Intercultural relationships feature differences in gender, nationality, religion and physical ability. Developing a strong association among colleagues working together in the same organization poses challenges on various fronts. Complications are most likely to arise where both parties are not committed to creating a tolerant and welcoming environment of association. Despite the many problems that such individuals may go through in the process of understanding each other and working towards a common goal, the benefits are rewarding to both the working relationship and the business organization involved. According to Akhilesh (2014), the key to successful intercultural relationships is the commitment to balancing similarities and differences. The involved parties may also acquire new skills, break stereotypes, and learn more of each other’s world. The renewed association creates a sense of interconnectedness. Intercultural relationships are also important in establishing a consistent pattern of communication across cultural barriers.
While there are various roadblocks to building a healthy interpersonal relationship with a colleague of a different culture, there are strategies one can use to deal with those roadblocks with sensitivity. In my case, I have a new male colleague from China with whom I am supposed to create a bond for us to deliver on our business targets. It is important that my business colleague feels comfortable at the workplace because a healthy interpersonal relationship influences the overall organizational culture. There are several strategies that I could use to ensure that there is a healthy interpersonal relationship with my Asian colleague. Below are some of the key strategies.
- Seek to Understand My Colleague’s Culture
Learning key aspects of another culture is the key aspect of building a healthy interpersonal relationship. This is because culture influences and informs behavior, attitudes, beliefs and practices. In my case, I would focus on learning the specific aspects associated with Asian communication. I would engage my colleague to understand the many aspects that differ between Western and Asian cultures concerning communication. For example, the directness of how we speak, use of emotions in different situations, eye contact, tonal variations, and other non-verbal aspects of communication. These and other elements of communication can present as a source of conflict between people of different cultures because they occur beneath the parties’ conscious awareness. Weck and Ivanova (2013) state that a multicultural workplace can be a source of challenges to interpersonal relationships if the parties involved do not make an effort to learn each other’s cultures. Also, it is easy to misunderstand another culture’s communication if it is a language that is not easily understood since culture does inform the style of communication.
- Understanding the Dimensions of Differences in Our Cultural Values
The groundwork for building a healthy interpersonal relationship is to understand the cultural similarities, if any, but to also work through or learn to tolerate any differences. Ling (2014) recommends the use of values to understand the respective national cultures. These values include:
- Individualism versus collectivism
- Power distance
- High context and low context cultures
- Informality and formality
- Concern for others and materialism
Therefore, I will engage my colleague in an open discussion where we can learn various aspects of each other’s cultures. This would overcome any intercultural barriers that would have otherwise prevented us from engaging and developing a healthy working relationship. It is with learning my colleague’s culture and, especially his cultural values, that I would value diversity and appreciate the individual differences between us. Learning these cultural values reduces the chances of making assumptions in the workplace, thusly reducing misunderstandings.
- Set Competency goals
This is an additional strategy to understanding cultural differences. Competency goals are rather one-sided because they mainly involve the pursuing party. They are important because they improve the chances of understanding the cultural differences in a more efficient way so as to sustain positive interpersonal relationships. One of the key ways that I would employ this in achieving this goal is learning to be culturally sensitive. When relating to a colleague of Asian origin, one must remain alert to the differences that may be presented by culture. It will, therefore, be important for me to be aware and willing to investigate more on the intricacies of Asian culture. According to Chiu et al. (2013), being culturally sensitive increases the likelihood of enhancing interpersonal relationships. Being culturally sensitive introduces the platform upon which respect can be established between people of different cultures. This is an effective way of not only achieving interpersonal relationships but also achieving a cross-cultural understanding.
I would ensure my colleague understands that I value the differences that exist between the Western and Eastern cultures and hope that respect is sustained between us. According to Griffith and Harvey (2011), the major target of understanding the major and minor differences between cultures is to obtain cultural fluency. This is the long-lasting ability to conduct our operations in a diverse environment. Achieving this fluency would benefit us by improving our relations despite coming from different cultural backgrounds.
- Attend Cultural Training Programs
Intercultural research studies reveal that cultural training enhances interpersonal relationships because it complements what the pursued party reveals about their culture. I would ensure that I take advantage of available cultural training programs in our organization to understand the traditions and customs of the Chinese people on a deeper level. It is recognized that those employees who make an effort to learn their colleagues’ cultures have an advantage towards building stronger interpersonal relationships and enhancing the organizational culture. Some of the topics I would be keen on learning include business etiquette, values, and attitudes. If my colleague is not yet fluent in the English language, I would make an effort of learning his language so that I can build a better connection with him rather than rely on a translator. According to Hoe (2013), combining cultural training with diversity training provides an added incentive to cementing the relationship between individuals from different cultures. The two bring about harmony in the workplace because they motivate individuals to get along with diverse organizational colleagues. I would use this strategy to improve my awareness and empathy for my colleague. Empathizing with my colleague’s point of view should be an essential part of building an interpersonal relationship. This would enhance our work relations and improve the levels of association.
