Top 10 Things to Remember When Communicating Across Cultures


Cross cultural communication is hard

There, I said it. For anyone who thinks it isn’t, you’re done. You can skip the rest of this blog since you clearly know everything there is to know about every culture. This blog is for the rest of us.Cross cultural communication is hard work

I grew up in Japan, lived in France, speak 3 languages  and I’ve travelled to many countries, and as a result, I’m sure that cross cultural communication is complex and situational. So here are a few thoughts that may help you when you do business in another country or culture.

  1. Do all you can to see through the veneer of Americanism – Most of rest of world puts on a veneer of American styles to deal with US and western Europe. Get out of the hotel and away from the office and meet regular people.
  2. Humor is hard, offense is easy. Be polite. Same goes for laughter. Smile, don’t laugh. Smiles can be interpreted in many ways but generally are neutral or positive. Laughter can be rude. Follow don’t lead.
  3. Food is relationship building. Join people for meals.
  4. In business, under-value anger when it comes your way – when people seem to be angry at you, it may be because you are interpreting the tone or expression incorrectly.
  5. Personal space is different in other parts of the world, remember it is their choice, not your choice (they = host country, you = visitor),, once again follow, don’t lead.
  6. Know people’s names – nicknames are cute but not respectful.
  7. Non-verbal communication is equal in importance or potentially even more important than verbal language. Non-verbal is easier to do wrong or incorrectly.
  8. Relationship building is the key to operating effectively across cultures, take whatever time you need to build the relationship – the time you take at front end repays exponentially at the back-end.
  9. Women face challenges men do not face. Be aware of local customs but stay true to yourself.
  10. Finally doing business gives people economic power and freedom which leads to opportunities. Your judgment of the perceived shortcomings of a culture will not change anything. Don’t risk the relationship by whining: do the deal, bring economic power. Business is the answer.

Cross cultural communications is hard and it takes hard work to make it successful. If you put in the work including these 10 tips, you can be successful in many different cultures. If you are reading this, and you are not American, substitute the word American with your own country in the first tip, the rest of them still apply!

Finally on stereotyping:

“Yes you do. You wish you didn’t, you know you shouldn’t, you hope someday you won’t. But yes you do put people into types.” –Tim Flood, Professor at UNC Kenan-Flagler

Recognize that we all stereotype, and that you will be doing it as you travel and try to communicate. The key is to become aware of it and to intellectually work through what you are doing to avoid making poor choices due to stereotypes. By intellectually thinking through a situation, you can become more aware of yourself and your actions and choices.

Cross cultural communication is hard and takes work. Following these tips will help you be successful when doing business abroad. Happy travels!

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You can connect with me on  LinkedInGoogle+Twitter (@SaraPaisner),  via email, or on Facebook.

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