words), etc. But now we have the ability to express ourselves in such an understandable way, without a doubt communication has reached a greater evolution.

It is vital for us to communicate, it makes us social. It is almost impossible to live without being able to communicate. Especially in a world that is digitalized and has no borders, where this phenomenon known as cross-cultural communication is created.


  • In recent years, many jobs have become remote, which has led to a diverse relationship between workers.
  • Migration in recent years is more constant, especially in countries with problems, every day more and more people are looking for a new country as a home.
  • Cross-cultural communication seems to be something new, but in reality, it has been in our society and in human history for a long time.

What you need to know about cross-cultural communication at work

Communication will help you grow as a person. Communicating well with different types of people and in different types of environments will show that you are uniquely prepared and give you a good reference. Below, we will tell you a little more about cross-cultural communication.

What is cross-cultural communication?

We can define it as an exchange (2) of information (communication) between people from different cultures, both interacting with each other (in person or virtually). Mostly it occurs in:

  • Work
  • Studies
  • Tourism
  • Social Networking

In this article, we will tell you about cross-cultural communication from the point of view of work.

How does cross-cultural communication impact business?

Impact on productivity

Often the fact of language or a different culture can cause a work group to not be at 100% or not be able to achieve its goals. There can be miscommunication in a workgroup or confusion.

Time zone issues

When there is a workgroup from different cultures, chances are that these people are from different parts of the world. This can make work difficult, as not everyone has the same time zone and there are several hours of difference.

Impact on customer relationships

The customer should be treated in the best way. Really good customer service is what will keep the customer coming back and a bad experience can lose you customers. Therefore, you need to have people who culturally understand each other.

Language barriers

Language will be the most difficult part of cross-cultural communication. For example, in a working group, there are 2 Spaniards, 2 Russians, 6 North Americans, and 4 Asians. Many languages in one group.

This will make it difficult to communicate, but it will not be impossible. Although it will take time to work optimally.

Impact on marketing

Your products may reach a foreign person or group. So you have to be effective in closing any deal with someone who does not have the same culture as you. A mistake or confusion there can be fatal for a company.

Marketing Mishaps

Good marketing will help a company grow. Make sure you understand the cultures you want to take your product to, as a gesture or an image in your advertising can be overwhelming to your potential customers.

Situations among employees

Some countries have different ways of exiting, talking and even looking, etc. It is necessary to be able to have parameters about this, since there can be uncomfortable situations between employees.

Extremes of cross-cultural communication

What is ethnocentrism?

Ethnocentrism occurs when a person or groups believe themselves to be better or superior to another, with respect to their own culture. So, this is a negative extreme of cross-cultural communication.

Nelson Mandela, activist and defender of freedom and equality of the South African people, considered a symbol of the struggle against racial segregation. (Source: Jonas Chino/ Gitnux)

Many times it is done unintentionally or perhaps in a tone that is not appropriate, but this can be very detrimental to a company and even worse for an individual.

What is xenophobia?

Xenophobia (3) is something similar, but it is fear, rejection, and even hatred of foreigners or other cultures that are not yours, this can lead to demonstrations and or vandalism.

(Source: Jonas Chino/ Gitnux)

Examples of the challenges of cross-cultural miscommunication

In employees

In a group working face-to-face, there are 2 Spanish speakers, they greet each other with a kiss on the cheek, and approach a North American person. One of them tries to greet him with a kiss on the cheek, and the North American person moves away and makes a face of displeasure and fright.

What happened? What happens is that in almost all Spanish-speaking countries it is very common to greet with a kiss on the cheek, but in North America it is not common. This can lead to cultural clashes.

In communication with customers

A company has a potential customer from Korea, but he wants more information about the product. The boss sends a Spanish speaker, since he has more experience with the product. At the end of the talk, no agreement is reached.

What happened? The difference between languages is too great, both needed a common language to be able to communicate, but they were not experts. This made the customer have a bad experience and therefore refuse the purchase since the information received was not very understandable.

