Effective Cross Cultural Communication Skills
Culture is about human expression. It involves the behaviour, beliefs and practices of individuals and their communities. Culture takes many forms and can be expressed in many different ways such as art, music, sport, entertainment, religion, ceremonies, and of course through our verbal and non-verbal communication.
Cross Cultural communication requires some understanding of every Culture in the world and if you don’t have an understanding of the different cultures than how do you communicate to someone who understands and relates to the world differently to you. This is what I am getting to, so keep reading please.
The main and most prominent key to effective cross-cultural communication is knowledge. It is absolutely essential that people understand the potential problems of cross-cultural communication, and make a huge conscious effort to overcome these problems. It is also very important to know that your efforts will not always be successful, and to be prepared to adjust your behaviour accordingly.
A lot of people always assume that there is a significant possibility that cultural differences are the cause of communication problems. And to some extent they are correct. Effective communication with people of different cultures is especially challenging. Cultures provide people with ways of thinking – ways of seeing, hearing, and interpreting the world. Thus the same words can mean different things to people from different cultures, even when they talk the "same" language. When the languages are different, and translation has to be used to communicate, the potential for misunderstandings increases.
Please, you need to remember, that even in your own culture, the verbal and non-verbal communications have different meanings to different people. And just like in your own culture there are miss-understandings happening all the time, and just over simple things where both of you speak the same language. So it is fairly safe to assume that there are going to be miss-understandings in cross-cultural communications as well due to verbal and non-verbal communication having different meanings to different people.
Always be willing to be patient and forgiving, rather than hostile and aggressive, if problems develop. One should respond slowly and carefully in cross-cultural exchanges, not jumping to the conclusion that you know what is being thought and said.
William Ury’s suggestion for heated conflicts is to stop, listen, and think, or as he puts it "go to the balcony" when the situation gets tense. By this he means withdraw from the situation, step back, and reflect on what is going on before you act. This helps in cross cultural communication as well. When things seem to be going badly, stop or slow down and think. What could be going on here? Is it possible I miss-understood what they said, or they have miss-understood me? Often misinterpretation or miss-understanding is the source of the problem.
Reflective Listening is one of the key ingredients in cross-cultural communication. Reflective Listening is used a lot to check out the meaning of what someone says – by repeating back what you think you have heard. You are then able to confirm that you understand what has been said accurately. This is so helpful as many times words and even gestures are used differently between languages or cultural groups.
Stella Ting-Toomey describes three ways in which culture interferes with effective cross-cultural understanding. First is what she calls "cognitive constraints." These are the frames of reference or world views that provide a backdrop that all new information is compared to or inserted into.
Second are "behaviour constraints." Each culture has its own rules about proper behaviour which affect verbal and nonverbal communication. Whether one looks the other person in the eye-or not; whether one says what one means overtly or talks around the issue; how close the people stand to each other when they are talking--all of these and many more are rules of politeness which differ from culture to culture.
Ting-Toomey's third factor is "emotional constraints." Different cultures regulate the display of emotion differently. Some cultures get very emotional when they are debating an issue. They yell, they cry, they exhibit their anger, fear, frustration, and other feelings openly. Other cultures try to keep their emotions hidden, exhibiting or sharing only the "rational" or factual aspects of the situation.
All of these differences tend to lead to communication problems. If the people involved are not aware of the potential for such problems, they are even more likely to fall victim to them, although it takes more than awareness to overcome these problems and communicate effectively across cultures.
Often a mediator or intermediary who is familiar with both cultures can be helpful in cross-cultural communication situations, and diffuse any conflicts before they arise. They can translate both the substance and the manner of what is being said. For instance, they can tone down strong statements that would be considered appropriate in one culture but not in another, before they are given to people from a culture that does not talk together in such a strong way. They can also adjust the timing of what is said and done. Some cultures move quickly to the point; others talk about other things long enough to establish rapport or a relationship with the other person. If discussion on the primary topic begins too soon, the group that needs a "warm up" first will feel uncomfortable. A mediator or intermediary who understands this can explain the problem, and make appropriate procedural adjustments.
In these cases, engaging in extra discussions about the process and the manner of carrying out the discussions is appropriate, as is extra time for confirming and re-confirming understandings at every step in the dialogue or negotiating process.
Developing Awareness of Individual Cultures
The Internet and modern technology have opened up new marketplaces, and allow us to promote our businesses to new geographic locations and cultures. And given that it can now be as easy to work with people remotely as it is to work face-to-face, cross-cultural communication is increasingly the new norm.
After all, if communication is electronic, it's as easy to work with someone in another country as it is to work with someone in the next town.
And why limit yourself to working with people within convenient driving distance when, just as conveniently, you can work with the most knowledgeable people in the entire world?
For those of us who are native English-speakers, it is fortunate that English seems to be the language that people use if they want to reach the widest possible audience. However, even for native English speakers, cross-cultural communication can be an issue: Just witness the mutual incomprehension that can sometimes arise between people from different English-speaking countries.
In this new world, good cross-cultural communication is a must.
However, some learning the basics about culture and at least something about the language of communication in different countries is important. This is necessary even for the basic level of understanding required to engage in appropriate greetings and physical contact, which can be a tricky area inter-culturally. For instance, kissing a business associate is not considered an appropriate business practice in the U.S., but in Paris, one peck on each cheek is an acceptable greeting. And, the handshake that is widely accepted in the U.S. is not recognized in all other cultures.
While many companies now offer training in the different cultures where the company conducts business, it is important that employees communicating across cultures practice patience and work to increase their knowledge and understanding of these cultures. This requires the ability to see that a person's own behaviors and reactions are oftentimes culturally driven and that while they may not match are own, they are culturally appropriate.
If a leader or manager of a team that is working across cultures or incorporates individuals who speak different languages, practice different religions, or are members of a society that requires a new understanding, he or she needs to work to convey this.
Consider any special needs the individuals on your team may have. For instance, they may observe different holidays, or even have different hours of operation. Be mindful of time zone differences and work to keep everyone involved aware and respectful of such differences.
Generally speaking, patience, courtesy and a bit of curiosity go a long way. And, if you are unsure of any differences that may exist, simply ask team members. Again, this may best be done in a one-on-one setting so that no one feels "put on the spot" or self-conscious, perhaps even embarrassed, about discussing their own needs or differences or needs.
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