5 Steps to Communicate More Successfully Across Cultures
There are many cultures, tribes, nations, and languages across the world. As someone who has lived in four countries and visited more than 40, I can tell you we’re all very different people. Obviously, we speak distinctively different languages, pray to different gods, and eat dissimilar foods, but those are the obvious, surface-level differences we can all see.
It’s the less subtle, subliminal distinctions that we don’t catch that often go unnoticed. Our background, culture, education, and understanding causes different people to react to all aspects of life — be it relationships or business — in very diverse ways.
So, as the workforce becomes more mobile and global, we must appreciate that miscommunication can easily occur. These kinds of miscues can lead to stress, frustration, and anxiety that, in turn, can negatively impact performance, relationships, and teamwork.
1. Find common interests. When speaking across the cultural divide, take the time to learn “why” someone is doing something. What seems obvious to you most likely has a different reason or motivation to another.
The logic of one culture seldom equates to the same answers or meanings in another. Find some similar ground to agree upon to get the relationship off to a good start.
2. Appreciate different values. Be especially sensitive toward the areas of religion, racial equality, moral behavior, privacy, justice, and fair play. It is important to understand that we react to our environment, its teachings, and its belief systems differently. A lack of understanding of values can lead to missed signals, so try to comprehend where conflicting points of view originate.
3. Have empathy. Communication is your entry to the world; suspend judgment before you allow simple mistakes to influence or change events.
Some personality types find it easy to boldly face conflict, while others are more concerned with maintaining peace and unity. Be open and accepting of different people and the unique meanings they attach to certain actions, methods, or phrases.
4. Be understanding. Until you have lived and worked in another country, you probably won’t understand a lot about distinct cultures. Living in a foreign country will fundamentally change your attitude, thinking, and many of your future decisions. The process tends to instill a healthier cultural knowledge that helps in dealing with these differences in a relaxed, nonjudgmental way.
5. Be patient. You may not agree or wish to adopt a particular cultural philosophy or belief, but in order to effectively communicate, you must understand its perspective. Make certain that “what you actually said” or “what you thought you said” are one and the same. Remember, communication is a two-way dialogue, and the recipient of your message does not necessarily always know what you mean.
Culture and the environment that breeds it can be a tricky terrain to traverse. When communicating with unfamiliar entities, be smart enough to understand that you don’t know everything. Show patience, understanding, and openness when addressing ventures and people from another culture. It’s a shaky — yet smart — first step toward learning all you need to know.