Communication is always a multi-faceted exchange, but those nuances intensify when communicating across cultures.
Gestures, words, practices, phrases — all can hold different meanings in different cultures. Moreover, in an increasingly connected digital world, communities are increasingly diversifying. So it’s critical to be sure that you send the correct message, especially in business relationships.
This area is where cultural competency comes in. Global Cognition calls cultural competency a set of “skills and knowledge that can help you learn, reason, solve problems, and interact comfortably when you’re working with people from different cultures.” Fortunately, cultural competence is not static. It’s something that can be learned and improved.
In the Master of Science (M.S.) in Strategic Communications with an emphasis in Global Communications online program from Arkansas State University (A-State), students will find courses to build their cultural competence, including intercultural communication and messaging. Graduates will be prepared to create effective, meaningful interpersonal relationships and reach audiences across different cultures.
The following are three ways that cultural competence can improve communication skills:
1. Breaks Down Barriers to Interacting Cross-Culturally
Most people are familiar with the phrase “it’s the thought that counts,” meaning it’s not always the result but the effort that matters. That’s true when communicating with people from other cultures as well. As Global Cognition notes, taking noticeable steps to learn customs or language goes “a long way to building rapport with someone from a different culture.”
Yes, it might feel a little uncomfortable or goofy, but as long as the effort is genuine and respectful, it’s the thought that counts. Using even basic greetings or phrases in a native tongue is typically viewed positively. The attempt forms a connection.
2. Improves Understanding by Recognizing Cultural Norm Differences
Our cultures help form the foundations of who we are and how we interact with the world, and those tendencies carry over into the workplace. “Every team member has a unique work style that is predominantly dictated by their culture,” reads a blog post from All Things Talent.
It’s important to recognize these different styles from person to person and adjust accordingly. For instance, the affinity for small talk in a business setting varies from culture to culture. While some might find it natural or even enjoy making small talk, other cultures prefer to get to work and might perceive you as wasting their time engaging in these extra kinds of conversations.
3. Avoids Miscommunications Based on Culturally Different Communication Styles
Sometimes cultural competence can be as simple as avoiding silly mistakes. For example, be sure to use clear language. The meaning of jargon, idioms and other expressions can be completely lost from one culture to another, so it’s best to speak plainly and concisely. For example, a sports-related phrase like “it’s a home run!” might not mean anything to a person living outside of the United States.
Another practical way to improve communication is by reflecting the message back for clarification in order to ensure both the speaker and receiver share the same understanding. Not only does this help to clarify the exchange, but it’s also good practice for the receiver so that they might better understand future communications.
One other method is to mind your non-verbal cues. Aspects like eye contact, physical touch, hand gestures, personal space and more can vary significantly among cultures, so it’s best to keep behavior simple and not do too much. Again, the best practice for these situations is to learn about non-verbal cues ahead of time and abide by those cultural norms in such instances.
Using culturally competent strategies when doing business with individuals from other cultures is a critical aspect of building connections and growing international business.