How to Negotiate Cultural Differences in the Workplace

women in hijab.jpeg

By EmployDiversity

As social creatures, it’s natural for people to seek out other individuals and groups. We find other people through meeting places like associations, social groups, and places of worship. This means we are often surrounded by people with similar values, backgrounds, beliefs, and points of view. Although these groups fulfill our need for human connection, they also create a lack of diversity that can lead to a lack of acceptance of people who are different.

Our tendency to otherwise surround ourselves with like-minded individuals means that workplaces are often the most diverse environments in our lives. We do not choose who we work with and are required to develop relationships with people who we might otherwise not interact with. At work, you will find co-workers who are different, whether that be in gender, ethnicity, religion, age, or sexual orientation.  This forced interaction with people who are different from us creates the opportunity to develop a more inclusive perspective. It also helps us learn how to better relate to those with whom we would not otherwise deal.

It’s important for people to be able to recognize cultural differences at work to avoid misunderstandings and conflict. Without an understanding of cultural differences, issues can become divisive. Situations like these lead to judgments of ‘right and wrong’ and an ‘us vs. them’ mentality. Some examples of cultural differences in the workplace include:

  1. Speaking up: Certain cultures are more submissive in the workplace than others and less likely to voice opinions or concerns. In some cultures, it’s not acceptable to question authority, which can be incorrectly perceived as a lack of engagement or contribution.


  1. Sharing: Some cultures are more likely to share information about themselves with their coworkers. They do this because relationships are a core value and they want to know and understand people. They can sometimes feel isolated if their interest in others is not reciprocated.


  1. Self-promotion: This is often a difference between individualistic and collectivist cultures. Some cultures value humility and hard work and do not promote seeking recognition. Whereas people from other cultures have been taught that they have to highlight their accomplishments to get ahead.


These types of cultural differences can present challenges for employees who do not know how to interpret them. To help your employees develop their ‘cultural intelligence’ and to build an inclusive workplace, you should:

  1. Make diversity a part of your mission: Taking the time to explain the company’s philosophy on diversity and inclusiveness is meaningful to employees. The company should have a clear narrative on the value of diversity and communicate it frequently. The goal is for the entire workforce to view themselves as a team that works together and values each other.


  1. Provide training: Training isn’t just for job-specific skills. It’s important to have training dedicated to interpersonal skills, diversity, and unconscious bias. With training employees are better able to understand themselves and others and the benefits of a diverse workplace.


  1. Create Inclusive Processes: Review policies and processes related to recruitment, hiring, and promotions. Consider ways that bias can be removed from those activities. Creating a diverse and inclusive work environment is an active process that requires an ongoing commitment.

The different people that we encounter every day at work make workplaces the best environment to encourage people to accept and value diversity. Using the workplace as a venue for facilitating understanding and collaboration between people who are different will help eliminate bias, misunderstandings, and conflicts in business and life.

Since 2003, EmployDiversity has been helping employers connect with diversity professionals through its online employment service. Post a job opening for your organization at with a just a couple clicks. And go to to read helpful articles and resources for Diversity Managers.