Trust drama in the workplace or How intercultural training can save your company money
Updated: Jan 27, 2021
In a small multicultural company, two employees - let’s call them Jenny and Elisa - had an argument at work and progressively stopped talking to each other. Effective work process was disrupted. The atmosphere became electric. The management investigated the situation and came to a conclusion that both parties lost trust in their co-worker, which resulted in broken communication and unwillingness to collaborate.
The conclusion was correct. However the reasons of distrust differed. Jenny said that she was lacking human connection with Elisa, therefore establishing a work process felt robotic and deprived of sense. Elisa claimed that the work was not done by Jenny to a standard that she would expect, hence why she felt nervous about the team performance. She also suggested that she didn’t want to waste her time talking to a person who was supposedly not engaged enough in the work process.
If we look at this situation from a neutral standpoint, none of them was right or wrong in the way they described their trust perceptions. Jenny and Elisa felt the way they felt because they were educated to behave at work in very different ways. Jenny focused on building strong relationships in her team. She expected the work processes to flow naturally on the basis of trust created by these connections. Elisa, on the other hand, came from a culture where trust was formed out of more functional elements, for example arriving on time, accomplishing work duties with excellence, proactively enrolling in new projects, etc. In other words, her trust was task-based.
When the management interfered to resolve the conflict, they did their best, however, unaware of these differences in perception, they committed one (big) error. They took a side. Elisa’s side. They suggested that to re-establish trust between colleagues, Jenny needed to align with Elisa’s expectations on the work process. What happened next? Jenny, overwhelmed, ashamed and misunderstood, resigned on the spot. This was the final curtain.
Not a big deal? Think again. According to Forbes, replacing an employee can cost 33% of his annual salary* to the company. Hiring, onboarding and training a new team member are costly processes.
In this situation the management is not to blame. It’s natural to take sides, and perhaps they were more aligned with Elisa on trusting principles. However, their inability to mediate the situation resulted in an undesirable and expensive outcome. The conflict could have been resolved without the loss of an employee, should there be an opportunity for an intercultural training involving the management, and the team.
In today’s interconnected and globalized world, intercultural training serves 3 very tangible and concrete purposes:
To resolve existing issues occurred as a result of cultural clashes, to provide guidance in understanding of core values lying behind peoples’ actions
To prevent conflicts by bringing awareness to culturally influenced behaviours, to create inclusive atmosphere at work
To deepen existing relationships by learning to take into account things that matter for each individual team member
This story is not a unique example of miscommunication created by cultural confrontations. Conflicts related to differences in perception of managerial practices, understanding of rules, timings, instructions and initiatives are very common in the workplace. In the worst-case scenario, they lead to an ending similar to what happened in this company. In almost every case, unresolved issues result in an unpleasant work atmosphere, disrupted workflow and lower productivity.
Should there be intercultural training for all? Prevention is better than cure, as they say.