Diversity creates communication problems within groups

Diversity refers to the differences among people in various aspects. Some of those aspects brought up are physical traits like age, gender, race and ethnicity. Then there are the less obvious aspects like religion, socio-economic background, disability/capability and skill characteristics. This definition is extremely subjective as there are many other aspects that people can be different as there are many different causations of diversity. Besides, diversity is also about perception: How group member see others in the group as others see themselves.

Hence to successfully debate about the motion, we have to place it in this manageable and observable context. Communication can be defined as the sharing of thoughts, ideas and information between two or more individuals or within a group to reach a common understanding. Hence when people have communication problems, it can be said that they have difficulties trying to share their respective ideas and information to reach a common understanding.

The importance of communication cannot be undermined in this ever changing world but are all communication problems due to diversity or are there some other reasons that inhibits one from successfully sharing information with another? We would like to suggest here that it is not diversity but the lack of communication skills that brought about the communication problems. So what then are communication skills, or what encompasses communication skills?

The ability to articulate one’s thoughts, to initiate conversations and the ability to organize outgoing and incoming information through listening or seeing are all part and parcel of communication skills. There are many ways to communicate. Communication by facial expressions, body language, writing and face-to-face conversations are just some of the methods. As we can see, the methods of communication and the communication skills involved are fairly universal. But the wrong use of the modes of communication will severely retard communication in different circumstances.

Knowing when to say and what to say with the appropriate body language and facial expression involves good communication skills. Hence poor communication skills will result in misunderstandings and conflicts. It would be unfair to pin the blame on diversity being the cause of communication problems when there are more obvious causes. As stated before, diversity is about perception. Here we shall define perception as the process by which people select, organize and interpret sensory input to give meaning and order to the world. With perception comes bias.

Even if certain ideas or issues are communicated clearly and distinctly to people, they will have trouble accepting them because of their rigid mindset. The question now is, should we or can we even equate the problem of acceptance to a communication problem? Obviously the answer is ‘No’. When a group is unable to reach a common understanding, more often than not, the trouble is with people finding it hard to accept a different idea that is out of their comfort zone and that is an acceptance problem and most definitely not a communication problem.

Some workgroup members employ social categorizations based on their demographic or functional distinctions rather than their shared workgroup, into an in-group (those who are like me) and an out-group (those who are different). This causes people to perceptually accentuate both their similarities with in-group members and differences from out-group members. Hence, people tend to exhibit favorable biases toward members of their in-group while derogating out-group members.

This stereotyping and bias of people has caused diversity to be a scapegoat to communication problems within groups. Instead of trying to reach a resolution to see each other’s point of view and accepting the varied solutions, they close their hearts and minds and instead blame the inability to reach a common understanding on their differences. Proponents of diversity hold that differences among group members give rise to varied ideas, perspectives, knowledge, and skills that can improve their ability to solve problems and accomplish their work.

This “value in diversity” hypothesis has received some empirical support. We argue that these differences will not result in communication problems but instead bring about an even higher level of communication within groups. Compared to an individualistic organizational culture, a collectivistic culture enhanced social interaction and creative performance to a greater degree in diverse groups than homogeneous groups, which increases the unique-ness of a solution to a problem. They would understand the problem through various specializations.

Diversity within a group is also a good representation of an organization as they project a more well-rounded picture with insights from different perspectives. On a global scale, diversity brings about a richer mix of people, opinions and perspectives, talents and experiences and hence will enhance the rate of globalization. Members of homogeneous groups are similar, social categorization processes and the tendency for similar people to be attracted to each other may work to smooth the social interactions among members of these groups.

As these forces align in homogeneous groups, it will be easy to say that communication problems will not occur in this sort of groups but we beg to differ. With “Groupthink”, solutions come more quickly than in a diverse group. But with this speed comes a lack of communication and this in itself is an inherent communication problem. With no alternative views, it lead to a lack of check resulting in highly biased decisions. Diversity in a group can be tapped optimally with good management. With the many ideas will come the issue of decision making.

Hence, a good leader is needed to guide and control the communication process to ensure smooth closure. Regardless of the level of diversity, members of a group should possess good communication skills, which can be learnt. By careful listening, good questioning to gain more insight and careful crafting of one’s words to reduce ambiguity, communication problems will be greatly reduced. Thus, good communication skills coupled with good management will ensure a smooth communication process in all groups.

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