Fundamentals of Cross Cultural Communication

It has been Marshall Langer, one of our key professors from the Master in Marketing and Sales, expert of communication and with a multinational background that illustrates us the fundamentals of effective cross-cultural communication. 

Nowadays, thanks as well to technologies there are always less barriers among cultures, states and of course communication. As well the business environment is expanding including various geographic locations, that can be difficult however 

It’s no secret that today’s workplace is rapidly becoming global, as the business environment expands to include various geographic locations and span numerous cultures. What can be difficult, however, is understanding how to communicate effectively with individuals who speak another language, or who rely on different means to reach a common goal

The internet and modern technology have opened up new marketplaces that allow us to promote our businesses to new geographic locations and cultures. And given that it can now be as easy to work with people remotely as it is to work face-to-face, cross-cultural communication is increasingly the new norm. After all, if communication is electronic, it’s as easy to work with someone in another country as it is to work with someone in the next town.

“So, what Are the Benefits of a Cross-Cultural Team?”

For starters, these types of diverse teams are able to lean on those differing perspectives to explore more options and then make important decisions with a greater amount of information in their back pocket.

 “The more diverse the knowledge, the greater the market value”

One recent study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) found that companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenue due to increased levels of innovation. A different McKinsey study discovered that companies with more culturally and ethnically-diverse executive teams were 33% more likely to see better-than-average profits.

Communicating with people who are different from you is an important skill—both inside and outside of the workplace. And, working as part of a cross-cultural team requires you to learn more about how to excel in that area, while also opening yourself up to different opinions and perspectives that can shape your own viewpoints moving forward.

Be an Effective Cross-Cultural Communicator

What do you need to know to communicate more effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds? Here are six tips to put to work.

1. Develop your awareness.

“Awareness is the first step!” While researching cultural norms is important to gain an understanding of those individual preferences as well. When you’re working with a team member you aren’t as familiar with, don’t hesitate to have honest conversations and ask important questions like:

  • How do you prefer to receive feedback?
  • Do you tend to prefer written communication or in-person communication?
  • Do you have any pet peeves related to communication?

This can seem a little forward (particularly if this is new to you), but approach it in a friendly and low-pressure way, and you’ll ensure that you and the other person get on the same line and are able to have a more productive and beneficial working relationship.

2. Research different cultural norms.

“If you want to better communicate with them, learn about their cultural norms or talk with a culture coach to better understand how best to communicate,” advises Schweitzer.

one of the best ways to understand a person’s culture is to ask them about it. They’ll likely be more than willing to share, and not only will you get the information you need, but you’ll also lay the groundwork for a closer relationship moving forward.

3. Be clear and avoid slang.

Slang can be confusing even when you’re communicating with people from your own culture. So, make this your new workplace communication golden rule: The clearer you can be, the better so, focus on making your message as explicit as possible and you’ll hopefully avoid any crossed wires or miscommunications.

4. Learn the language.

No, this doesn’t mean you need to become fluent in every single language that’s present on your team. Instead, this tip is about demonstrating a certain level of engagement and investment in learning about other cultures. Even just learning something as simple as a friendly greeting or a “thank you” can go a long way in showing all of your team members that you’re open-minded, understanding, and supportive.

5. Slow down your speech.

“A little more time now could save time later”

While it might seem surprising, the rate of our speech is another thing that’s influenced by cultural norms. Spanish, as one example, is known for being a particularly fast language, while Mandarin is deliberate and slow. When communicating be conscious of slowing down your speech pattern even a little bit can make you that much easier to understand particularly when there might be a language barrier involved.

6. Confirm your understanding.

This is a smart habit to get into regardless of who you’re communicating with. When you’ve completed an exchange—whether written or verbal—take a brief moment to confirm your understanding of what was discussed. This can be as simple as saying, “To summarize, you’re going to complete the slides for the presentation and I will put the finishing touches on the talking points. We’ll both have these pieces completed by Monday so we have time to rehearse and refine ahead of the meeting.”

Remember that…

Effective Cross-Cultural Communication Won’t Just Happen, it requires awareness and then investing the time and hard work to improve.

Cross-cultural communication has always existed in the workplace to some degree. But, as technology advances and global teams become more common, today’s workers are faced with an almost ever-present challenge of communicating successfully with people from numerous different cultures.

It’s a constant learning process, but it’s well worth it for the rewards you’ll reap—including a more productive and supportive work environment, access to more information and an expanded perspective, and positive professional relationships that you’ll come to cherish.