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Webucator's Free Workplace Diversity Tutorial

Lesson: Communication

Welcome to our free Workplace Diversity tutorial. This tutorial is based on Webucator's Diversity Training for Employees and Managers course.

Communication is a key ingredient in a successfully diverse work environment. Often people do not understand those who are different from them because they simply do not listen and communicate effectively. This lesson explains how to use active listening, nonverbal communication, and speaking with intent to accurately convey your message and better understand others.

Lesson Goals

  • Learn how to communicate more effectively in a diverse work environment.
  • Learn how to use active listening techniques.
  • Learn the importance of nonverbal communication skills.
  • Learn the importance of speaking with intent and accurately conveying the message.

Active Listening

Listening is an essential skill to have, but also one of the most difficult to master. It should be simple, but so often we think about what we will say next in a conversation rather than actually listening to what our counterpart is saying.

Listening skills have a direct impact on effectiveness at work. They also affect relationships with co-workers and managers. Diversity in the workplace often makes listening more difficult, but also more important.

Successful communication establishes common ground and understanding between people, even if that understanding is agreeing to disagree. Active listening is a structured communication technique that can help minimize misunderstandings, promote cooperation, and improve team relationships.

Active Listening Basic Steps

  1. The speaker talks to the listener.
  2. The listener listens without speaking and gives the speaker his or her full attention without distraction.
  3. Once the speaker is done, the listener tells the speaker what he or she heard by restating the information in his or her own words. This confirms understanding between the speaker and listener.
  4. Then the roles switch and the listener becomes the speaker and the speaker becomes the listener.

Elements of Active Listening

  1. Comprehension: Determine the meaning of statements using context.
  2. Retention: Remember what is said. While you listen to the speaker you place pieces of the conversation that you label as important in a box. Remembering every detail is impossible, and sometimes what you believe is important will not match the speaker's intentions. The key to retention is restating back to the speaker and confirming the intent.
  3. Response: During the conversation it is important to give non-verbal responses that show the speaker that you are listening. The speaker uses these cues to determine if the message is being accurately received and he or she can make adjustments if necessary. After the speaker is done, paraphrase what you heard and come to a shared understanding.

Understanding Active Listening

Duration: 15 to 20 minutes.

Answer the following questions and then discuss as a class.

  1. Using active listening, what does the listener do after the speaker is finished talking?
    1. Then it is the listener's turn to talk.
    2. The listener repeats what the speaker said word for word.
    3. The listener restates what the speaker said in his or her own words to confirm that he or she understood.
    4. The listener sits quietly and waits for the speaker to invite him or her to speak.
  2. Which of the following is not one of the elements of active listening?
    1. Collaboration
    2. Comprehension
    3. Retention
    4. Response
  3. Sherry goes into Tom's office and begins telling him about a concern she has regarding their project. Tom acknowledges her and tells her to sit down and explain the issues. He continues reading his email while she is talking. Once she is finished speaking, he thanks her for letting him know and tells her he'll look into it.

    Did Tom use active listening? If not, what did he do wrong?

  4. Scott comes to you to talk about a problem he is having with a co-worker. He says: "I can't work with Carl. He's overly critical and complains about everything I do. I've tried making changes and I feel like I'm working really hard, but nothing seems to make a difference with him. We have this deadline coming up and he hasn't done any work because he spends all of his time criticizing me." After actively listening to Scott, how would you respond to him to check for understanding and to show Scott that he was heard?


  1. C. The listener restates what the speaker said in his or her own words to confirm that he or she understood.
  2. A. Collaboration
  3. This is not active listening because Tom is not giving Sherry his full attention. He also did not restate her message to confirm his understanding. This is probably because he was too distracted to actually remember what she told him.
  4. This could be stated in different ways, but a good example would be: "Scott, I hear you telling me that you are frustrated with Carl because he is overly critical and not pulling his own weight on the project. Is that correct?"

Nonverbal Communication

Nonverbal communication is important in active listening and every day interactions. Most people are familiar with viewing and using body language and hand signals in their own culture. In a work environment that wants to promote diversity it is important to be aware of other possible meanings. This also reinforces the importance of active listening to confirm your understanding with the speaker's intent.

Nonverbal cues include:

  1. Eye contact.
  2. Facial expressions.
  3. Body language.
  4. Hand signals.
  5. Silence.
  6. Personal space.

Many of these cues lack meaning without context. Verbal and nonverbal communication go together and the participants must listen to both to be successful.

Body Language

Body language can be intentional or unintentional, but both convey meaning to the receiver. Be aware when reading other people, but also be aware of the messages you convey in your own body language.

