It’s not easy working in a cross-cultural environment. Communication can be quite difficult. It is the expression of our thoughts and a way through which we interpret instructions and relate with others. It’s influenced by several factors that largely form our worldview. Our cultures happen to play a very big role in this. It’s the window through which we view and communicate with others

1. Neutralize Your Perception

There are a number of strategies you can put in place to ensure effective communication within a cross-cultural workplace, especially between yourself and colleagues at work. The first of which is to “mend your mental sieve” (perception) and ensure that you are neutral in your approach and perception of colleagues and their cultural differences. This way your communication is positive.

How would you achieve this?

2. Understand your Culture

Culture is pervasive. It’s part of you. It governs a lot in you – behavior, feelings, interaction, and actions among other personality traits – and all these affects your communication. It is important you understand which culture you belong to and how much influence it has over your perception. Since it is the “window through which you see the world”, it is only proper that it’s clear enough.

3. Understand Other Cultures

Having understood your culture and known how much it affects your beliefs and communication, you’d also want to take a glance at other cultures, especially the dominant one at the workplace. You’ll be looking at various cultural elements including; language, mannerism, pleasantries, and work ethic among others. You could attend language classes, read if possible, or ask for insights.

4. Detach Culture and Persona

One more thing about perception, there is this colleague who’s just lazy, has poor listening skills and problems following orders. The question you’ll be asking yourself is whether it’s just him or there are workers of his origin like him. Do not make the assumption that his inefficiencies are a national or racial thing. Unless you understand him better, don’t be so quick to judge his actions.

Generally, we are saying that culture shapes us; it forms the way we view and talk with others; it is pervasive but some people’s behaviors have nothing to do with their different cultures. We are also saying that you should try not to undermine other people’s cultures while thinking your own is superior or judge based on your cultural standards; and that it is better to know not to assume.

5. Develop simple Communication

There are various elements of communication, which differ from one culture to the other, which affects understanding. These include: intonation, pronunciation, speed, grammar, pitch of voice, tense and sentence structures. While it may take a lot of time to master and fluently speak a new language, it may be useful to remember to always communicate short simple and clear messages.

6. Be Tolerant with Special Groups

Other than knowing and considering one’s culture in your communication, you should also pay attention to his/her demographic group. This includes; age and gender among others including persons living with disabilities. If you are a man and happen to be in a senior position, you may not want to be too hard in your communication with an Indian female colleague because unlike an Italian or American, she’s culturally oriented not to talk back in a similar tone. Do not shout.

7. Why not become an active Listener?

Active listening is another effective strategy ensuring proper communication in a cross-cultural workplace. It involves briefly restating the speaker’s statements to eliminate the possibility of misinformation. It also involves asking relevant questions to ensure proper understanding of the speaker’s message. Active listening also involves seeking proper clarifications where necessary.

8. Give Information in “Piece-Meal”

According to most non-native English speakers, the natives often speak so fast. This could mean a lot of information in a sentence or two. While reducing your speed and making your messages shorter, simpler and clearer are no doubt effective strategies in dealing with such concerns within a cross-cultural workplace, it may also help to limit the amount of information you give at a time

Finally, we’ve talked about cultural assumptions and the need to avoid them. You could also opt for the formal way of communication, where most of your communication is more concentrated on the task at hand than on developing a relationship of whichever kind, but maintaining general courtesy so that it’s not difficult to approach and work with you. It’s safer for them to know that you’re just being professional. Otherwise, you could also do with the following effective tips;

  • Always keep an open mind in unfamiliar conversations,
  • Seek to know cultural differences affecting interactions,
  • Find out the difference in gender roles in other cultures,
  • Also know protocol according people of other cultures,
  • Being willing to provide information about your culture,
  • Show compassion when communicating with special groups,
  • You need to be willing and flexible, to learn and adapt,
  • Establish consistency and reliability in your communication,
  • Don’t judge a whole culture because you don’t like an aspect,
  • Remember that you could be judging based on your culture.
  • Become a more skilled communicator, if you happen to become a “better person” so be it.