Why Cross-Cultural Awareness Training is Important for the Workplace

As remote work rises and global teams grow, recognizing and respecting cultural differences is becoming the hidden key to business success. While employees from different backgrounds will always bring different points of view, proper cross-cultural training can promote harmony across your team.

We’ll explore why cross-cultural awareness training is important for the workplace, whether you’re hiring globally or working with international clients. Then, we’ll explain what it takes to implement a training program within your company.

3 ways cross-cultural awareness training benefits businesses

Cross-cultural awareness training is beneficial for your employees, your clients, and your business. It’s a win-win situation all around. Here are three reasons why you should invest in a formal training program.

1. Avoid common cultural faux pas in the workplace

Poor communication is the root cause of many conflicts in the workplace. When what you say — verbally or non-verbally — doesn’t translate well in other cultures, you can quickly clash with your coworkers, even if you didn’t mean to offend. For instance, simply giving a thumbs-up gesture can be offensive in some Middle Eastern cultures, even if it’s positive in Western countries. Similarly, pointing is an impolite gesture in many countries.

Through cross-cultural awareness training, you can promote harmony across your team.

2. Improve productivity

Unconscious bias can be hard to pinpoint, but it can deeply affect an employee’s experience in your workplace. When people are negatively affected by the biases your team members hold, they’re more likely to disengage from work, which quickly leads to decreased productivity within your organization. Similarly, while higher pay can increase productivity, unconscious biases can create pay inequities that lead to widely differing levels of efficiency on your team.

When you help your employees uncover and reduce their unconscious biases through cross-cultural training, you can enhance the work experience for all of your employees, boost morale, and keep everyone engaged at work.

3. Enhance client communication

As your employees’ communication with each other improves, they’ll also be able to work better to create better client experiences for customers around the world. Instead of operating with a Eurocentric view, which is a big issue in Western businesses, your team members can offer more culturally sensitive communication at every touchpoint. Marketing campaigns can be individualized for different cultures, and customer support agents can adequately help clients who are in need.

As global customers become more impressed with their interactions with your company, you can achieve greater brand loyalty.

How to implement a cross-cultural awareness training program

Creating a cultural transformation isn’t always smooth, but the results of a culturally aware workplace are well worth your efforts. When you’re ready to implement cross-cultural awareness training in your workplace, take these four steps to maximize your program’s impact.

Assess your workplace needs

No two businesses experience the exact same cultural awareness issues. Before you start developing your training program, set smart goals by conducting a SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis will help you think critically about your company’s internal strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats in the cultural arena.

As you’re doing your analysis, get feedback from your employees about their experiences — and be willing to listen even if it’s negative. This will help you fully understand your team’s cross-cultural readiness, or how prepared they are to respectfully communicate with people of cultures other than their own.

Create clear policies

Developing company-wide expectations is a great way to precede your training program. This helps establish that your company values sensitivity to other cultures. Plus, it helps you establish a corporate culture for your business, so everyone can operate under one shared culture — even if you’re affected by different backgrounds and experiences.

Create policies regarding your written and verbal communication expectations, and make it clear that discrimination won’t be tolerated. Introduce the concept of a global mindset, which is all about adapting to different cultural signals based on who you’re speaking to.

Start formal training with communication practices

Once your team members understand what’s expected of them in the workplace, work with professional trainers or culture experts on your team to design a cross-cultural awareness program that addresses the needs and goals you identified. Your training session should minimally address topics like how to address language barriers and cultural body language differences, but the rest should be tailored to your team’s cross-cultural readiness level.

Make sure the program consists of activities your employees will all be comfortable with. For instance, while employees from Western cultures may learn best from roleplaying, this may be uncomfortable for people from Eastern cultures.

Educate before penalizing

Completing their training doesn’t automatically make your employees professional cross-cultural communicators. It can take weeks — even months — to develop smoother workplace relationships and reap the benefits of your training.

During this time, give employees a safe space to work on their cross-cultural interactions. When an employee makes an honest mistake, educate them instead of considering penalties. Encourage your team members to extend the same grace to their peers.

Adopt a global mindset

When you implement cross-cultural awareness training that’s customized for your team’s needs, you can achieve a company-wide global mindset that leads to a culture of acceptance and respect. This can ultimately lead to greater productivity and improved communication internally and with clients. Once your training is complete, give employees a chance to practice without penalties, so making culturally aware decisions becomes as simple as riding a bike.


Jori Hamilton
Jori Hamilton
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the pacific northwest who enjoys covering topics related to social justice, the changing workplace, and technology.

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