In today’s global world, we find ourselves interacting with people of different cultures on a regular basis. Intercultural communication skills are invaluable in the business world, but they’re increasingly becoming important in our daily personal lives as well.
Having global connections is a boon in any industry and can enrich your personal life, too.
How can we develop our intercultural communication skills?
Listen – Really Listen
Listening is the key to any successful form of communication, but it becomes even more important when speaking with people from other cultures.
Listen – really hear – what the speaker is saying and not what you expect them to say.
Listening intently shows the speaker that you are interested and paying attention.
Learn the Basics
If at all possible, research and learn as much as you can about the culture and communication etiquette. The cultural norms may be very different from the style of communication we’ve become accustomed to.
In some culture, like Brazil, it’s perfectly acceptable for multiple people to speak at the same time. In other cultures, like Japan, periods of silence are acceptable and serve as a moment of reflection before speaking.
Knowing when to speak is important, but it’s equally important to learn how to address other members of the conversation. In some cultures, it is considered disrespectful to use first names, as first names may only be used by family members and close friends.
Drop the Idioms and Jokes
We often use idioms to express our thoughts in more colorful ways and we use jokes to lighten the mood or break the ice. When dealing with cross-cultural communication, using idioms and jokes may land you in hot water.
Idioms can cause confusion or even offend the person you’re speaking to. Even in countries that speak the same language, idioms can mean completely different things and may have an opposite or even offensive meaning.
Humor also varies from one culture to the next. A joke that may be funny in our culture may be offensive in another. Jokes may also cause confusion or project an unfavorable image of yourself.
Try to Predict Responses
Successful communication and relationship development, especially when trying to make new business contacts, requires a bit of planning.
When considering your conversation, try to predict the other person’s responses. This will give you a chance to prepare responses of your own. It also gives you an opportunity to look at the question from the other person’s point of view, and possibly determine whether your question is offensive or too personal.
Gauging your intercultural communication competence will help you determine whether you need to learn more about the culture and its communication norms.
Never Assume that You Understood
Never assume anything when speaking to anyone or that you understood correctly. When speaking, summarize your understanding of their statement.
The same can be said for your own communication. Never assume that the other person understood you correctly. One way to be clear is to summarize your important points using different words. You can also ask the other person to summarize their understanding of your talking points.
Intercultural communication skills are important. Just as we hope visitors adhere to and learn our own cultural norms here in Israel, we should take steps to do the same when speaking to people of other cultures.