Improving Cross-Cultural Communication Skills

When a country’s borders open up to more and more visitors from other countries, it creates a healthy mix of culture and diversity. You probably see people from other cultures everywhere: in your workplace, as tourists, and even as fellow citizens in your native country. This creates a whole new world of possibilities for interaction, and even as potential customers. However the problem poses for how you can convey your ideas or feelings across that cultural barrier. How you say or do something might come off as offensive to another person. Here are some tips you can do to improve you cross-cultural communication skills.

The Need for Order

For you to understand why it can be difficult to communicate or even accept other cultures in the first place, you need to understand that making assumptions or stereotypes is already hardwired in us. Humans tend to do this to make everything orderly by categorizing and grouping objects and people. When you first meet a new group or when you’re considered an outsider, your instincts take over and you start categorizing people.

As you enlarge your social circle, the new people you meet might reinforce or totally shatter the categories you made. When this happens, you simply make new assumptions. It’s a never-ending cycle which can be difficult to overcome for many people. This is one of the major reasons why communicating with a diverse group of people can be difficult for others and in some cases they can’t even accept other culture or beliefs.

Know Yourself First

You might get confused since you are trying to learn about another culture, so why not to start with yourself? You need to know what your cultural beliefs are. These beliefs heavily influence the decisions you make and also how you perceive other cultures. You may not be aware of it, but some things that you suggest or how you communicate with other people stem from your own set of values or practices. In this scenario, what you say or do does not always coincide with the other party. Knowing what comes from your own culture makes it easier to accept that what they think about this topic also comes from their own culture and beliefs.

Language Usage

In most cases, the other person or party might have a limited range when it comes to your language. For these cases, it’s very easy to create misunderstandings from simple conversations. If you find yourself in this situation, keep your language simple and direct to the point. If needed, you can even speak clearly and slowly. However, be careful not to insult them by speaking to them as if they were stupid. You also need to be patient. When people speak or listen in their second or third language, it takes a great deal of concentration just to process the information. To make things easier, you can even use gestures or visual information.

Also remember that some things like irony or sarcasm can be misinterpreted in a lot of ways in another culture. It might seem funny at the moment, but the other party could easily feel offended by a simple joke. Regarding jokes, try to make it simple at first while you’re getting to know the other person. Once they are comfortable with you or once you know more about their culture, you could add complex cultural references or even sarcasm to your daily conversations.

Learn Their Culture

Learning about another culture can be interesting for others, while it can also be tedious and troublesome for the rest. Whatever your feelings towards learning another culture may be, just remember that you only need to know what sets them off and what is acceptable in terms of communication. Those are the only things you need to know if you’ll be communicating with them regularly in the future.

If you notice an unusual reaction from your colleagues or the other party, don’t immediately assume its meaning. Remember that what may be rude to you might be normal or second nature to them. Before you immediately think if you’ve been insulted or complimented, try to verify the information first. You could ask them politely or if it’s not possible, you could read more about that situation or gesture on your own.

Avoid Touchy Topics

Even if you are already familiar with another person, always steer clear of sensitive topics that could trigger a debate or an all-out verbal war. These topics include politics, religion, and money. Sure, the weather is an over-used topic, but there’s a reason for that. When it comes to sensitive topics, it may totally clash with your personal beliefs or some parts of their beliefs could even come off as insulting to you. However, remember that they were born and raised in that environment and of course they will be passionate about it.

If you do talk about these topics then make sure that you set boundaries first. You could start off your conversation with “I’m just wondering -” or something like that. Just to be safe though, stick to topics that you are both interested in and are comfortable talking with each other.

Read Non-Verbal Cues

For different cultures, they also have different practices or perceptions with regards to actions. For example, speaking in a close distance to someone could mean disturbing another person’s personal space in some cultures, while it can be perceived as being polite in some. Also, some cultures require you to shake a person’s hand when you meet them for the first time, while others simply require a bow and a handshake is deemed rude.

Once again, knowing about the other person’s culture is vital in avoiding misunderstandings even when it comes to actions. Of course, you can also tell if a person is being offended with your actions. They will show it with their facial expressions or even gestures.

If you find yourself in an awkward situation, you can simply ask them what makes them uneasy or what you are doing wrong. After you know this, you don’t have to stop your actions entirely. Compromise is as important as understanding so you simply share with them that it is normal in your own culture, and then you can offer to lessen the action or do something else when you’re with them.

Understand Relationships

Eastern countries have always perceived Western countries’ relationship as too superficial while on the flip side, Western countries think that Eastern country’ relationships are too sentimental. Knowing what their culture thinks about relationships can help you understand if a person is just withdrawn and shy, or if it’s normal in their culture.

Talking with people from different cultures and backgrounds is a very enriching experience. You get to learn more about their country, cultures and traditions. However, do remember that you need to mind and improve your cross-cultural communication skills to ensure that your relationship runs smoothly. Who knows, it might even lead to a deeper relationship even with the cultural difference.