5 Top Tips for Effective Intercultural Communication
Today’s business environment, in all likeliness, includes a number of geographic locations and expands across cultures. With different languages and diverse cultures, it may be a bit more challenging to communicate effectively. Crosscultural communication in your organization can be made easier by following our 5 tips for effective intercultural communication.
1. Educate Employees
Your business may employ a diverse group, comprising a variety of cultures. This may be an asset as different cultures bring different skills to the table. However, misunderstandings can also hinder progress and even cause conflict.
Different cultures often have different perceptions of life. Culture defines how an individual behaves & interacts. It is, therefore, wise to train your employees to be sensitive to the needs of those from different cultures.
Training that increases knowledge and understanding of cultural differences can greatly affect successful communication within your company. This can easily be done as individuals can learn from each other. Organize a “cultural day” where different cultures in your organization share their traditions, customs, food, and drink (to add a bit of spice!) and inform each other as to what is expected in their cultures. This will not only be a fun team-building exercise but also give employees the necessary background knowledge that will help them to communicate more effectively.
2. Effective intercultural communication: The first Impression counts!
It may be a cliché but it still remains a valuable truth: first impressions are important. First impressions usually start with a greeting. So, make sure that you know how to appropriately greet people from a different culture. Learn how to say “hello”, “pleased to meet you” and “thank you” in their language.
In addition to getting the verbal greeting right, make sure that you also use appropriate body language. Know whether physical contact is appropriate or not. Also, know how to address business associates correctly. Should first names be used? Or rather titles and surnames? Consider personal space – in some cultures people keep a distance, whereas in others individuals come into close contact with each other, even with strangers. Some cultures may view eye contact as disrespectful, whereas others may consider no eye contact as shifty behavior.
Finally, for that first impression, make sure if you would have to offer a gift to your business contact or whether this will be viewed as a form of bribery. In some cultures, a gift is a must, in others, it is a definite no-no. And yet, in others, it may simply be irrelevant. Nonetheless, if a gift is offered, make sure it is perceived as an appropriate gift in the culture that you are dealing with.
3. Do your Homework
Do thorough background research before a business trip, so that you can be culturally sensitive and aware of what would be expected.
For example, the culture of your business associate may highly value socializing (to get to know each other better) prior to doing business. Others may view socializing as counter-productive and may just want to get to the point. Research such practices before your trip, so as to avoid offense and ruin relationships even before you start doing business.
There is indeed a lot of homework to be done: familiarize yourself with the dining etiquette of the culture that you have dealings with; know a bit about the environment too. Are there famous attractions in the area that could be a talking point? People usually take pride in their home cities – show an interest.
When it comes to business negotiations, know if the associate’s culture openly shows their feelings, or keeps them carefully controlled and subdued. This will aid in effective intercultural communication. Also, familiarize yourself with different meanings of prompts – what does yes really mean? An agreement, or an acknowledgment of understanding?
Familiarizing yourself with cultural differences will help you to successfully communicate and build lasting professional relationships.
4. Be Mindful of Offense
Misunderstandings can arise very easily in different cultural contexts. A basic understanding of cultural diversity may put you in a better position to avoid misunderstanding. On the other hand, ignorance may result in insult.
For example, what is funny in one culture may be highly offensive in another. Symbols and gestures may have different meanings in different cultures. Be careful to not just assume that your culture and that of your business associate attach the same meaning to the same symbol or gesture.
Direct translations, slang, and idioms may be another stumbling block. These all have the potential to translate into something completely different from what you have intended in the first place. For example, in some cultures the “thumbs up” sign is taken as a positive response; in others, it has offensive meanings. Eating with bare hands is completely customary in some cultures; in others, it is seen as very bad manners.
So, be careful how you conduct yourself and avoid using phrases that may get completely lost in translation. Instead, speak in simple terms when you communicate with people in their second or third language – also speak slowly – not louder!
Ultimately, be open-minded and tolerant, respecting other cultures. Also, be aware that you may be on the receiving end of the other cultures’ ignorance about your culture – do not be quick to take offense – give others the benefit of doubt.
5. Improve written intercultural communication
Know how to communicate effectively, also when it comes to written communication. Some cultures may require contact per phone or video call before one can proceed with email communication.
It is important that the recipient of your email thoroughly understands everything you are trying to communicate. State clearly what the purpose is of reaching out. Make sure that you use an appropriate tone – presumably formal unless you know the recipient very well. Also establish what would be an appropriate way to address the recipient – for example, the use of first names or titles and surnames only.
Do not try to impress with big words or complicated expressions! Keep written communication simple, clear, and direct. Idioms, slang, and complicated jargon may easily be misunderstood and hamper effective intercultural communication.
Keep sentences and paragraphs short and to the point. Do not get off the topic. To minimize confusion, exclude irrelevant information. It is also easier to understand sentences that are written in the active voice – i.e. sentences like “I will sign the agreement…,” as opposed to “the agreement will be signed by me…”
Finally, it is always good practice to confirm what you have discussed in the form of a short summary. To recap, or confirm, helps to make sure that everything is correctly understood.