Volume 6 • Issue 3
WELCOME to our e-newsletter on cross cultural business communication!
AIM Strategies® engages in periodic research to understand the challenges and opportunities faced by our clients. Based on this research, we have developed a series of booklets which address key issues in the business community. They are be published and available for purchase via Amazon and our website.
The first booklet in the series will focus on the topic of Cross Cultural Business Communication because of its increasing importance to current business organizations. The article that follows, ‘Learning To Communicate Across Cultures’, offers a sneak preview of our cross cultural interaction book, Communicating Through a Global Lens.
Enjoy this article; it is our hope that you find actionable ideas for your own organization. As always, your feedback is appreciated.
- Learning to Communicate Across Cultures
- Effectively Communicate
- Avoid Ambiguity
- Respect Differences
- No Judgment
- About AIM Strategies®
Today, the global neighborhood is a reality for many organizations. At its most basic, culture refers to a group, or community, whose members share similar experiences, worldviews and values. Up until a few generations ago, most Americans worked solely with local counterparts who shared similar backgrounds. Today, thanks to the pace of technology and globalization, it is probable your typical workday includes interaction with colleagues, clients or vendors from different parts of the globe.
As the pace of business transactions quickens, the ability to communicate with and manage people from other cultures is not just a necessity, it is a requirement. Confounded by language barriers, different worldviews and experiences, communication can be a great challenge. However, not meeting these challenges can be costly, setting a project back days, weeks or even months. Communicating effectively greatly augments your success when working and negotiating with individuals from diverse backgrounds.
L-E-A-R-N to communicate effectively across cultures…
AIM Strategies® has identified five steps which you can take for effective cross cultural business communication. They are described below, and form the acronym L-E-A-R-N, as follows:
E ffectively Communicate
A void Ambiguity
R espect Differences
N o Judgment
Cross cultural business communication presents many opportunities for miscommunication. Active listening is a highly effective tool to prevent misunderstandings in such situations. We engage in active listening when we go beyond the literal meaning of spoken words to look for meaning through other contextual clues, such as gestures, actions, facial expression, tone. An active listener checks with the speaker to ensure that s/he has accurately heard and understood a statement. The goal of active listening is to improve mutual understanding. For example, people from different cultures may use the same word in different ways. Repeating what you think you have heard confirms your understanding of the speaker’s meaning.
Some argue that active listening is the most important skill one can develop to become an effective leader. By using the following techniques, you can show your conversation partner that you understand and appreciate the message he or she is trying to convey:
• Nod when a person tells you something.
• Make eye contact when speaking to someone and when spoken to.
• Mirror the person’s facial expressions in a genuine manner.
• Communicate (give and receive) feedback.
• Paraphrase what the other person has said to you.
For effective cross cultural business communication, a person must be able to understand and respond to cues in the environment and gauge the conversation partner’s intentions. In these situations you can tone down your language – avoiding harsh and / or difficult words – and adjust the timing and speed of your speech. Be sure to verify often that what you said is truly understood. The following skills are useful:
• If the conversation appears to be coming to a close, conclude with a
transition or sum-up statement. For example, “So you are saying that….”
• Allow the other person to complete his/her thoughts – avoid dominating
the conversation – even if you feel you have a lot to say.
• If the other person appears bored and uninterested, ask where s/he
would like the conversation to go. Change the subject and/or direction
of the conversation. Ask questions to get him/her involved.
Avoiding ambiguity does not mean that you deliberately avoid situations that may prove to be ambiguous or uncertain. Rather, you prevent ambiguity by preparing and informing yourself as much as possible about your conversation partner’s culture so that you can react appropriately. When you become knowledgeable about these cultural norms and practices, you avoid uneasiness which often leads to frustration, which in turn hinders your ability to communicate.
These suggestions can help you build your confidence when you have your next cross cultural interaction:
• Try to learn as much as you can about the other person’s culture before
hand – it helps reduce some of the ambiguity.
• Ask questions to clarify issues of which you are unsure.
• Nod and maintain eye contact.
• Paraphrase what the other person says to be sure you understood
• Ask the person to repeat him/herself when you don’t understand.
Effective cross cultural business communication can be difficult if you have trouble showing respect for another’s differences. Here we refer to the actual actions that display respect, not to the act of respecting. As we know, actions and behaviors are interpreted differently across cultures so you must be sure that neither your behavior nor actions appear disrespectful. While different cultures vary in what they consider signs of ‘showing respect,’ (i.e.: “the bow” in Japan) following these general rules should lead to positive results:
• Maintain eye contact, professional posture, a clear and welcoming
tone/pitch, and display general interest.
• Be punctual when meeting someone.
• Use optimistic, positive terms.
• Acknowledge others often.
• Be polite by using the phrases ‘please’ and ‘thank you; in the individual’s
• Be aware of terms people use to explain themselves and the world
Cultural norms often times dictate the nature of appropriate behavior. When interacting across cultures it is possible that someone’s behavior or actions may offend you. To avoid feeling this way, it is important to realize that your conversation partner probably had no intention of offending you or showing signs of disrespect. Therefore, suspend judgment and look to determine their true intentions.
• Avoid jumping to conclusions. Don’t assume that what you understood to
be true is universally correct.
• Respond in ways that are descriptive and non-evaluative. Avoid making
judgmental comments based on your culture that lead to wrong
conclusions. Avoid leaping to conclusions before considering several
• Consider the three-step evaluation approach :
A) Description – “Eric comes to work late every Monday.”
B) Interpretation – “Eric doesn’t care about the job.”
C) Evaluation – “I’ll give Eric the less desirable projects.”
Now consider the three-step evaluation approach with the addition of one step:
A) Description – “Eric comes to work late every Monday.”
Now, before you make an assumption, consider several interpreted reasons for Eric’s behavior. For example:
• He has familial obligations every Monday morning.
• He gets stuck in after-weekend traffic returning from out-of-town.
• He oversleeps after the weekend.
• He doesn’t care about the job.
Once you’ve formulated several competing hypotheses for Eric’s behavior, you are ready to make your interpretation:
B) Interpretation – “Eric’s tardiness could be due to a factor which may be
out of his control.”
C) Evaluation – “I will talk to Eric about his tardiness and learn more about
what is going on.”
The ‘considering several options’ step is the one that many people skip – leading them to make erroneous, and often biased, conclusions.
More than ever, today’s global businesses success depends on one’s ability in cross cultural business communication. Successful leaders will master the various skills and incorporate the behaviors discussed in these pages. We hope that you find value in the five steps we have noted here, and that you will incorporate what you have L-E-A-R-N ed in your next cross-cultural conversation.
AIM Strategies® Applied Innovative Management® is a results-driven Human Capital Consulting firm specializing in the areas of: Global Leadership Development, Co-located and Virtual Team Facilitation, Cross Cultural Communications, and Change Integration Services. To request information about AIM’s experiential learning methods (5D’s™ Consulting/Proprietary Training Methodology and ACT™ Coaching Process), please email firstname.lastname@example.org. In upcoming issues of this newsletter, we’ll update you on tips and techniques related to raising your innovative management IQ. We are confident that the solutions we develop fit your needs and culture. Please forward this newsletter to your colleagues and visit www.aim-strategies.com to learn more about how our services unlock the people potential of your organization!