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January 7, 2019

11 Fundamental Tips for Communicating Across Cultures


In the increasingly diverse global workforces of today, knowing the best way to respect cultural differences is a must. Leaders and employees need to understand international customs so they can foster positive and healthy relationships. It’s not only the right thing to do; it also helps drive business success. 

When preparing for an upcoming trip, meeting or call with colleagues from another culture, consider the list below to ensure your interaction is the best it can be.

11 Fundamental Tips for Communicating Across Cultures

1. Do your homework. Become aware of cross-cultural etiquette standards (including body language). Research to understand which gestures and phrases are deemed taboo to avoid offending others. And as you prepare for each communication, ask these three simple questions to ensure you’re keeping cultural considerations top of mind:

  • What specifically can I do to help increase my awareness of cross-cultural communications?
  • How can I capitalize on my strengths when communicating across cultures?
  • How can I work on rather than try to hide my weaknesses in cross-cultural communications?

2. Don’t make cultural assumptions. Everyone has different expectations, cultures aside. Don’t simply transfer an experience with one person within a culture to another. When in doubt about something, ask your colleague or client what they prefer. 

3. Speak clearly and in a pace that is steady and not rushed. While someone may be fluent in your native language, it’s important to remember that it may not be the person’s first language. Speaking in a steady pace will help ensure understanding. 

4. Separate questions to avoid unnecessary confusion. Don’t double-up questions in a sentence. Speak in short sentences and stick to one topic at a time.

5. Avoid the use of slang. Slang or jargon does not often translate between languages. 

Take_5_Homepage_CTABeing more purposeful in your communications can take as little as five minutes. To help give you a jump start we’ve put together the Take 5™ Planning Template. Use this template to map out your communication—whether it’s to one person, a group or an organization. Click here to get started.

6. Ask open-ended questions. This way, the other person can freely share his or her thoughts in a way that feels natural. 

7. Listen actively and check for understanding often. Repeat what you’re hearing to ensure information is resonating. Don’t assume your messages are being understood. 

8. Expect that misunderstandings may occur. Be prepared to revisit topics as messages may get lost in translation

9. Understand that people of different cultures speak in different tones. The tone of someone’s voice may not accurately reflect the intention of their communication. 

10. Encourage communication and show support for people who struggle with your native language. People who are not at ease with your language may be shy during a conversation. Show support and demonstrate encouragement to build trust and foster dialogue. 

11. Set expectations during meetings. As you would do for any meeting, ensure there’s mutual understanding around timing and next steps.

Which of these steps – if implemented well – would have the greatest positive impact for you?

—David Grossman

Click below to download a free tool—Take 5™ Planning Template—to map out your communication, whether it's to one person, a group or an organization. 
take 5 planning template

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