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Working in a multicultural office: tips on smoothing the path

People from 28 different countries, including the UK, work at InterNations

by Elizabeth Roberts for telegraph.co.uk

Working in a busy office inevitably leads to occasional frictions – from disputes over whose turn it is to get the tea in to the person who leaves their mouldy food in the fridge.

But when you’re working abroad – potentially with people from many different countries – then culture clashes, language barriers and differing work ethics can easily trigger more serious disputes.

At the InterNations head office in Munich, there are nearly 100 workers, from 28 different countries. The expat networking organisation operates in English, and many young people spend time on work placements there.

Telegraph Expat asked six young Britons in the team to share their experiences and tips on how to make working in a multicultural office run smoothly.

Liam O’Sullivan, 20, from Leicestershire

In my department alone, I work alongside a Serb, a Bulgarian, an Italian, a Spaniard (to name a few) and my head of department is Danish. It is very important to personally introduce yourself to the people with whom you work. By doing this, you can build rapport and gain a better understanding of other cultures.

Invite your colleagues to cook with you
I have quickly built strong bonds with some of my colleagues by inviting them to cook lunch together at work and by inviting them to my apartment to cook . Not only has this allowed me to make good friends, but I have also gained some delicious French and Italian recipes.

Emily Ingles, 24, from Gloucestershire

I struggled at first to pronounce the names of some of my colleagues (and continue to do so resulting in a few dubious nicknames) but having the opportunity to be surrounded by people from all over the world is something I am glad I have not missed out on. I think differently and I will never see this as a bad thing.

It goes without saying that you will experience culture shock in one way or another but it’s best to embrace it. While you will never get accustomed to everything, you will learn how to live with these new experiences.

​Treat national stereotypes with a sense of humour
Appreciate the diversity of your team – having grown up in different cultures we all have different perspectives and approaches to situations, so take advantage of this. Forget all stereotypes. Eventually you will be able to laugh about these stereotypes with your colleagues and yes, some of us might even live up to them but seriously, leave them at the door.

Jack Doyle, 20, from Bedfordshire

Do some research on the nationalities you’re working with – after all you don’t want to be ignorant and potentially offend them by doing something minor that could be easily avoided.

Try to understand a colleague’s culture, their values and ways of doing things; because most nationalities have their own ways of doing things that are different from the British way.

Do research on different cultures, and try to learn a language
Make it a priority to learn the language of the country you are working in (even if it is simply understanding the basics). One challenge, as minor as it may sound, has been learning to operate a German computer keyboard and basic online German computer content. I had the option initially to translate everything to English, but decided that [learning to use the German] would be a good way of embracing a foreign work system.


Jack Doyle has been working on his conversational German CREDIT: INTERNATIONS

It can take a little time to get used to your colleagues’ quirks but once you do it makes for a much more fun and interesting work environment. Before getting offended by a blunt comment or being frustrated that someone’s late, just keep in mind their cultural background.

Don’t get offended, but don’t be afraid to speak out
But also don’t be afraid to say something; we often don’t realise we have different working cultures and you can save a lot of frustration and embarrassment by voicing any annoyances early on.

Sophie Bartlett, Internations
Sophie Bartlett recommends speaking up early if something’s annoying you CREDIT: INTERNATIONS
Blandine West, 20, is half French and half English, and grew up in Thailand

The biggest thing is the difference in working cultures and also personality traits. For example, what I learnt in Germany was that people are a lot more direct, at first it comes across as rude, especially at work it seems like you are always getting criticised or attacked for what you do or say.

Don’t take criticism personally
But it’s simply the German approach; they don’t like to mess about and it works. You just need to be open to these differences and be ready to work with them.

Anthony Roche, 20, from London

Every now and then I will say something that people will not understand, whether that be because of my accent or the word itself, but [through these misunderstandings] you get an insight into different cultures, which in my opinion can only be a good thing.

In my opinion having different styles is beneficial as you see how everyone would react to certain situations – and more than likely you will see solutions that you would have never thought of.

Agree to disagree and try to find some middle ground
There are cases where cultures have clashed, however it’s about finding a middle ground, and showing that you respect each other’s opinion, whether you disagree or not, and try to come to an understanding.

Nobody goes out of their way to offend their colleagues and I think everyone knowing this means it doesn’t really occur.

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