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Diversity at Work

• volume 1 • number 4

The workplace is a haven for misunderstandings, especially from culturally-based communication differences. Management Team Consultants is developing a specialized program to address the impact of diversity in the workplace. We call it Diversity at Work.

English as a second language, accents, use of American idiomatic expressions, expectations about eye contact, and use of certain expressions to signal listening all contribute to strained communication at work. By addressing all these issues managers can assure that they are inclusive of the progressively growing diversity at every American company.

English is the worldwide language of business. Although it is used on a universal basis, it's use is always culturally bound to the place where it was learned. If a person is fluent in English as a second language it does not mean that he or she is also fluent in American English.

Not just slang or colloquialisms confuse ESL employees. Feedback from our clients around the country shows that companies have their own special workplace expressions that may confuse any outsider ­ especially one from another culture. An example is "microwave training," which means quick on-the-job training. Have you thought about some idiomatic expressions in your organization which may puzzle others?

Communication differences between genders may also parallel those seen across different cultural groups. White American females and culturally diverse people have similar communication characteristics which tend to separate them from white American males. People operate from different value systems when they communicate, some being linear and impersonal in their verbal interaction and others more animated and emotional.

If the person you are talking with suddenly looks puzzled at something you just said or asked, acknowledge what you are observing and ask if there is something you said that was not clear or restate yourself without idiomatic expressions.

When seeking information from others and carrying on a conversation with them, open-ended questions facilitate the flow of information and avoid the problem where a person might say "yes" to be polite but mean "no." In certain cultures it is considered rude to say "no." The use of close-ended questions, which yield just "yes" or "no" answers, is very limiting.

Managing an employee from any type of diverse background can be a challenge. Be aware of your personal communication techniques, so you can help improve understanding in the workplace.