Today’s business environment is vast; spanning multiple geographic locations and numerous cultures. This greater diversity increases the need for effective communications skills. Even within a common language the meaning can be easily shifted or misrepresented. Internet and modern technology have opened up marketplaces and workforces. More people are both conducting business and working from remote locations, exponentially increasing cross-cultural exposures.
Communication has become primarily electronic, allowing for quick and easy contact – regardless of the physical separation of space. English may seem to be the most commonly used language, but cross-cultural communication is still a challenge. Mutual incomprehension can be a challenge between people from different English-speaking countries, let alone for those communicating in a second language.
- Understanding cultural differences can optimize communications between two parties. Simply understanding that the sender of the message and the receiver of the message are from different cultures and backgrounds can be an effective communication strategy. Appreciate that the person you are visiting with may communicating in a language that is not their own.
- Develop an awareness of individual cultures. This understanding becomes especially important when it is necessary to engage in greetings and physical contact. Appropriate business contact and conduct change with each culture. Have a familiarity of typical hours of operation, holiday schedule, and time zone differences. Always practice patience, and courtesy, and harbor a bit of curiosity. This can go a long way a bridging gaps.
- Demand tolerance within your workplace environment. With a little education, employees can understand delays and expect different views. When solving problems, assume that communication has failed. This is often a quick and easy way to reach a solution. Courtesy and goodwill always aid in successful communication. Maintaining a humble tone will incite patience on the other end of the communication
- Keep all communications simple. Avoid using slang terms and culturally-implied jargon. Cross-cultural communication should be clear, simple and unambiguous. Humor should be held out of these conversations, since it is notoriously culture-specific. Something humorous in one culture can be exceptionally offensive in another.
- Get help when you need it. Language barriers are best overcome with a reliable and experienced translator. A translator can be critical in recognizing and interpreting cultural and communication differences, and then ensure that all parties can stay focused on the goal.
Better communication comes from finding a common ground and growing relationships. Be prepared to admit your mistakes and take every opportunity to learn from them.