Communicating Across Cultures

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Interconnectedness dominates the global marketplace and the meteoric rise of continually advancing technology has seen international relations grow faster and closer than ever before. An estimated 58% of small businesses deal with international clients thanks to interconnectedness, which has seen businesspeople from vastly different cultural backgrounds communicating more and more often. Despite the fact that the internationalisation of business demands more effective and succinct communication, the cultural boundaries that separate us still remain and it’s clear that cross-cultural communication is more important to business success than ever before. 

Cross-cultural communication is communication between individuals of different cultures that acknowledges and negates how core cultural values cause difference in communication norms; it’s how people from different cultural backgrounds communicate effectively. It requires reconciliation of the intrinsic assumptions made when communicating because of cultural upbringing in terms of expected behaviour, body language, and meaning behind language. 

The culture in which we are raised and live touches everything we do. From the word choices we make in conversation to the way we present ourselves, culture dictates what we consider to be socially acceptable and appropriate. When immersed in our own culture, it is easy to forget that these norms can vary wildly between different cultures. Our home culture presents obstacles in communicating with someone else as communicating with someone of a different culture requires different skills than communicating with someone of the same culture. 

Practically, this means that to understand someone’s self-expression when they’re from another culture, we need to understand standard practice in social and professional interactions in their culture; what is socially acceptable and what is rude. Because these standards vary from culture to culture, one party may act in a way they consider acceptable which the other party does not. This can lead to disagreements, offense and misunderstanding.

Communication between parties of different cultures is impossible without knowledge of cross-cultural communication. Without cross-cultural communication, the meaning of physical gestures becomes redundant and even opposite of that intended (nodding one’s head means ‘yes’ in some cultures and ‘no’ in others); words are misinterpreted because there is no shared understanding of the meaning with which culture had loaded them; communication is hindered and unfruitful thanks to anxiety stemming from lack of understanding of the other’s culture. 

Speaking the same language is only the first barrier in cross-cultural communication. Communication across cultures requires skills far beyond that which can be objectively taught in a classroom environment. Foremost, it requires astute sensitivity to the intricacies of the culture behind the language: history and events form culture shape language and it is necessary to understand how language has evolved in light of events to understand precisely what they mean. It requires knowledge of the standard practices when meeting an individual or sharing information digitally; what greeting and which register of language are appropriate, what to wear and what setting to choose. More than that, it requires real experience of how all these variables can vary and differ. 

Cross-cultural communication may be difficult, but it’s effective use has the ability to open doors for businesses which trade on both a national and international level and allows for deeper understanding and better cooperation between businesses, employees and their clients.