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10 Critical Cross-Cultural Communication Tips

Cross-cultural communication
  1. Listen, listen, really listen. Hear what they are really saying; not what you expect them to say.

  2. Never assume anything. Don't assume you understood correctly. Summarize your understanding of what they said. Don't assume they understood you correctly. Summarize important points using different words - or better yet, try to get them to summarize their understanding of the important point.

  3. Slow down. This is one of the easiest but most effective ways to help non-native speakers understand you. Don't forget they need time to translate into another language.  This doesn't mean talking like a robot or an imbicile, it means slowing down enough to enunciate you words clearly and to express your thoughts in an organized easy-to-understand way.

  4. Skip the Jokes. Standard jokes don't communicate well across cultures. What is funny in one culture often makes no sense in another. You could easily inadvertently offend someone, make them perplexed, or convey an undesired image of yourself.

  5. Drop the idioms. Don't run the risk of confusion by having your idiomatic expressions taken literally. Even among countries that use English as their native language, they don't necessary share the same expressions. In fact, an idiom in one country can have quite a different meaning in another, and even have an opposite or offensive meaning

  6. Ask open-ended questions. These are questions that begin with what, when, where, who, how and why. Because they can not be answered by a mere yes or no, they give you a lot more information, and, more importantly, often more accurate information.

  7. Write down large numbers. Asia uses different units for counting large numbers, and even in the Western world, one billion can mean 1,000,000,000 in some countries and 1,000,000,000,000 in others.

  8. Don't assume others are comfortable using first names. Automatically switching to a person's first name can be a sign of disrespect. In some countries, the first name is only used among family member or between people who have been childhood friends. And people from group-oriented cultures draw identities from their family name.

  9. Allow silences when speaking with people from cultures like Japan where reflection before speaking is highly valued. This one of the most valuable ways to encourage communication to go both ways by giving them "space" to contribute. Allowing some silence before answering a question also makes your reply seem more important and thoughtful.

  10. Conversely, be ready to jump in when talking with people from cultures like Brazil, where two (or more) people often speak at the same time!

 by Diana Rowland, author Japanese Business: Rules of Engagement

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Rowland & Associates is a premier cross-cultural consulting firm, providing essential international business skills since 1985. Our passion is bringing intercultural business success through heightened insight and agility. We believe that bold steps with exceptional preparation can create dynamic solutions.


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