In marketing

A group of people create an add, and decide to put in it 2 people of the same sex holding hands, so that customers know that it is a company with inclusion that respects all people. They publish the add, but some time goes by and the middle-eastern buyers call the company and decide to cut relations.

What happened? It happens that, in many cultures, homosexuality is still frowned upon. While it is true that many already accept it, it is necessary to be able to know these areas, what happens if this marketing group consulted a person from that culture, they would avoid cutting a very important relationship.

With suppliers

It is decided to acquire more production material from suppliers, the group leader gives the information to a worker, and that worker passes the information to the supplier, at the time of receiving materials they realize that they have much more than they asked for.

What happened? There can be many factors, it can be the language, or maybe it is a case of different measurement systems (in many places they use centimetres, but in others, it is measured in feet). So it is necessary to be attentive to these things that seem basic.

Use of emojis

In your work chat, you use some emojis to make your messages more appealing and encourage the whole group, most of them answer your messages, but 3 members leave on hold or only answer with a “dislike” emoji.

What happened? You have to be cautious when writing, since some things that are common in our environment (culture) can be somewhat offensive and hurtful to other people.

Tone of voice

It is necessary to be careful with one’s tone of voice. We know that many countries are used to speaking in a high tone, or in some, in a low or passive tone, but this should not limit you, it is necessary to adapt.

Remember to use a tone according to the environment and always with respect, since speaking with a high tone may seem that you are shouting or always angry or a low tone may seem that you are afraid or that you do not care much about the work.

How to improve cross-cultural communication in a company?

Get to know your employees

Strive to get to know your employees, their cultures and traditions, try to understand them whether they are in your country or not.

Establish standards

Some of the rules you can implement are:

  • Always remind them that we are all equal and that no one is more and no one is less
  • Any behaviour of racism, ethnocentrism and xenophobia will have serious consequences
  • Be inclusive of all workers, while it is true that they are there to work, it does not mean they are like robots.

Establish policies and standards of conduct

Do not allow racism, ethnocentrism, xenophobia, etc. to exist. These can destroy your company from the inside, create rules against this. At the same time create rules of inclusion, policies that provide security to each of your workers and always be attentive to the human resources sector.

Choose the right people

If you are looking to expand your market outside your city, know their cultures and customs, if you plan to reach Mexico and you have an employee from Mexico, trust him to be in charge or advise on marketing or support in that area, trust him.

how to improve cross-cultural communication personally?

Respect everyoneIt doesn’t matter where they are from, if they are tall, small, slim, etc. Respect is a great principle that will take you very far in life if you follow it.
Destroy barriersThere are many barriers(5) in cross-cultural communication, but we want you to focus more on language, as it is the biggest barrier.
Strive for understandingWe all have different traditions and cultures, but try to understand that your traditions are not better.
If you can, adaptSomething that will help you a lot in your life is to be able to adapt to those around you, be empathetic and sincere.


If there is cross-cultural communication in your company, remember the key is to be able to manage it, it can be beneficial to have people from other cultures in your company, if you control it and avoid mistakes. This will be beneficial for your company, and will greatly expand your market.

If you are a person who is now going through or will go through cross-cultural communication, remember that you personally can control it, be respectful, patient and always in good spirits. In the beginning, it might be difficult, but if you want, you can do this.


1. Gómez FSJ. Communication [Internet]. Salus. Universidad de Carabobo; [cited 2022Sep20]

2. INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION [Internet]. [cited 2022Sep21]

3. Against xenophobia – UNICEF [Internet]. UNICEF. UNICEF; [cited 2022Sep21]

4. United Nations, Main Bodies, Committees, Resolutions, General Assembly [Internet]. United Nations. United Nations; [cited 2022Sep20]

5. Alsina MR. Intercultural Communication [Internet]. Google Books. Google; [cited 2022Sep20]


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