Essential skills to succeed in the multicultural workplace

Essential skills to succeed in the multicultural workplace
    • Introduction

      In this online course you will learn skills that will help improve your communication and relationships with your colleagues, business partners and customers in multicultural contexts.

      In Week 1, after identifying different aspects of culture, you will learn why cultural awareness and cultural competencies are essential in today's workplace and how they can be achieved. You will apply your insights while evaluating an intercultural encounter of your choice.

      In Week 2, you will focus on business communication flows and consider the advantages of working in a multicultural environment. You will look at the main challenges that come with a range of cultural differences and consider possible solutions. Finally, you will analyse a case study drawing on the skills and knowledge developed during the week.

      Week 3 will narrow the focus to the patterns of interaction and the language that are specific to multicultural workplace encounters. You will first learn how to understand and adapt to your organisational culture and its specific language and style and then look at ways to manage communication within multicultural teams. You will also consider how you can optimise your business communication with speakers of English as a Lingua Franca and speakers of other languages.

      Over to you!

      We hope you will enjoy the course.

      Anna Calvi (Author), Lucy Moss (Senior Manager External Engagement), Mirjam Hauck (Academic Lead), Kirsty Russell (Curriculum Manager)

  • Course learning outcomes

    By the end of this course you will better able to: 

    • understand and define the concept of culture and the ways in which it manifests itself
    • develop your awareness of other cultures
    • understand the benefits and the challenges of working in multicultural environments
    • understand different organisational cultures and their communication styles
    • communicate competently and effectively with colleagues, customers and business partners from other cultures
    • manage multicultural teams 
Below is the course content. You can click on any section here and it will take you through to this section of the course.

Course content

  • Week 1



    Welcome to Week 1! 

    This week you will focus on yourself as an individual, whether a citizen, customer, or employee, your understanding of your own culture and the multicultural environment in which you operate.

    By the end of the week you will have gained a deeper understanding of the concept of culture and developed your intercultural competence by:

    • Defining culture

    • Understanding the need of becoming interculturally competent

    • Developing awareness of your own culture and how others see it

    • Identifying and reflecting on so called internal and external aspects of culture

    • Finding out about and applying Hofstede’s theory of cultural dimensions in a work context and engaging with its critique.

    • Identifying and reflecting on an intercultural encounter of your choice

    Subpages: 2
  • Week 2

    Welcome to Week 2!

    So far, you have looked at the concept of culture and strategies for developing your intercultural competence. This week you will narrow your focus to business organisations that operate in a multicultural context.

    By the end of the week, you will be able to better:

    • Understand the contexts in which it is advantageous to have an intercultural competence.
    • Evaluate the advantages and the challenges of working in a global/multicultural environment including working in  multicultural teams.
    • Understand the benefits and the challenges associated with working in a multicultural environment
    • Identify the flows of business communication and the main features of the communication cycle
    • Deal with some of the challenges arising from intercultural communication.

    Don't forget to go back to your Learning journal from week 1 to continue your reflections.

    Subpages: 2
  • Week 3

    Welcome to Week 3!

    This week’s materials and activities will narrow the focus to the patterns of interaction and the language that are specific to multicultural workplace encounters.

    By the end of this week, you will be better able to:

    • Understand different organisational cultures and their communication styles
    • Use English as lingua franca
    • Communicate effectively with speakers of English as a lingua franca
    • Communicate effectively with stakeholders who speak a different language
    • Manage multicultural teams
    • Meet/or hold meetings? with your foreign partners and customers.

    Remember to continue your Learning journal from weeks 1 and 2.

    Subpages: 2
  • Your learning journal

    As part of the course you will complete your own Learning journal which will help you reflect on your learning and your progress. Download the Learning journal from the link below onto your own device before starting week 1.
    File: 1
  • 1.4 Theories of national cultures: Hofstede

    Another way to develop intercultural competence consists in studying theories about specific national cultures and their main features. One of these theories, Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory, is an attempt to categorise each national culture according to its features.

    You will read about Hofstede’s research, test your understanding of this theory, apply it to your own context and, finally, evaluate it.

    Pages: 4
  • 1.6 Intercultural encounters

    Another way to develop your intercultural competence consists in reflecting on intercultural encounters you have experienced so far.

