Cross-cultural communication

Being able to communicate across cultures is an essential skill in today’s business world. However, it’s something that many leaders take for granted. But as business is above all built on relationships, successful and respectful communication is the cornerstone.

Yet finding the best way to communicate with colleagues and partners can be daunting, considering the myriad different cultural backgrounds your colleagues and partners come from – whether it be their national, functional, organizational, individual, team or identity group cultures.

By keeping the following cross-cultural communication tips in mind, you can foster the kind of open, respectful and non-judgmental communication needed to build solid business relationships across cultures.

1) First of all, in order to be able to communicate well with people from other cultures, you need to understand your own cultural preferences. The best way to accomplish this is by taking your Cultural Orientations Indicator (COI) assessment to learn about your Interaction Style, Thinking Style and Sense of Self preferences and how they influence your working relationships. When you understand your own preferences, you can learn about those of the people you work with and locate any cultural gaps between you that can harm communication. Taking the COI also introduces you to the safe, nonjudgmental vocabulary espoused in the Cultural Orientations Approach (COA), which you can leverage to keep communication open, respectful and fruitful.

2) Next, learn about your colleague’s culture. Don’t assume that their culture is similar to your own. Even if you are both from the same country, you may have different functional, team, organizational individual or identity group cultures.

3) Recognize your own cultural filters, especially stereotypes. Assess whether or not you are fitting your colleague’s words and actions into stereotypes you already have of their culture. Also, consider the stereotypes they may have of you.

4) If your colleague has a different mother tongue than you, speak at a comfortable pace, but don’t raise your voice. Break information into small components and present them one at a time. Avoid colloquialisms, jargon and slang. Also avoid making jokes, as they often do not translate across cultures, and you may accidentally cause offense.

5) Respect the appropriate level of formality in your colleague’s culture. Learn whether or not your colleague prefers to be addressed by their title, whether they rely on non-verbal and indirect communication, how close they prefer to stand to their interlocutors while speaking, and what kind of greetings they use.

6) Don’t pre-judge or rush into hasty evaluations; patiently search for what is really being communicated.

7) And finally, set realistic expectations. You may run into miscommunications or accidentally convey the wrong point. Recover from mistakes gracefully, and don’t become defensive, withdrawn or hostile. Above all, work at making relationships – not just deals.

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