This is Part 2 of a three part series on intercultural communications. Part 1 addressed the complexity of culture and how it can impact communications when individuals from one culture interact with individuals from another. Read more here.
How can you improve intercultural communications?
There are a number of strategies that can be used to better understand and improve intercultural communications. And, while it depends on the situation and what component of culture you are dealing with, there are general guidelines that can be followed to make any intercultural situation run a little more smoothly.
Tips for Achieving Successful Intercultural Communications:
1. Do your homework.
If you know ahead of time who you will be speaking with or what country you will be visiting, it makes sense to research cultural norms and communication methods and standards for that particular place. Do not walk into the situation unprepared if you can avoid it.
It might be uncomfortable for you and the person you are asking, but by showing your willingness to ask when you don't understand or when you lack the cultural knowledge necessary to avoid cultural faux pauxs, you are demonstrating your willingness to learn more about a new culture and the prevailing communication norms instead of rushing through unaware.
3. Accept that you'll commit errors.
Even with all the research you're going to do and the questions you're going to ask, you will still make mistakes. Don't take it personally, rather do your best to be self-aware, actively learn from your mistake and apologize if you offend anyone or cross boundaries. Mistakes will always happen, but these guidelines can help you avoid serious issues.
4. Avoid colloquialisms, jokes and idioms.
Humor is culture oriented and until you have spent significant months or years learning it, jokes should be avoided as it can be easy to offend or belittle, and in professional situations that can spell disaster. Idioms should be avoided for a different reason, and that is that they vary greatly by culture and often aren't translatable. In Colombia, "Hacemos la vaca" means to collect money to buy something together. It has no literal meaning and if you weren't with someone who could explain, you would be very confused as to why people were making a cow.
5. Practice actively listening and observing.
Listening is a highly regarded skill. When communicating with others from another culture, it is incredibly important to actively pay attention and listen to what people are telling you. Listening can help you understand that there isn't one right way to conduct interactions. Additionally, varying viewpoints or ideas might contradict your own, but you'll still need to listen respectfully.
6. Repeat or confirm what you think was being said.
It can be helpful to repeat or confirm what you believe to have been the objective of the conversation. This process will help you avoid misunderstandings, especially when speaking different languages. Write it out if you have to, but make sure you align understanding before moving forward.
7. Don't ask yes or no questions.
Instead, use open ended questions to avoid confusion. With open ended questions, the person with whom you are interacting must explain or clearly outline their point, making it easier to understand their response and the context surrounding it.
8. Pay attention to nonverbal communication.
Communication is also extremely nonverbal. Pay attention to nonverbal cues such as intonation, eye contact, posture. Observe how people conduct interactions with others from their same culture and follow their lead. Certain cultures avoid strong eye contact when speaking, so you'll make someone highly uncomfortable if you are trying to force strong eye contact they are not used to.
9. Speak slowly and clearly.
This will help you avoid mistakes and seeming nervous. Speaking slowly and clearly is often interpreted as being confident. Additionally, taking time to think before you speak can help you to avoid communication issues and words you might regret later.
10. Take a deep breath and enjoy it!
It can be a challenge to communicate effectively with people from other cultures, and you are bound to find people with whom you can communicate more effectively and more enjoyably than others. Remember, that the whole process is a lifelong lesson in empathy, understanding, and self-awareness which can translate to vastly improved professional and personal interactions and successes beyond just intercultural communications. So, take a deep breath and start communicating!
Don't miss the opportunity to read Part 1 - Intercultural Communications: How Culture Complicates Communication which talks about culture and gives examples of varying intercultural communication challenges.