There is an increasing focus in modern business on being global, diverse, and cosmopolitan. But why?
Whilst you may think of these as little more than fun buzz words, understanding globality and diversity is crucial in today’s international environment – corporate or otherwise.
Because this is the reality and future of the world we live in.
Today, business and communications landscapes are expanding across social, political, geographical, and cultural borders. This is connecting people, ideas, and ways of life from all over the globe. Negotiating these differences through effective intercultural communication is a skill that could set you and your business apart and prepare you for the future.
So, what is intercultural communication?
Intercultural or cross cultural communication refers to communication between individuals and groups of different cultural backgrounds. In business, this involves understanding different professional norms, beliefs, perceptions and mentalities, and communication strategies. Everything from language, gestures, mannerisms, customs, and systems of power and authority can differ between cultures.
This makes intercultural communication imperative for companies that have a diverse workforce and/or intend to compete in the global economy.
Keen to better comprehend today’s world to do better business tomorrow? Keen on learning how to better understand other cultures and communicate with them? Find out how with these 5 steps below.
1. Keep it simple
“Every human is like all other humans, some other humans, and no other human.” — Clyde Kluckhon
First and foremost, intercultural communication is a form of communication much like any other. It’s a flow of information between people.
Think in terms of your audience and speak to their understanding. Yes, you are communicating with humans of diverse origins. But, just like yourself, they are just that – humans!
We all wish to comprehend each other and find joy in discovering common ground between us. To make things easier for everyone, be clear in your speech (enunciation, diction, grammar) and your purpose.
Be wary of jargon and complex structures such as double negatives. This also applies to idioms, as these are highly contextual. Though fun to use in business language, even expressions like “from the get-go”, “touch base”, and “ballpark figure” can be confusing and distract from your main idea.
This is very important to keep in mind as some members of your audience may not be fluent speakers of your language.
Ultimately, the best kind of message is a clear message.
Aretha Franklin couldn’t have said it better. When people feel respected, understood, and listened to, it builds a profound level of trust and esteem.
This is the foundation of positive, rewarding relationships, and ideally what you should aim to achieve for powerful communication in any setting.
Respect is a fundamental element of all business communication. Though it comes in a myriad of different forms, you can be sure that it exists in all cultures of the world.
It can be challenging in intercultural settings to know what is acceptable, let alone effective, in communication. Some people will respond well to more frank and direct language and approaches, whilst others may find this aggressive. With conscientious research and observation, this will likely become easier as you go.
Being mindful of others; paying attention to their customs; showing curiosity about their traditions; being open and receptive to their worldviews – these are habits of people who interact with others effectively and consciously.
3. Strike a chord
Great leaders know that true communication is never one-sided or void of emotion. In fact, anything related to teams or groups requires collective effort, cooperation, and, ideally, mutual understanding.
“The essence of cross-cultural communication has more to do with releasing responses than with sending messages. It is more important to release the right response than to send the right message.” — Edward T. Hall
With this in mind, consider how you view yourself in relation to others. Of course, if you are in a higher-tier (executive or managerial) role, you are responsible for others and perhaps not on their same level as far as the business’ organisation is concerned. However, your amount of authority and duty over others does not have to dictate your form of personal expression.
If you wish to really resonate with your team or audience, speak to them as equals and partners. Communicate in a way that not only carries but evokes emotion.
A great trick for leaving a deeper impression can be as simple as choosing your words wisely. Think about the difference between the words ‘lead’ and ‘command’, or ‘educate’ and ‘enforce’. Words carry meaning, and the vocabulary that you use when communicating should be in line with the values and messages that you wish to convey.
4. When in doubt, leave it out
“The stranger sees only what he knows.” — African proverb
It is human nature to be wary of the unknown. But for some of us, curiosity (and even overconfidence) can tempt us to try and tackle things that we are perhaps not prepared for.
As strangers to another culture, we may only see and perceive what is already familiar to us, potentially misunderstanding or critiquing things that we are not fully informed about.
Discussing certain cultural, religious, and political situations can provoke bias or tension, distracting from your message. If you do find yourself out of your depth when faced with an audience or an issue that is unfamiliar to you, don’t fret! Take a moment to reflect, and approach sensitive subjects with due care.
This is a great opportunity to research and expand your knowledge base further. Otherwise, by diving straight into the deep end and ‘winging it’, you may risk offending others (or, at the very least, coming across as unprofessional).
You know what they say about assuming!
5. Enjoy the experience
“A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.” — Marcus Garvey
Perspective and attitude can have an immense effect on the way that you interact with others. Ultimately, communicating with others should be a pleasure, not a chore. And this should show when you do it.
If you have set up your business in a new market or are hoping to expand your business overseas, for example, this is a wonderful test of your business savvy, ambitions, and awareness.
Furthermore, those who embrace the global and intercultural aspect of business and life consider it a privilege to be able to interact with people who have so many different viewpoints and backgrounds to offer.
Of course, these differences can create gaps between people, potentially presenting challenges that affect productivity and professional rapport. But if we are to prepare for a future of international business and exchange networks that know no bounds, these gaps must be bridged. And this is where intercultural communication plays a key role.
After all, without our cultures, values, and beliefs…where would we be? Who would we be.