3 Tips to Improve Your Cross-Cultural Communication Skills

If you’ve ever visited a foreign country you’ve probably experienced trying to communicate but feeling like the wires were crossed and the messages weren’t getting through. Learn three easy ways of how you can improve your cross-cultural communication skills.

communication skills, cultures

Know Yourself

A knowledge of self and behavior patterns are critical to effective cross-cultural communication.

Each of us has a personal culture. Often in North America, a person’s identity is centered around “I”.

The culture of “me” is the biggest cause of rifts between relationships. When two cultural entities meet the natural reaction is defensive.

Recognizing your personal triggers improves your cross-cultural communication.  If you can recognize emotions, you can manage them. If not, you may try to push your values system on someone else.

Be Aware of Differences in Personal Space

Personal space is an important issue in communication. When someone enters your personal space you get a brain freeze and tune out – this is where miscommunication can occur. [Try it out: Have a conversation with someone and step closer and closer together. How difficult is it to maintain the chat?]

In Canada, our personal “bubble” is about one arm length (elbow to finger). However, in many other countries, personal space is much closer.

When speaking with someone from another culture and they enter your bubble, acknowledge your emotions so you can deal with it and move on. Recognize that the “affront” to your personal space was not intentional, but simply what the other person is used to.

Don’t Be Afraid of … Pauses in Conversation

Every language has a cadence. This is one of the most difficult things to learn about a language and usually takes about a generation to master.

Using large pauses is not typical in Canadian cadence, but in many cultures this is standard. In fact, if you don’t pause and reflect before answering it’s seen as rude and disrespectful.

This point is especially important when interviewing candidates from another culture. Keep in mind that when the person pauses it’s not because they don’t know the answer, but that they are used to reflecting before responding.

BONUS TIP: Surround yourself with people from other cultures and ask questions when you see them doing something differently. Instead of judging or trying to change the behavior, learn about the difference so you can increase your level of cultural awareness.

Question: What other ways can we improve our cross-cultural communication skills? What have you found works in your experience? Share your insights and examples in the comment section!