Cross-Cultural Communications

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Think of all the miscommunications you experience in an average week – and realize that most are with people who share your culture. You can then appreciate how much more complex it is to be an effective communicator in a world where we interact with people in China, India, Latin America, Russia Mideast, etc. who don’t share your cultural norms and business traditions.

Different cultural values, beliefs and norms

Every culture has its own set of shared values, beliefs and behavioral norms. For instance, while Americans generally value individualism/independence, focus on time to control the future, tend to be direct, open, honest and practical, other cultures are more concerned with the group’s welfare, respecting the past, people’s rank and status, indirectness and ritual. People’s value of time, deadline, accountability, etiquette when engaging others of differing ages and characteristics, all impact on direct and indirect communications, relationships, decision making, motivation, leadership and organizational structures. Most of us develop our personality and communication styles as we grow up within our culture. But when we interact with people from different cultures, conflicts can occur unless each party is sensitive to the cultural discrepancies and language differences, and adjusts to them. For instance, when doing business with people in India, it’s advisable to be properly attired (wearing non- leather products), avoid beckoning with the palm up, wagging a finger, whistling, winking or pointing one’s feet at a person, and know when and how to use words like “no” and “thank you”.

Each medium has its own communication dimensions

In face-to-face situations, what you say, how you say it, your physical appearance, body “language”, listening skills, and manner of response all play a role. In phone conversations, the importance of verbal and listening skills is magnified, because there is no visual feedback. In e-mails, the power of each word or phrase, the document’s organization and formality, response time, and how you use technology (e.g., instant messenger) all have meanings. Finally, how each party interprets the use of the medium is based on cultural values (e.g., urgency and importance), also determines the impact.