    The next section will help you to:

    • Define intercultural encounters

    • Learn about the features of the Autobiography of Intercultural Encounters (AIE)

    • Use the AIE to reflect on a past intercultural encounter

    Pages: 6
  • 2.1 Working and communicating in a culturally diverse environment

    In this section, you will focus on cross-cultural business communication.  Consider the following four scenarios:

    • A business operating nationally but in a multicultural environment. Because of this context, this company is likely to employ staff and engage with customers from a range of cultural backgrounds. Examples are restaurants operating in London and other metropolitan cities in the world and most doctor’s surgeries and hospitals in large cities. In this scenario, multicultural teams are common.
    • A company that operates nationally but sources products and services from overseas suppliers. An example could be a large supermarket such as Sainsbury’s in the UK.
    • An international company that does business with foreign companies.
    • A multinational corporation (MNC), i.e. a company that has operations in more than one country. Examples are the British telecommunication company Vodafone, the French food multinational Danone and the US car manufacturer Ford. In this scenario, multicultural teams are frequent.

    Operating in each of these scenarios requires at least some members of staff to work in a culturally diverse environment. This is a very heterogeneous context in which employees, business partners, customers and even the local community contribute a range of perspectives, interests, skills, experience, beliefs and knowledge. Within the organisation’s internal environment, staff from different cultural backgrounds often work in teams either face-to-face or online or both.

    In all these scenarios, it is useful to possess a good level of intercultural competence and an ability to communicate with people from different cultural backgrounds

    To understand cross-cultural business communication, you will first look at how business communication flows internally and externally and who is normally involved. Then you will consider three case studies illustrating the benefits of working and communicating in intercultural workplaces and teams.

    Pages: 7
  • 2.2 Culturally diverse working environments: challenges

    In this section, you will look at cultural differences that may be encountered when working and communicating in a diverse working environment and the challenges they may generate.

    You will first look at the communication process in detail and then consider the following differences:

    • High and low context cultures
    • Use of silence
    • Monochronic and polychronic perceptions of time
    • Different perceptions of space
    • Choice of media

    Pages: 12
  • 2.3 The risks of ethnocentrism

    An important challenge to be aware of is the risk of using an overall  management approach that does not keep the local context into consideration. This normally happens when a company adopts an ethnocentric approach.

    Ethnocentrism is ‘the tendency to view one’s own culture as superior to other cultures’ (McDaniel et al,2012). This attitude can lead to ignoring the culture of subsidiaries, business partners and staff in order to impose one’s own.

    Choosing to ignore the features and requirements of the local context may lead to costly errors and even threaten the very existence of the business.

    In this section, you will learn about the risks a company faces when its management takes an ethnocentric approach and consider alternative, more effective approaches.

    Pages: 3
  • 2.8 Survey

    No matter how much of the course you review, please let us know your feedback by completing the short evaluation survey. If you're stopping here, please click the link below before you go. Otherwise, continue to the final week!

    Page: 1
  • 3.1 Organisational culture and language

    In this first section, you will focus on a particular type of culture: organisational culture. Organisational culture encompasses the specific set of values and assumptions of an organisation and its associated structures and behaviour. Schein (1984) represented organisational structure as an iceberg similar to the one you saw in Week 1:  the submerged parts of the iceberg represent an organisation’s shared assumptions and values which influence its visible parts. These submerged parts include symbols, rituals, stories and organisational language.

    You will start by looking at how an organisation’s culture and communication are linked and learn that adapting to a new organisation involves learning to use its typical communication forms and media. Then you will look at the misunderstandings that can occur when communicating with people from different organisations and professions and those met when dealing with patients in the healthcare context.

    Pages: 6
  • 3.2 English as a lingua franca

    A lingua franca is a language which is used as a common medium of communication by people with different first languages. Many languages have been used and are still used as lingua francas in different contexts.

    Today, English is considered the global lingua franca of global business and trade. It is used to facilitate communication between business partners, members of international organisations and trade blocks, such as the European Union, and employees of multinational corporations.

    You will now look at case studies and examples illustrating the advantages and the challenges associated with the use of English as a lingua franca and consider possible solutions.

    Pages: 2
  • 3.3 Optimising communication between speakers of English as a Lingua Franca

    When operating in a multilingual environment, it is important to remember that non-native speakers of English may not be familiar with expressions that are typical of British English, American English and other native speaker varieties of English.

