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Ten tips for intercultural communication

Here are some simple tips to help you improve your cross-cultural communication skills:

Slow down: Even when English is the common language in a cross-cultural situation, this does not mean that you should speak at normal speed. Slow down, speak clearly and make sure your pronunciation is intelligible.

Separate questions: Try not to ask double questions like “Do you want to continue or do we stop here?” In such a situation, it is possible that only the first or second question was understood. Let your listener answer one question at a time.

Avoid negative questions: Many misunderstandings in communication have been caused by the use of negative questions and answers. In English we answer ‘yes’ if the answer is affirmative and ‘no’ if it is negative. In other cultures, a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ can only indicate whether the questioner is right or wrong. For example, the response to “Aren’t you coming?” it can be ‘yes’, which means ‘Yes, I’m not going’.

Take Turns: Cross-cultural communication is enhanced by taking turns speaking, making a point, and then listening to the response.

Write it down: If you’re not sure if you understood something, write it down and check it. This can be useful when using large numbers. For example, a billion in the US is 1,000,000,000,000 while in the UK it is 1,000,000,000.

Be supportive: Effective cross-cultural communication is, at its core, about being comfortable. Giving encouragement to those with weak English gives them trust, support and confidence in you.

Check meanings: When communicating across cultures, never assume the other party has understood. Be an active listener. Summarize what was said to prove it. This is a very effective way of ensuring that accurate cross-cultural communication has occurred.

Avoid Jargon – Even the most educated foreigner will not have a complete grasp of jargon, idioms, and sayings. The danger is that the words are understood but the meaning is lost.

Beware of humor: In many business cultures it is taken very seriously. Professionalism and protocol are constantly observed. Many cultures will not appreciate the use of humor and jokes in a business context. When using humor, think about whether it will be understood in the other culture. For example, British sarcasm often has a negative effect abroad.

Keep the etiquette: Many cultures have a certain etiquette when communicating. It is always a good idea to do some cultural awareness training or at least do some research on the target culture.

Intercultural communication is about dealing with people from other cultures in a way that minimizes misunderstandings and maximizes your potential to create strong relationships. The tips above should be seen as a starting point for greater cultural awareness.

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