Understanding culture in organizational communication

Culture, defined as a set of belief systems consisting of attitudes, behaviors and customs, often define us. We are what our culture makes us to be. Culture impacts us so deeply that without being consciously aware of it, our work ethics get influenced deeply by our culture. Surprisingly, even communication in organizations, which are apparently straight and simple; gets highly influenced by culture.

Means different things to different people

Communication, although it appears to be as simple as “yes” and “no” at important times, can have very different connotations and implications for people of different cultures. Despite globalization, which has fostered interactions between different cultures on a scale perhaps not witnessed at any point of time earlier in man’s history, there are huge differences in the way the same thought is communicated and understood in different cultures.


It is not possible to make generalized inferences about how communication is made and understood between different cultures. There are substantial differences between cultures. It is not possible to generalize something like a pan-oriental set of behaviors. There are different ways of communication in Japan, India and China, for instance. In eastern cultures, there is generally a great reluctance to state something on the face, whereas in the West, a communicator comes to the point straightaway. This is just one of umpteen differences in the way communication is construed.

Different perceptions about an expression

In the West, particularly in Britain, the phrase “it’s a shame” is used to mean “it’s a pity”. When a Briton uses this phrase on an unsuspecting non-Briton, the reaction could range from anger to indignation, because the word “shame” is usually derogatory in most other cultures.

HR can foster inter-cultural communication

So, it takes a lot of time and effort to understand communication from the cultural perspective. In the workplace, this can create havoc. HR can facilitate the process by creating cultural communication awareness training sessions within the organization. This will go a long way in removing cultural barriers.




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