Understanding the Link Between Cultural Diversity and Expression of Emotions

Celebrating diversity is a fundamental part of the human experience, in settings ranging from social gatherings to the workplace. It’s also a topic that is politically charged and, as long as anti-police brutality protests continue, front-and-center within America’s psyche. When it comes down to it, the U.S. is becoming increasingly culturally diverse, and business leaders across every industry are taking note.

In corporate settings, fostering cultural diversity may include providing culturally inclusive medical care, or hosting events that highlight a particular nation or minority group. When it comes to cultures that are different than ours, however, it’s important that we don’t unknowingly push our cultural agenda on others. Cultural diversity goes beyond the simple concept of personal identity — different expressions of emotions are commonplace, and social fears are very much dependent on one’s culture.

Even the way that mental health conditions can manifest is likely to vary considerably between different cultures. For instance, studies have found that social anxiety disorder (SAD) is much more common among Americans than those from East Asia. Yet that’s not the entire story, and if you delve deeper, you’ll see that countries such as Korea and Japan simply give SAD a different name: Taijin kyofusho, or TKS.

In regards to business, understanding various cultural idiosyncrasies as well as social norms and forms of emotional expression can help you create a more diverse workforce. Supporting and understanding the ways in which different cultures express and process emotions is paramount to maintaining a workplace culture that’s both dynamic and diverse.

Cultural Diversity in the Workplace

It would be a mistake to pass off the concept of diverse workplace culture as a passing trend. You may even underestimate the true value that diversity can add to your organization. Fostering cultural diversity may positively impact your bottom line and can even give your company an edge in the realm of problem-solving.

“Diversity allows companies to adopt a different lens to solve challenges, operate the organization, and keep it strong,” says Elise Awwad, VP of Strategic Enrollment Management at DeVry University. How can your company grow and thrive in our competitive world if the bulk of your employees share the same cultural experiences and forms of emotional expression? Increasingly, corporate leaders are discovering the ways in which cultural diversity in the workplace yields substantial benefits, including creativity and professional development.

The Burden of Social Anxiety

To those unfamiliar with the condition, “social anxiety” may seem like a non-issue or even a weakness. In actuality, anxiety represents a major public health scourge. About 12% of Americans will suffer from social anxiety at some point during their lifetime. What’s more, the majority of those living with SAD do not seek treatment in order to control the condition.

At its core, social anxiety manifests as irrational embarrassment, paranoia, or a similar emotion in the course of performing everyday tasks, such as answering the phone or interacting with a cashier. The condition can be debilitating, negatively impacting one’s personal relationships and undermining their ability to hold down a steady job. Yet one’s emotional reaction to social anxiety often strongly depends on cultural norms and expectations.

The good news for U.S. workers with social anxiety is that there are plenty of viable job options out there, across numerous industries. Many mental health professionals believe that jobs with little to no social interaction are just as problematic for those with social anxiety as jobs where giving presentations is expected. Anxious workers are more likely to thrive in small group settings, and they may benefit from working with animals or in tech-related industries.

Recruiting and Retainment: Making an Emotional Connection

Treatment options exist that may help those with SAD live a fuller life, but one’s work environment can make a significant impact on mental health. An inclusive workplace culture allows employees from all walks of life to feel seen and heard, as well as able to express their emotions in a constructive manner. You’re also more likely to attract and retain high-level talent when cultural diversity is a cornerstone of your business model.

And when one’s emotional expression or reaction seems out of context or awkward, don’t hesitate to ask about it. Cultural differences in the business world, including social cues and personal space expectations, provide an awesome learning opportunity that can help your business grow. You may even find that the expressions of dissent and gratitude aren’t universal across cultures. For instance, a verbal “thank you” will suffice in some countries, while others prefer to express their gratitude via a reciprocal act. Even smiling isn’t an emotional norm across cultures, and it’s imperative that you allow employees their own unique form of social expression.

Key Takeaways

No matter how your employees express gratitude or deal with stressful social situations, embracing diversity helps make your company stronger. Your company can easily overcome misunderstandings and the accidental cultural faux pas when your workplace invites and celebrates diversity. In our colorful, multicultural society, celebrating the differences in your workforce can boost your company’s revenue and streamline employee recruitment while making the world a better place.


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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