Overcoming Cultural Barriers Within Diverse Working Environments

May 21, 2024

In my role as a coach, I specialise in offering transformational ideas and processes to build confidence, resilience and courage in people for their benefit and also the businesses where they work. One example of this has been my work with a fiduciary firm licensed in Abu Dhabi Global Markets to provide corporate services, trusts & foundations to UHNW clients. Having recently experienced some potential issues in multicultural communication skills for her staff, the CEO asked me to address these with the goal of boosting staff engagement and retention.

With the influx of new businesses to the Gulf countries all looking for staff, we're enjoying anincreasing diversity of cultures,and the vibrancy and energy that multi-cultural working brings. However, that newworking environment brings a new set of challenges. For example, staff may be inexperienced in the sector in which they are now employed - there are new skills to be learned in performing daily tasks essential to that business, together with a clear understanding of employer expectations and the importance of good communication in a diverse workplace.


When staff come from many different cultural backgrounds, all too often this leads to misunderstandings if they are not familiar with each other's language, cultural norms, values and customs. Further, non-verbal communication such as body language can vary significantly, with what is considered appropriate in one culture being perceived differently in another. For example, maintaining eye contact may be either a sign of respect and confidence, or impolite and confrontational. Other considerations are dress code, greetings, and overall conduct in formal settings which can also vary widely. What may be considered appropriate attire or behaviour in one culture could be seen as either too casual or overly formal in another.


The interviewing process itself can present challenges due to different communication styles, expectations and etiquette. At interview, staff may be so keen to secure a role, they haven't properly read and understood the job description - but feel inhibited to ask questions of the interviewer due to cultural hierarchical structures and power dynamics. Questioning style may also differ, from placing emphasis on personal background and family, tofocussingon professional achievements and skills. Interviewers need to be aware of these differences to avoid causing discomfort or misunderstanding.Expectations must be carefully managed from the outset in terms of work attire, client contact and even courtesy when corresponding with clients can vary between cultures.

Time Management

An important learning experience for me whilst living in the UAE was the perception of time. Different cultures have varying attitudes towards time. Sometimes, punctuality is highly valued and arriving late for an interview would be viewed negatively. Conversely, in cultures where time is more fluid, being a few minutes late may not be seen as a significant issue.On the same topic, a sense of urgency to meet client expectations may be well understood in some cultures, but not in other more 'work to rule' ones-leading to potential friction between employer and employee.

Stress & Conflict Management

Attitudes towards stress and pressure can influence how employees respond to challenging situations. Navigating these challenges together requires cultural sensitivity, awareness, and open-mindedness from both employers and their staff. I can help to mitigate anxiety and tension by explaining differing perspectives and helping to imagine routes to solutions.

Training & Education

In my long experience, managers often find themselves managing staff rather than concentrating on growing the business which can lead to frustration and deteriorating relationships in the workplace.My training and education programs on cross-cultural communication can help mitigate these difficulties and ensure a more effective and inclusive environment which in turn promotes staff engagement and loyalty.

Why me?

Having worked in the Middle & Far East as well as Britain during my long career, I have genuine multi-cultural experience at all levels which, combined with my interviewing, coaching & mentoring knowledge, assists businesses with staff engagement, loyalty and retention. If you are currently experiencing these challenges and feeling the strain of the high cost of acquiring staff, get in touch with me for details of how I can help you to overcome your business's cultural challenges and boost staff retention today.

Zoe Cousens, Founder & Start-ups Adviser of Zoe

Author Zoe Cousens | Founder & Start-ups Adviser | Zoe Cousens