Cross cultural communication is primarily about interaction between different individuals/groups from various cultural backgrounds across nationalities, geographies etc. It doesn’t stop at that- different religious, ethnic, social, political, and educational backgrounds add flavors to this already intricate crisscross of communication.
A successful intercultural interaction requires an understanding that different cultures have different customs, social beliefs, notions and even perceptions. When both the parties are ready to accept and adapt to these differences, that’s when we have an effective intercultural communication.
This is notably important for multinational organizations that have presence across the globe. With a diverse workforce, understanding different workplace norms, beliefs, thought processes, possible interpretations, and mentalities become all the more important. Add to that, the differences in gestures, mannerisms, and work culture!
Understanding this reality, businesses, these days, are paying special attention to sensitize their workforce, to the differences that might interfere with multicultural communication.
During one such training program by my organization, our trainer displayed a picture that showed a man and a woman holding one handle each of a bag. My company being multinational, had participants from all across the globe. We, then, were asked to comment on the picture.
Have a look at the range of responses:
- This man is trying to help the woman carry the bag.
- No, it is the woman who is helping the man.
- They are a family and are sharing the load equally.
- The man is trying to rob the woman.
- No, it is the woman who is trying to snatch the bag away.
- Both of them have robbed a bank and are running away after committing the crime.
Well, we all were looking at that one picture from our respective prisms. And this prism was nothing but the reflection of our societal and cultural exposure in general. People by and large, are shaped by their cultural backgrounds.
The debriefing of the activity churned out some really startling and often passed over revelations.
Societies that displayed chivalry and respectfulness towards women as a custom, spoke of how the man offered to help the lady.
Participants with feminist upbringing were quick to add that it was the woman who was helping the guy. Or it was the woman who tried snatching the bag.
On the other hand, participants from egalitarian societies responded with a – “Both of them are sharing the load of the bag equally.”
Contrast this with the societies that had high crime rate. The responses that came out from them were based on their culture of general distrust.
How does all this information help?
Say you are deputed to a foreign office, and you find that every task you do, is going through a process of double checking. You are being asked to document even the most routine of your work.
Well, a simple understanding of where all these norms are coming from, can help you respond sensitively. If you have the cultural awareness of their society, you won’t take all this doubting, personally, and would abide by the mores happily.
Quoting Edward T. Hall here –
“The essence of cross-cultural communication has more to do with releasing responses than with sending messages. It is more important to release the right response than to send the right message.”
One couldn’t agree more with the anthropologist!
How to avoid communication failures with a multicultural audience:
An unmindful interaction in a multicultural setup, can make or break a potential professional engagement. Here are some handy tips that can help avoid communication disasters:
Expand your knowledge base and find out enough about the new culture before starting interactions.
Speak clearly and slower than usual. Avoid jargons and idioms when communicating with an intercultural audience.
Check your understanding of the multicultural surrounding regularly and make sure you are understood right as well. You can do this by listening carefully, asking questions, and requesting them to paraphrase your message.
Apologize immediately in case your unintentional insensitivity towards cultural differences caused any confusion.
Last but not the least, respect the differences, accept, and adapt.
Neha Srivastava is a corporate trainer and performance coach by profession, freelance content crafter by choice and tea-holic blogger by hobby. She takes delight in helping industry aspirants and working professionals, who are keen on adding some sheen to their field of expertise. With her two decades of experience in the Talent development field across sectors, she brings along some interesting insights into the nitty gritty of Corporate life.
Specialized in Business communication, Customer services, and Campus to Corporate learning designing, development, and delivery, Neha is presently working on launching her own Virtual Training venture. She can be reached at Linkedin.
To know more about her work, you can visit OfficeGritties.com » Office Gritties