“According to the U.S. Department of Labor, minorities such as African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanics represented just 7.6 percent of the total workforce over 50 years ago. According to U.S. Department of Labor EEO-1 reports that number stood at 34.25 percent in 2007, and the U.S. Census Bureau has estimated that the total minority population in the United States will comprise 50 percent of our total population by the year 2050.”(Renckly, 2011) With statistical data pointing to an evident increase of cultural diversity within our workforce, it is important for leaders in organizations to be able to adapt their communication style in order to effectively engage their employees. The latter is truer for global organizations that operate in different regions of the world where cultural differences can impact the manner in which business is conducted. Leaders’ knowledge of social styles in the workplace becomes ever critical in engaging their employees to help drive organizational goals.
“In every instance of organizational malaise that comes to mind, at some time and in some way, human communication behavior has been significantly involved. Indeed there are scholars who have persuasively made the case that a communication failure is at least one of the basic sources underlying every organizational failure,” W. Charles Redding, in DeWine Sue — Consultant’s Craft, p.xxiii.
Organizations that are looking to provide their leaders with the tools needed to manage a diverse workforce must not only focus on cultural differences within their populace but must also provide their leadership with the understanding of the social differences that cultural diversity brings with it. Diversity can have both positive and negative effects on an organization’s communication as is discussed in a study conducted by Catherine Kirchmeyer, & Aaron Cohen, (1992). Multicultural groups: Their performance and reactions with constructive conflict, Group & Organization Management.The study examined the effects of constructive conflict on decision-making groups that were culturally diverse. The study found that ethnic minorities contributed considerably less to decisions than non-minorities did. However, with increasing use of constructive conflict, groups made more valid and more important assumptions, and the performance and reactions of ethnic minorities improved at rates either the same as or greater than those of non-minorities. Taking the findings into consideration, the use for managers within diverse organizations, the practice of constructive conflict offers a promising approach to group decision making.
Equally important as constructive conflict is to the communication process of a workgroup, leaders must be able to use their knowledge of social styles to ensure that their ethnic members are given an equal opportunity to contribute to the workgroup’s task completion. Leaders can easily allow their ethnic members to “fall to the wayside” by not completely understanding their specific social style and how to engage them productively. Misunderstandings can arise during communication from attributes such as: inequality in turn-taking (Kirchmeyer & Cohen, 1992), miscommunication arising from language barriers (Kim & Paulk, 1994; Loosemore & Lee, 2001) and misinterpretation of non-verbal communication (Greenbaum, 1985; Greenbaum & Greenbaum, 1983). Understanding how to identify diverse social styles in workgroups coupled with the ability to remain versatile in adapting communications will help improve organizational communication.
There are many models available to organizations that will help introduce their leadership to the basic fundamentals of understanding social styles, such as the Wilson Learning Group’s course: “Building Relationship Versatility” or the Insights Group: “The Discovery Colour Energies” both programs are based off of a four quadrant system that helps identify most people’s specific social styles and the individual factors that helps to communicate with each particular style effectively. The main premise of understanding social styles will assist leaders in transcending cultural differences making their individual or group communications more effective. However, the most important premise is the ability for individual leaders to remain versatile in adapting their style of communication to be able to meet their audience’s needs.
With the increase of ethnic diversity within our country’s workforces and the globalization of today’s business environment, diversity initiatives are becoming a critical focal point in how organizations engage their employees. Communication without an understanding of social styles cannot be relied on alone because of the many opportunities that are present to mis-communicate an initiative or an idea, or the ability to be misinterpreted by the receiving audience. Today’s leaders must increase their knowledge of the many social styles that comprise their workforce and must continually work on their own communication versatility to be able to effectively drive their organizational goals.
Greenbaum, P.E. (1985). Nonverbal Differences in Communication Style between American Indian and Anglo Elementary Classrooms. American Educational Research Journal, 22(1), 101-115.
Greenbaum, P.E., & Greenbaum, S.D. (1983). Cultural Differences, Nonverbal Regulation, and Classroom Interaction: Sociolinguistic Interference in American Indian Education. Peabody Journal of Education, 61(1), 16 – 33.
Kim, Y. Y., & Paulk, S. (1994). Intercultural Challenges and Personal Adjustments: A
Qualitative Analysis of the Experiences of American and Japanese Co-Workers. In
Wiseman, R.L., & Shuter, R. (Eds). Communicating in Multinational Organizations.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Kirchmeyer, C., & Cohen, A. (1992). Multicultural groups: Their performance and reactions
with constructive conflict. Group & Organization Management, 17(2), 153–170.
Loosemore, M., & Lee, P. (2001). Communication problems with Ethnic Minorities in the construction industry. International Journal of Project Management, 20(7), 517 – 524.
Renckly, R. (2011), Human Resources/Richard G. Renckly. – 3rd Edition (Barron’s Business Library) 251-253.
Categories: Employee Relations