Even if you’re not crossing oceans, time zones, or into new cultures, communication can be tough. Just think about how hard it is to communicate with your most intimate contacts; your significant other, your kids, your friends. In international business, when we add the pressure of work and deadlines, as well as language and cultural differences, communication gets even more complicated. With all that in the mix, it’s not hard for communication to really break down. To help ease those stresses, we’ve compiled the top 10 tips for more successful cross cultural communication with anyone in the world. After all, good intercultural communication is key for good business.
12. Take Your Time
Slow down. Pause. Give space. And don’t talk too fast. Especially when you’re communicating via telephone, remember to use conscious speech, to slow down and to break your sentences into short, definable sections. Also be sure to give your listener time to translate and digest your words as you go.
11. Ask the Other Speaker to Slow Down Too
If the person you’re speaking to is talking too fast or their accent is getting in the way, ask them to slow down too. Making it about yourself is always a good trick and a way to avoid offence. Say something like: “You know, I’m from Texas, so I probably have a strange accent. I’ll slow down and I hope that makes it easier for you to understand me. Since you’re from Hyderabad, your accent is not easy for me, either. Why don’t we both slow down a little, so we can understand each other better?”
10. Keep it Simple
Don’t use big words. Two-syllable words are better than three-syllable words, and one-syllable words are better than two-syllable words. Don’t say, “Do this in an efficacious way.” Just say, “Do this quickly.”
9. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
If the person you’re speaking to says a word you don’t understand, let them know. While “global English” may be the world’s form of communication, this strange English changes from country to country. If an Indian colleague says, “Do the needful” and you have no idea what that means, tell them. (Spoiler alert, it means, “Take the next step to make things happen.”)
8. Avoid “Baseball English”
Unless your colleagues are familiar with sports terminology – and baseball terminology specifically – they probably won’t understand what you mean when you say things like: “Let’s hit a home run,” “Step up to the plate,” “That idea is from left field,” or, “Can you pinch-hit for me at the meeting?” Avoid any confusion by keeping baseball English in the dugout.
7. Skip the Acronyms
Acronyms, abbreviations, and even industry-specific terms do not translate when they cross oceans. Never assume “ASAP,” “ETA,” or any of your own special work abbreviations carry the same – or any – meaning abroad. They may, but they probably don’t.
6. Don’t Ask “Yes or No” Questions
Never phrase a question to require a “yes or no” answer. In many cultures, it is difficult or embarrassing to answer in the negative, so you will always get a yes – even if the real answer is no. Ask open-ended questions, instead, that require information as the response. And whenever possible, avoid questions altogether: just state your situation and wait for a response.
5. Get Rid of Double Negatives
You don’t know what a double-negative is, do you? Do you see how confusing that question was? Don’t do that. Phrasing statements or questions in double-negatives is confusing in many cultures, and will result in an invalid response.
4. Talk to More Than One Person
Many cultures “imply” meaning, so the words in your business email or conversation may not represent all – or even the most important – information you need. Whenever possible, try to cultivate multiple sources of information in any one culture so that you can check out the situation with a number of individuals and get the complete picture.
3. Start Formal
Most cultures (with the exception of the U.S., Australia, Israel, and a few others) expect a degree of formality at the beginning of communication between individuals. Each culture has its own culture-specific way of indicating this formality (“Herr” and “Frau” in Germany, the reversal of family and given names in China, the use of “san” in Japan for men and women, etc.). Become familiar with these familiarity tokens, and don’t jump to “first names” until you receive a cue from your new colleague that it is O.K. to do so.
2. Pay Attention to the Non-Verbal
If you have the luxury of being face-to-face, tune into the non-verbal behaviors which may carry more information than the words being used. Facial expressions, proximity, physicality, hand gestures, etc., all carry a lot of meaning. Be sure to remember that body movement or non-verbal behavior may have a completely different meaning in another culture. For instance, the “O.K.” sign (making a circle by touching the tip of the first finger to the tip of the thumb) in the U.S. is very vulgar in Brazil. You gotta know this stuff!
1. Be Respectful, Be Interested, and Be Humble
Ask people about their cultures, admit that you are learning, and don’t force or project your cultural ways on them. Remember, we all have a lot to learn and teach each other. No matter what, you are always a guest in a foreign land.
If you liked this post, read another article by Dean Foster here.Back to Blog Listing