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Cross-cultural communication

Updated: Feb 13


Debora from Vision Factory

Author: Debora (Ofosuhene) Amoah

Date of Publication: 07/05/2023





Nowadays, more and more spaces, such as schools and workplaces, are becoming increasingly diverse. What's more, many individuals represent many different races, cultures, and nationalities. As a result, there is a lot of interaction between people from diverse cultures.


Every culture has its own distinctive way of communicating and engaging with others. Therefore, it is essential to get a basic understanding of the various cultures. Particularly those with which we often interact. This practice may help avoid misunderstandings and make communication easier.


Now what is cross-cultural communication and what does it entail?


Cross-cultural communication


It can simply be defined as any kind of interaction (verbal / non-verbal) between people from diverse backgrounds, geographies, and cultures. In a business context, it refers to how successfully individuals from various cultures connect. Also, it has to do with how well they adapt their communication style to their coworkers' culture.


Moreover, cross-cultural communication, often known as intercultural communication, consists of two terms: culture and communication.


Culture is a way of thinking and behaving where people learn and internalize a certain set of attitudes, values, norms, and beliefs from others. This affects our communication style since we simultaneously learn to communicate and absorb cultural norms and practices. Due to this the language we use and the way we act are both shaped by our culture.


Importance of cross-cultural communication

Cross-cultural communication is essential to avoid misinterpretations that could result in disputes between people or groups. Often the emphasis is on giving the correct reaction rather than the proper message. Therefore, when done right, it fosters a sense of trust and promotes collaboration.


When two individuals from diverse cultures interact, they usually have differing turn-taking habits. This occurs during a conversation when one person listens while the other speaks. Now, both speakers should be aware of the turn-taking method being used in the discussion to enhance and ease cross-cultural communication. For instance, nobody should speak for too long or try to dominate the discussion.


international people working together on laptops

Communication in the workplace


As diversity is a valuable asset and key value that all businesses should embrace. It may give significant insights into a generation's behaviors and customer preferences. Actually, this can be used to boost a company's development potential. On the other hand, cross-cultural communication skills are needed to encourage constructive dialogue with individuals from diverse backgrounds. This way we build a healthy work culture.


Therefore, companies should prioritize cross-cultural communication skills to develop a pleasant work culture. What’s more, they will achieve solid connections with workers from all backgrounds. Thus, this can benefit businesses by discovering opportunities and fueling their growth.


Barriers to successful intercultural communication


The language barrier is the most obvious difficulty when trying to communicate between cultures, but there are also other obstacles, such as:


  • the inclination to appraise high anxiety

  • the assumption of similarities

  • nonverbal misinterpretations

  • prejudices

  • stereotypes

However, if you can learn to communicate across cultural barriers, you will find it much simpler to set up fruitful, personal and professional partnerships.


Examples of Cross-cultural communication


Different types of cross-cultural situations require different ways to overcome communication barriers. Some examples are language, cultural norms, age, education, and business communication methods,


  • Language: Different groups of people may use slightly modified versions of the same language, or use entirely unique languages, to communicate. American and British English, for instance, could vary significantly in pronunciation, vocabulary, and idiomatic expressions.

  • Cultural norms: Aside from linguistic variations, every culture has its own set of behavioral conventions. In Belgium, for example, you would briefly shake hands, but in South Korea, you would bow.

  • Age: Different generations bring with them unique perspectives and ways of looking at the world that might influence teamwork.

  • Education: There may be stereotypes about the degree of education held by citizens of various nations.

  • Business communication style: Different cultural backgrounds may result in different communication styles among top business leaders.

different background people holding their hands

Before the pandemic, companies used to be able to get around these problems by sending workers on business trips. However, in the age of remote work, it is important to take the initiative to help people get along better. The above-mentioned cross-cultural situations all affect cross-cultural dialogue.


Common reasons of misinterpretation in cross-cultural interactions


  • Assumption of similarity occurs when we think everyone else acts the same way we do. Since language differences may have distinct connotations in various cultures or nations.

  • Nonverbal miscommunication occurs when the intended meaning of a gesture is misunderstood.

  • Stereotypes are constructed based on our preconceived notions of how other people should behave.

  • Evaluation tendency refers to examining others' conduct through the lenses of their own culture. However, this happens without addressing the underlying causes for their behavior.

  • High anxiety occurs when two people are uninformed of one another's cultural differences and often experience anxiety. This is because they are unsure of how to communicate effectively with one another.


Strategies for successful international dialogue


An organization's success or failure may depend on its ability to effectively communicate across cultures. These are some tips that can help improve cross-cultural communication in the workplace:


  • Travelling is an amazing chance to learn about other cultures and traditions.

  • Keeping an open mind and being respectful of other people's values are two ways to enhance cross-cultural communication abilities.

  • Workplace cross-cultural communication may be strengthened by avoiding using slang. This way, we keep an acceptable speaking pace, and use humor with care.

  • To become more culturally aware, one must first take the time to reflect on their own culture. As well as reading about other cultures, asking questions, and practicing ways to prevent misunderstandings.

  • It takes time and effort to learn about other cultures. However, if questions are asked rather than assumptions made, individuals are more likely to be understanding and receptive.

  • A plan for diversity, equality, and inclusion (DEI) may also include diverse cultural festivities.

  • Finally, diversity recruiting techniques should be used to eliminate prejudice. Also, they can help find qualified candidates from a wide range of backgrounds.

Conclusion


It is important when people of diverse backgrounds, geographies, and cultures are able to effectively communicate with one another. This is mainly because it fosters mutual understanding and encourages productive collaboration. Therefore, businesses should promote intercultural dialogue to create an inclusive environment and solid working relationships.


Additionally, there are several barriers to effective intercultural communication that should be considered. Aside from this, miscommunication usually occurs due to similarities assumed, and misconceptions formed from incomplete information. Also, stereotypical thinking is another factor that brings miscommunication. Therefore, it is possible for businesses to bridge cultural gaps via travel, transparency, language, and humor.


 

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