Communicating Through a Global Lens: Avoiding Cross Cultural Miscommunication

Watch This Informative Video on How to Avoid Cross Cultural Miscommunication

How to Avoid Cross Cultural Miscommunication and Broaden Your Perspective in a Cross Cultural World

World Trade Week. New York City 2008

Video Transcript:

We are living through an interesting time and I’d like to actually spend some time with you tonight bringing you up to speed in some of the great research, and work and practices that we’ve been doing to help avoid cross cultural miscommunication.

So I was working with this client, and he was telling me that he was having difficulties working with his global team. They were based in the U.K., India, China, the U.S. and other parts of Europe, Germany and other parts of Europe and as well as the U.S. He was saying “I need a resource that’s quick, that’s a guide, that’s short. I don’t have time to read theories and books, they are wonderful but they are heavy and I just need the managers guide to how to work effectively across cultures, the quick cliff notes version of things.

I’m always in a plane and I need something light to carry, so our book, which I have my copy which I have read all over the place. So our book is like a guide, it’s intended to be that way on purpose so you can throw it in your briefcase. You can refer “Ok, tomorrow I’m traveling to Japan” so how to greet, how to work in a team, how to manage, a little for you to know.  So I have a couple of things that I can immediately, can effectively communicate and connect to people in that culture and there are some exercises in this book to to help avoid cross cultural miscommunication. So that was kind of a three year child, this book, which is kind of this is the fourth year so this year we released it. This ability to work effectively across businesses is really not an option, it is a requirement.

So what is culture? I want you to turn to a partner or if you don’t have a partner turn into the man behind you, and talk to your partner “what is culture? What does culture mean to you?” talk about it two minutes, what does culture mean to you?

Often times there are cross cultural miscommunication and it’s patterned, culture is patterned.  Sometimes you need to adapt to it, but sometimes there are disconnect or misunderstandings and I like to think of this disconnect by actually telling you a story.  I was working with a client, a big retail company. They were expanding to India and I was working with the group, the U.S. group because they were having a lot of challenges with this expansion.  The group in India was a group of web designers. They needed to design these elements and then would be rolling out, and the retailer was moving everything online, sure if I mention the name, you can know the name in a second because it is one of the biggest retailers.  The manager in New York who was American was dealing with this. She was having this weekly phone calls and made sure everything was followed up and documented in English, organized it and the agenda was very clear.  On the phone the Indian colleagues would say yes so she would say “Ok, so we need to do this, and this by next week” and they would say “Yes” and they got off the phone and nothing would happen, she got more and more frustrated.


Cultural Practices. IQ Exercise

Replace “No” with “Maybe” when in…?   China

Which continent evidences the strong collectivist that values family ties relationships orientation?  Asia

Which of the followings is the most characteristic of German business culture? “A” they guard their private relationships.

Relationships are more important than business relationships in Korea, Iran and Mexico? True

Number 18. Greet with “As-Salaamu ‘Alaykum” in what country? Saudi Arabia

Dimensions of Culture

And a lot of the concepts in our book are actually based on what we call the Dimensions of Culture. The first five were taken from Geert Hofstede, who was an influential Dutch psychologist, sociologist and actually did a lot of work with IBM in the early 1980’s. Anyone familiar with his work?

The first one is power-distance.  Power-distance has to do with the degree of how the culture views power.  How do they look at power: more high power distance cultures tend to look at this as more formal, more centralization of power.

Formality and informality, has to do with formal obviously more traditional oriented rules, dress code, etiquette, the proper thing to do in some cultures is to come in and sit down in a level lower than your authority, look at the floor that’s the proper formal way of behaving versus informal obviously with the casual attitude.


Cross Cultural Etiquette And Manners

Wall Street, financial Mecca of the world although every day I get these notes, through email, about how our financial you know, we have the pendulum swing, that’s what I would call this the financial pendulum swing, up and down in New York.

Direct eye contact is obviously the way to go because U.S. is a very individualistic culture. How do you work in a team? How do you manage a team? What’s the effective way to do it? And I thought the United States is the easiest; because we’re all here, right?

A firm hand, because I mean everyone is such an individual, kind of rain it in sometimes.

The generation “Y” folks would be probably walking out the door.


We usually don’t shake hands. It depends on the offer. We call people each other with last name and San, so people call me Shajara San or Sophie San, that’s how we call each other.


We have around 47 states. So every state is like a different country, believe me, very diverse and very rich in culture. If you go from one state to another state in the U.S. you get to see.


In Russia without working with a local person: They don’t like to work with you but if you have a local person and you provide them with a gift, that’s good, and that’s sort of accepted and seems ok.

Essentially there are five strategies for avoiding cross cultural miscommunication and we call them the L.E.A.R.N., we call them ready to L.E.A.R.N. Listen, Effectively communicate, Avoid ambiguity, Respect differences and No judgment.

I really thank my team, because I don’t think I’d have been able to do this.



Posted in Intercultural Business Communication