Communicating Effectively Across Cultures
The purpose of communication is to convey your thoughts or ideas clearly to
another. In an effective communication transaction both the sender and the
receiver perceive the message in the same way. It is particularly important
to communicate effectively in a business environment: failure to do so can
have costly and potentially disastrous results. Communication skills are thus
a key contributor to the success of an organization. When communication does
not embody the correct opinions and ideas, it becomes a barrier to achieving
the organization's goals. Being aware of the broad-ranging differences
in the interaction patterns of a given geography is thus essential for effective
communication across cultures.
Each country and region has its own set of cultural and language rules. English
spoken by the indigenous population of one country will often be of a different
style from that spoken elsewhere. As an example, the English spoken by Canadians
is different from that in every day use by Australians. Variances range from
the grammatical through to vocabulary and of course idiomatic language use.
Equally, there are significant cultural differences. Giving business cards
is perceived as a significant event in Japan. Japanese professionals consider
their business cards to be a valuable possession and thus proffer them respectfully
with an inclined head. This is in sharp contrast with many other locations
where the provision of a business card is a commonplace event. Punctuality
is usually important for Europeans, although there are variances within Europe
itself, but it is less critical in Asian markets.
There are almost endless examples of cultural diversity. Being oblivious to
cultural and communication differences may lead to unintentional insult. It
is therefore essential that one should respect the style and difference in
communication patterns when working with those from other geographies and cultures.
Communication is effective when it is accurate and concise and is correctly
delivered in the cultural context of the recipient. There are many key points
to consider for effective communication in a cross cultural environment.
- Know the cultural values and background of the person with whom you are communicating.
- Speak clearly and at a measured pace.
- Gestures, eye contact, facial expressions, posture and even clothing contribute
to effective communication.
- Ensure that you use language and vocabulary accurately.
- If in doubt, keep it simple.
- Give people more time to express themselves.
- Humor is considered offensive in some contexts and cultures so avoid humor
until you know the person very well.
If these simple rules for effective communication are followed, you run less
of a risk of appearing clownish, insulting others or simply failing to deliver
the correct message.
Advantages of Learning Other Cultures
An in-depth understanding of the cultural values, business practices and business
etiquette of other countries is vital for effective communication. It will
make it easier for you to understand the behavioral patterns of others. Learning
about other cultures allows you to read body language; to understand whether
you are likely to get a direct answer; to be aware of topics that may be offensive;
to understand whether you should avoid avoiding touching and eye contact and
a great deal more. Appropriate study will ensure that you become more aware
of why people from different cultures think the way they do. You can then use
this knowledge to ensure that you communicate accordingly in the most effective
The Consequences of Ineffective Communication
The inability to communicate effectively in a working or social environment
can have serious consequences:-
- It can prove difficult to compete in the work place.
- It can lead to misinterpretation and unnecessary misunderstandings with potentially
- It can make you feel isolated in a new environment.
- In extreme circumstances it may lead to psychological disorders.
Communication Training Programs
Organizations are recognizing that their future is dependent upon the communication
skills of their staff in an increasingly international marketplace. Businesses
are thus honing the communication and cross cultural skills of employees by
utilizing appropriate inter cultural training programs. These programs improve
inter cultural understanding and communication skills for specific target cultures
and geographies. They focus upon overcoming both language and behavioral barriers
to facilitate confident personal, social and business communication in achieving
the desired business results.
Doing business in another geography is not just about language and law. Proper
awareness of local culture is vital to personal and professional success. Cultures
and customs are highly diverse and communicating across cultures is often far
from easy even if communicating in your mother tongue. You need to do your
homework. Explore the place in which you are planning to do business; understand
its cultural values, customs, business practices and etiquette. In some cases,
an appropriate communication training program can develop the practical skills
needed in understanding a given country’s markets, employees and clients.
For Further Reading