Cross-cultural communication can be one of the hardest things to do effectively. Misunderstandings can happen because of factors such as different backgrounds and cultural differences. Here are several tips on how to improve cross-cultural communication.
1) Be Open to Learning
English may be a common language for both British and American employees, but due to cultural differences, words may be different. For instance, the Brits call their favourite sport football when the Americans refer to it as “soccer”. The phrase soccer originates from a slang short form of the word “association”, which the Americans adapted to “assoc”, which later became soccer or soccer football. This demonstrates that an effective communication strategy starts with understanding the cultures and backgrounds of both senders and the receiver.
We must realise that a basic understanding of cultural diversity is the key to effective cross-cultural conversations. For example, football is one of the most well-known female sports where approximately 30 million girls and women enjoy playing football. However, many women in Brazil experience discrimination when playing football. Football was banned from 1941 until 1979, as the Brazilian government perceived women playing football as “against their nature”. Knowing this information when talking to a Brazilian female colleague about football would have helped minimise conflicts that may arise from assumptions.
2) Business Etiquette
Understanding business etiquette in different countries is one of the most tricky areas when doing business abroad. In China, guanxi is defined as personal connections, which implies mutual trust between both parties. It operates across different levels, from social to business purposes. Establishing good guanxi with your network in China is essential as it helps one get things done more easily. For instance, if a seller builds a good relationship with his supplier, he may get a better deal. However, it varies across sectors and geography. For example, Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen adopt international business practices where guanxi is not as important. On the contrary, Jiangsu and Fujian are generally dominated by small businesses that may still adopt conventional business practices and take guanxi more seriously.
3) No Laughing Matter
A recent study by the National University of Singapore illustrates that leaders who joke with their employees may lead to harmful workplace behaviour. This includes ignoring a leader’s instructions, leaking private and confidential information to external parties, and consuming alcohol while at work. Research demonstrates that management’s adoption of humour with staff may be interpreted as “poor behaviour is tolerated at the workplace”. This is because employees believe that their bosses can tolerate these behaviours. Therefore, leaders must be aware of the type of humour considered appropriate in a different context. Every culture will have a different interpretation of the use of humour in the workplace.
As the majority workforce continue working remotely with team members from different cultures, it is essential to be aware of cultural diversity and stereotypes while using simple language to avoid cross-cultural miscommunication. Also, use humour cautiously while networking with others. Not everybody finds the same things funny.
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1) BBC 2018, Women Footballers: Born with talent, Held Back By Prejudice, BBC, viewed 25 August 2021, <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-43198651>
2) Business News Daily Editor 2020, No Laughing Matter: Be Careful When You Joke With Your Employee, viewed 25 August 2021, <https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/9882-boss-humor-damage-workplace.html>
3) Elizabeth Harrison 2021, Why Do Some People Call It Soccer? A&E Television networks, viewed 25 August 2021, <https://www.history.com/news/why-do-some-people-call-it-soccer>
4) Making Business Matters (MBM) 2020, 8 Tips for Effective Cross-Cultural Communication, MBM, viewed 25 August 2021, <https://www.makingbusinessmatter.co.uk/cross-cultural-communication/>
5) Michael C. Wenderoth 2018, How A Better Understanding of Guanxi Can Improve Your Business In China, Forbes, viewed 25 August 2021, <https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelcwenderoth/2018/05/16/how-a-better-understanding-of-guanxi-can-improve-your-business-in-china/?sh=22046da95d85>
6) Mind Tools Content Team 2021, Cross-Culture Communication, Mind Tools, viewed 25 August 2021, <https://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/Cross-Cultural-communication.htm>