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Ann Feyerherm Delivers Message Encouraging HR Leaders to Lead Cross Cultural Communication in the New Digital Era

June 3, 2021  | 3 min read

Ann FeyerhermIn an essay directly to members of the International Public Management Association for Human Resources in HR News, Ann Feyerherm described how, like stepping into a time machine, the last year or more has thrust the world of work into the digital future. Due to restrictions in place to manage the global pandemic, millions of workers have compressed learning at a rapid pace. What would have likely taken decades to learn was accomplished in months. Specialists learned to collaborate via online messengers, managers learned to organize records in the cloud, and directors learned screen sharing for dozens of video conference participants.

Many of the tasks done online have obliviated the need for physical presence. Online interaction has replaced often unnecessary face-to-face interaction. However this new era of rapid communication, data sharing and online collaboration has not torn down all barriers. Despite the digital transformation, conscious and unconscious bias, negative nonverbals and lack of listening persists. Though not a new concept, the idea of cultural intelligence -- the ability to develop patterns from cultural cues, the desire and ability to engage others, and the capability to act in accordance with cognition and motivation -- is groundbreaking. Developing cultural intelligence (CQ) may be helpful not only to HR professionals, but the managers they may coach and the teams they lead.

Feyerherm described how human resources professionals can play an important role in breaking these barriers and fostering effective cross-cultural communication both in person and online, in both global settings and with teams in one country that have people from diverse backgrounds. Here are five areas in which HR managers can encourage positive cross-cultural communication:

  1. Empathy. In a cross-cultural setting in which there may be added barriers like language and customs. It’s highly encouraging when someone recognizes and cares about how another person is feeling. For example knowing how and when to ask probing questions and repeat back what you are hearing for understanding can aid in showing empathy in a cross-cultural setting especially online.
  2. Patience. Many people possess the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. For others patience requires practice. There is growing evidence that the practice of mindfulness can help foster patience. For example, people who write down what makes them impatient (a mindful practice) is known to lead to greater patience.
  3. Helpfulness. In a work setting the most popular (and most successful) employees are those ready to be pleasantly useful to someone else. Research shows workers are more likely to help colleagues who are similar in terms of gender, socioeconomic status, or race. Addressing and counteracting this tendency, in physical presence or in an online setting, can dramatically and positively impact work. When workers learn to help others who may be unlike themselves, they are actually working with the majority of their colleagues.
  4. Being strategic. A strategy is a framework upon which to make decisions. An HR professional can plan and strategize for their own personal approach to multicultural interactions by enhancing their knowledge of the cultures that influence their workforce. This can be done through reading, conversations with others unlike themselves, taking a CQ assessment and planning improvements. They can also help an organization be more strategic in their recognition of and planning for how diverse cultures may be recognized, included, and celebrated in the organization.
  5. Coaching leaders. An important role of HR professionals is coaching others. In this regard it has been demonstrated that a leader’s CQ can impact their team performance. Once an HR professional has developed their own abilities (as noted in this list), they are better prepared to assist leaders in their organizations and become more cross culturally adept.