In the workplace of today, diverse and international collaboration is becoming the norm for most industries. A recent BCG study shows that diverse companies produce around 19% more revenue, which is why it’s crucial you find common ground with your international peers, especially when their customs and business practices seem different from your own.

So, whether you’re meeting clients abroad or are working as part of a global team, understanding how to effectively communicate across cultures is a great professional skill to have.

What is intercultural communication — and why do you need it in the workplace?

The ability to be able to talk to — and understand — people with different cultural and social backgrounds to that of your own. These differences could include both verbal and non-verbal communication.

For example, in most Western cultures a handshake or a kiss is the traditional way to greet a stranger; however, in Japan, it’s a bow. In Scandinavia, people are verbally more direct, which can seem blunt to British people, who are extremely polite and often use words like please and thank you, and more indirect ways to communicate. Americans are generally talkative and use small talk to build relationships. Whereas, it’s considered the height of rudeness to ask an Arabic man questions about his female family members.

Having an understanding of these differences is important for successful communication and good business relationships.

Intercultural communication must-haves

It is important to know how culture impacts business decisions and communication. Here is a list of must-haves to get you started when talking to your foreign client or colleague:

  • Make sure you have some knowledge of the culture, history, and way of living of the person you are interacting with. This includes understanding the way to greet someone, what is the dining etiquette, and the country’s relationship with other nations.

  • Understand the communication styles of different countries. For example, if you’re speaking to a British person, failing to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ could cause offense.

  • Learn about the gender and social dynamics.

  • Have an awareness of your cultural values and beliefs. Be as flexible as possible.

  • Put aside any cultural stereotypes you may hold and keep an open mind. Treat each person as an individual.

  • Show extra cultural awareness, as this will impress the person you’re talking to and may help you conduct a more successful business transaction. You can learn a few words in their language or speak to people you know who have a good understanding of the culture. They’ll be able to give you insider tips on things like etiquette and values. If you don’t know anyone who fits the bill, google it!

  • Apologize immediately if you say the wrong thing or do something that offends the person you’re talking to.

  • Be quick to accept apologies in return; do your best to minimize any embarrassment felt by the person you’re talking to. 

How to master cross-cultural collaboration? Here are some tips: 

  • Check-up on your understanding by repeating information, ask for clarification and double-check if the other people understand what you mean.

  • Practice active listening. 

  • Take the extra time to clarify meeting schedules. 

  • Make sure everyone understands the project goals and what’s expected of them.

  • Remember to take cultural eating habits into account.

  • Research customs before a business trip.

  • Finally, having a good knowledge of professional English will ensure you can communicate with the majority of cultures across the globe; therefore, ongoing investment in your communication skills is paramount for any professional growth.

There has long been anecdotal evidence supporting the idea that diversity fosters innovation. To be able to have diversity in the workplace, intercultural communication is a required skill for all employees. Tell us what you think? How is your experience working in a multicultural environment? Did you have any comic experiences when interacting with a foreign client or colleague?

With love your Chat.Box.English.Social team.


© Sky Management Business Consulting 2017-2019. All rights reserved. 

© Chat.Box.English.Social is a Member of Sky Management Group.

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