- Adopt an Effective Conflict-Resolution Strategy
There is a high chance that diversity can create conflicts in the workplace and end up affecting productivity. In this case, it is important that diverse groups in the same workplace seek the most effective conflict-resolution strategies to ensure there is harmony. The situation could become complicated when the feuding parties are from different cultures. In my case, I would seek to understand the approach that my colleague would prefer in solving a conflict.
Chinese are associated with a group-oriented culture while the Americans are more individualistic. This means that where the individualistic culture uses a more direct expression to confront an issue, the group-oriented culture would prefer a more reserved strategy. After learning the preferences of my co-worker, I would involve a third party. Ting-Toomey (2014) explains that sustaining a healthy interpersonal relationship is sometimes undermined when there is a cross-cultural conflict situation. There could be possible resistances that may take the form of a denial of the existing conflict or one that comes from the failure to acknowledge one’s bias. However, I would approach this situation through engaging my colleague to determine the most suitable method of conflict resolution. I would also identify the differences and similarities that exist between our cultural practices and rightly acknowledge them to balance our interests. For the sake of a long-lasting interpersonal relationship, I would prefer mediation. Most probably, an independent person would be suited to handle the conflicts between us. This would minimize the resistance from either party and build a healthy working relationship free of prejudice.
- Evaluate Issues in a Careful Manner
Various issues are bound to arise during the time that I relate with my colleague. Therefore, I would refrain from making unfounded conclusions. Amicable agreements and negotiations where self-disclosure is encouraged should form the core of our relationship. Allowing self-disclosure to form part of our relationship creates trust and improves the self-esteem of both parties. Hynes (2012) explains that self-disclosure helps diverse teams to evaluate issues from an objective perspective. It also initiates relationships that will most likely create a higher level of understanding. Furthermore, communicating often minimizes the chances of errors and opens up new platforms for reviewing issues amicably. Workplace-conflicts arising from diverse teams need not be a source of unhealthy relationships.
- Listen More
To build a healthy interpersonal relationship, it is important that listening forms part of the process (Allen & Long, 2014). Active listening focuses on attending to the needs of an employee or colleague. It creates a good rapport where issues raised can be solved before they become larger conflicts. I would use empathic listening with my colleague to clear out our differences and solve any issues that may arise on a daily basis. This effort creates a lasting interpersonal relationship in the workplace and helps in reviewing the personal differences that could affect the relationship. Leung, Ang and Tan (2014) state that active listening validates one’s sense of worth, improves self-esteem and enhances a positive working relationship. As such, I would use this strategy to develop a strong interpersonal relationship with my colleague.
- Encourage Interaction
Discussion can be used as a platform for expressing views and opinions freely (Bartel-Radic, 2016). I would use this strategy to communicate with my colleague, especially through written mode, as it is an effective means of communication in a workplace. I would make sure I fully express myself through emails and make copies to other employees whose duties and responsibilities are related to mine. By doing this, I would be open to all my fellow colleagues and create an environment where they treat my colleague with the same approach of respect. This way I would create a healthy interpersonal relationship that would improve our interaction.
- Encourage intercultural sensitivity
To promote a positive working relationship, I would encourage other employees to be understanding of any differences so that they can fully focus on achieving the strategic goals of the company. I would adopt the same habit to suit the styles of my colleague by taking into consideration his culture. These factors would involve understanding how he responds to authorities, allowing him to treat his personal space as he prefers, and by not taking his emotions for granted, among others. This would help in getting better results at work.
- Minimize the Cross-Cultural Communication Barriers in Practice
Communications act as the most influential aspect in enhancing interpersonal relationships (Burrel & Gross, 2014). However, cross-cultural differences have the potential of creating communication barriers between co-workers at the workplace. It would, therefore, be important that I approach my Chinese colleague with respect and understanding. Some of the other guidelines I would follow to ensure there is a healthy interpersonal relationship is to:
- Remain sensitive to the differences in my colleague’s nonverbal communication.
- Show him respect at all times.
- Always be aware that barriers towards our cross-communication do exist and be ready to confront them at every working practice.
- Remain observant of our cultural differences.
Intercultural relationships are vital for organizational success. Developing interpersonal relationships between diverse teams requires a special commitment from the involved parties. Similarly, sustaining a healthy interpersonal relationship must be an integral part of colleagues seeking to work together. Positive interpersonal relationships have the effect of enhancing employee motivation and achievement in any organization. In the case above, different strategies have been proposed to develop a healthy interpersonal relationship between myself and my Chinese colleague. Our effectiveness in maintaining a positive interpersonal relationship depends on how committed we are to working in harmony. There should be an initiative to learn some critical aspects of their new culture to ensure their engagement is not hindered by misunderstanding. Both parties must also be culturally sensitive and quick to resolve their conflicts before they drive a wedge in their working relationships. These are some of the effective strategies that could be used to build a healthy interpersonal relationship between an Asian and an American in the workplace.
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