He who is Different from me does not Impoverish me – he Enriches me
Diversity in our world is a basic characteristics of human civilization, and also the key condition for a lively and dynamic society as we see today.” There are currently over 7.7 billion people living on this planet. A planet full of diversity anywhere we turn. Humanity has found out a way to categorize so many different cultures, religions, languages, values and beliefs. Each population has proudly inherited its own traditions and identical uniqueness. Cultural identity and communication have been determined to be firmly associated with interaction between the individuals in a small group.
Every culture has established its own guidelines that the people in it religiously follow and represent. Nowadays, the presence of a cultural diversity in each small group within an organization is is a growing challenge. The way individuals perceive themselves and their surroundings sets the basics of whether or not the communication process is going to be effective. It becomes inevitable to come across the immense impact of cultural diversity on the cohesion and communication of a corporate organization.
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Along with the optimal group size, which according to the expert on team effectiveness J. Richard Hackman, it is “the number of links between people” that can switch directions in a corporate dialogue. Even though we were created by God to represent a lot of things in common, our differences could possibly cause some misunderstandings due to our various perceptions and ways to interact with each other. Organizational diversity could lead to both building up the team a well as causing some serious conflicts depending on people’s ability to consider those cultural differences.
One of the most common communication challenges is actually the size of a small group one has to work within. Cragan, Kasch and Wright define a small group as “a few people engaged in communication interaction over time, in face-to-face and/or computer-mediated environments, who have common goals and norms and have developed a communication pattern for meeting their goals in an interdependent manner.” There is no established optimal number of participants in a small group, however, the more this number grows, the more the ability of the group to make decisions and reach their goal might be weakened. In order to make the coordination process between members flawless, a good cohesion needs to be established as well as some strong cohesion.
Cragan and Wright (2009) distinguished the best small group size between five and seven participants. With the increased number of members within the group, the amount of conflicts and vulnerability of the people also goes up. A huge risk that an oversized group could hide is the decision-making process can take much longer to reach a consensus. The communication challenge could be established not only from the number of participants, but also their cultural background, values and personal identities.
A person’s diversity can be very influential within a diversified small group, its actions and communication. Members coming from different cultural backgrounds could bring many new perceptions about the world trends and understand the right ways to communicate in a opposite way than the rest of the group. The more diverse a small group is, the bigger the risk of miscommunication there exists. We all interpret the facts coming from our own experience and values and this fact allows many misunderstandings to happen in the process of interaction. A group can be different in so many ways – age, sex and gender, ethnicity, social class. Some of the key factors that affect communication in a diverse group of people are the language fluency and whether it is their native language, the stereotypes they believe in and the differences in values.
Personal values can have an incompatible impact on the verbal and nonverbal communication in a small group. Understanding what people’s values are and showing some tolerance are going to play the leading role in overcoming the value differences within a group. Taking into consideration what cultural background individuals are coming from could be a great decision if a group is aiming to avoid conflict and misinterpretation. It is essential that we are aware of what particular values are beneficial in a task group.
According to Geert Hofstede, an expert social psychologist, there are four main ways for identifying values: masculine and feminine perspectives, avoidance of uncertainty, distribution of power as well as individualism. For example, I was born and spent most of my life in an Eastern European country where we value more traditional roles of men and women, their leading roles in the family, work and relations in general. I was very different and new to me after I came to the U.S. to meet a single mom raising her kids by herself while working two jobs and taking online classes. Emancipation in my country is still slowly gaining popularity and most of my fellow citizens would rarely even think out of the stereotype of who should be the lead of a family.
Also, I found it very difficult to integrate into the era of individualism which is so common here in America. Being used to always be surrounded by family and a lot of friends, I had a hard time establishing a new routine where I had to rely mostly on myself and get away from accomplishing tasks mainly within a group. And last but not least, it was necessary for me to reevaluate my nonverbal communication and what personal space really means since I have had thought that physically being close to each other is a sign of affection and respect. Well, the culture shock I had to experience came from the understanding that I should be focused on myself and my family more than getting together in large groups of people simply to socialize. In most situations where I found myself expressing different values than the people I worked with, I had to press hold on my initial thoughts and focus on the main goal of the group task. Being flexible and tolerant to all cultural differences within the organization I worked at allowed me to act professionally and respect all personal aspects of the group members. This way we would all work through our differences and become unite in the name of the effective communication.
One of the greatest and most influential ways to describe diversity comes out from a Malcolm Forbes’ quote who concluded: “Diversity: the art of thinking independently together”. After getting more knowledge about managing cultural diversity and its impact on a small group communication, I am convinced that it could be very beneficial towards group task accomplishment if treated with respect and tolerance. The mutual decision to accept our cultural diversity and use it as our advantage could make all the difference for an organization to prosper.