    Native speakers and near-native speakers  of English who wish to be fully understood by their interlocutors should avoid the following:

    • Idioms that are specific to English speaking countries

    • jokes that only make sense in their own culture

    • regional expressions featuring non-standard grammar

    Linguist Almut Koester (2010) also stresses that lingua franca interactions are successful when non-native speakers are not seen as ‘deficient communicators’ whose ability to express themselves in English is compared with native speaker competence. Rather, successful cross-cultural communication results from a joint effort to understand each other.

    This can be achieved through the following strategies:

    • being aware of words whose meanings may vary across cultures

    • ignoring small grammatical errors that don’t impair communication

    • asking for explanations when a point is unclear

    • repeating key points and information

    • paraphrasing, i.e. rephrasing a point (making the same point) using different words

    • codeswitching, i.e. including words or short phrases in another language that both speakers are familiar with

    The next steps illustrate three of these strategies.

    Pages: 4
  • 3.4 Dealing with business partners and customers who don’t speak your language

    It is often the case that business partners don’t speak each other’s language and in international trade, an organisation and its customers are not able to communicate in the same language.

    In this case, various strategies are possible:

    • Staff are hired that speak the relevant language

    • Staff learn the language spoken by business partners

    • Information documents, advertisements and corporate websites are translated into the languages of the target markets

    • Interpreting services are used during meetings

    Pages: 3
  • 3.5 Managing multicultural teams

    In Week 2 you looked at the benefits and challenges of working in multicultural contexts. One of these contexts is the multicultural team.

    A team is defined as a group of people working together towards the same objective. In a multicultural team, some or all members have a different cultural background.  While these differences can increase creativity and performance, they need to be carefully managed through carefully chosen communication strategies.

    In this section, you will evaluate a range of communication strategies used to manage multicultural teams and learn about an approach that has proven successful: the Map-Bridge-Integrate Approach.

    Pages: 2
  • 3.6 Meeting your business partners and customers

    When meeting with business partners from different cultural backgrounds, it is important to be sensitive to their specific customs and needs as well as their different ways to communicate.

    In this section, you will consider:

    • Formal and informal business practices

    • Direct and indirect ways to give feedback

    Pages: 4
  • 3.9 Survey

    Page: 1

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Course reviews

    Michael Firth

    Essential Skills for multicultural workplace

    Michael Firth8 January 2019 3:11

    Some thoughts. Time has precluded a devoted effort to each and every module of the course, but I have been through most of the material offered, albeit in some areas in only a cursory manner. As an experienced operator in the international / multicultural workplace (10 years + in NATO) I found the course a bit simplistic. But then I had to remind myself that this is designed for those who have been at work for some time in a purely national domain, or who are about to embark on/ have just arrived in an international working environment. In THAT context the contents did deliver an introduction to the essential skills. However, the course timescale, the lack of interaction with fellow students, the lack of one-to-one engagement with a tutor, seminar discussion groups - even webinar - and the lack of TMA (aarrggh… the dreaded TMA) left only self-analysis. In light of that, the course does not deliver a package of essential skills, nor does it fufill the course objectives, it merely provides some signposts and encourages self-awareness. No bad thing in its own right, of course. The course offers a great ‘taster’ but is crying out for some student-tutor, student-student interaction, beyond the computer screen, to really deliver its message. On the course content, and having been made aware of the beta format, I found the page layout too cluttered and counter-intuitive. One third of each page is lost to headers, and the (repetitive0 index of course content (LH column). Both are in large(r) font and they relegate the actual course material to second, third place.… Also, links to some of the web pages need to be cleaned up. I was confused with irrelevant advertising material - maybe my cookies settings were not quite right, but essentially I found such additional material (a) hard to find (b) mixed up with other ‘stuff’. Disappointed not see any mention of Erin Meyer: The Culture Map. Yes, Hofstede is a recognised academic guru on this material but Meyer’s 8 dimensions offer a refreshing (and I found very useful) tool to understand the multi-national, - cultural working environments. In sum, a positive start. 3 major points: a. The formatting of screen pages needs to promote the actual course material, b. At least a reference to Erin Meyer’s The Culture Map would be beneficial , and c. Develop tutor support/ student interaction.

About this course

  • 20 hours study
  • Level 0: Beginner


3 out of 5 stars

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