Examples of Body Language

Remember, the same action can have different meanings in different situations.

  1. Nods head: Person is engaged and listening.
  2. Crosses arms: Person may be frustrated or disagree.
  3. Checks the time: Person is thinking about something else or bored.
  4. Rolls eyes: Person disagrees and does not respect the speaker.

Examples of Cultural Differences in Body Language

  1. Eye contact: In some cultures eye contact is disrespectful, while other cultures see eye contact as a sign of communicating effectively. There are some who use brief eye contact and others intensely stare.
  2. Nodding head side to side instead of front to back: These signals look different but can mean the same thing. Depending on the culture, both can be a sign of agreement.
  3. Handshakes: In the US you often use a firm handshake with a few brief shakes and then release. Some cultures use a longer handshake that includes a left-handed elbow touch. Some cultures use a limp handshake and some believe a firm handshake is a sign of aggression. Also, some cultures do not allow shaking hands with women.
  4. Personal space: Some cultures find it normal to stand extremely close when talking. Others prefer a much larger buffer between people.
  5. Touching: In many Latin cultures, touching is very normal in conversations. Many other cultures will find any kind of touching offensive. It is typically best to refrain from touching in the workplace.

Be aware of these cultural differences and be willing to temporarily adapt when necessary. Do not assume that different people will understand your body language. If there is any question, check for understanding and confirm the correct message was received.


Hand signals and gestures are dangerous forms of nonverbal communication because there are so many variations specific to different cultures. The best policy is to avoid using them as much as possible and also be aware of different possible meanings if someone uses a signal with you.

Examples of Hand Signals

  1. Beckon: In the US people often use the index finger, but this is considered insulting in other cultures. Many countries use the whole hand, palm down, waving.
  2. Thumbs-up: In the US this is typically a positive signal telling someone good job or that something is ready to go. In many other parts of the world this is an insult similar to the middle finger.
  3. Two fingers or V: If the palm is facing out this generally means victory, or peace, or stating the number two. In many cultures if you face the palm in you are insulting someone.

There are many other hand signals and gestures around the world. Knowing that they exist and being aware of different variations is important. Be careful how you use signals and also how you interpret them from others.

Nonverbal skills are important in the workplace. In diverse situations it is even more important to be aware of your nonverbal cues. Continually observe your listener's nonverbal behavior to make sure they are engaged and are understanding your message.

Understanding Nonverbal Communication

Duration: 10 to 15 minutes.

Answer the following questions and then discuss as a class.

  1. True or False: If you do not know what a particular nonverbal cue means it is best to ignore it and only listen to the verbal communication.
  2. If a person crosses his or her arms during a conversation what does it mean?
    1. He or she is frustrated.
    2. He or she is cold.
    3. He or she is interested.
    4. Any of the above.
  3. If someone gives you a thumbs up hand signal and smiles what does it probably mean?
    1. Good job.
    2. Come here.
    3. Victory!


  1. False. If you are unsure of the meaning of a nonverbal cue, ask and learn something new. Never assume or ignore something that clearly has a meaning.
  2. D. Any of these answers could be correct. Body language means nothing without knowing the context of the conversation and reading other nonverbal cues like facial expressions. There are no absolute answers with nonverbal communication, so try not to assume.
  3. The best answer is A. Good job. Since they are smiling they are probably not giving you an insult, but you never know.

Speaking with Intent

Expressing intent when speaking is sometimes difficult to master. We live in a world that uses sarcasm, manipulation, and ridicule in normal everyday conversations. We need to remove these elements from our work conversations and accurately communicate feelings and ideas so our audience properly understands the message.

This does not mean that you should say anything and everything that is on your mind. To speak with intent also means to speak with integrity and respect others.

Successful communication is essential in diverse work environments. A successful conversation is one in which both sides come away with the same understanding. If you do not accurately explain your intent, another person from a different culture or background may misinterpret the message.

If your intentions are good, even a confrontational message can have a positive outcome. The same message delivered with malicious intent will be met with hostility and backlash.


Understanding How to Speak with Intent

Duration: 5 to 10 minutes.

Answer the following questions and then discuss as a class.

  1. True or False: to speak with intent also means to speak with integrity and respect others.
  2. You want to tell a co-worker that his or her spelling in a particular document is terrible and it must be fixed prior to giving it to upper management. If your intent is to help your co-worker, what would be the best way to tell him or her and also get across your intent to help?


  1. True.
  2. A good example of how to tell your co-worker about the spelling errors with positive intent would be: "This document is for upper management and I want them to see all of your good ideas without being distracted by spelling issues. Why don't you go through it again and make sure all the words are correctly spelled so it represents you properly."