Three Keys to Boost Your Communication Effectiveness Across Cultures
Know your own style:
Are you a direct communicator and get to the point in a matter of a few seconds? Do you like to tell stories and provide lots of context before hitting the main point? Do you speak with your hands or keep the emotions hidden? Understanding your own style is the first step toward intercultural competence.
Learn the basic norms of communication in the other culture:
The meaning of ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ in indirect cultures like India, Saudi Arabia, or Japan, ‘yes’ does not always signal a commitment. Instead it could mean – ‘Yes, I hear you’, and ‘Yes, I respect you and like you too much to directly say “no” to you’. In reverse, in Russia or Israel, a ‘no’ could mean ‘No, I don’t like your offer or request, but I’m willing to debate and negotiate”.
Verbal cues and words that are used to strengthen or lighten the disagreement.
When a German says: “I totally disagree”, she could mean that she’s ready to engage in an exciting debate. By the same token, “we have a little problem” in Brazil could mean big trouble.
Non-verbal cues such as facial expressions, body language, and the meaning of silence.
In Japan, for instance, it is common to take a long pause before speaking. Try to fight the urge to fill that silence with noise.
Adapt your style:
When communicating with indirect cultures like India, avoid yes/no questions and ask content questions instead that start with key words like “what” or “how”.
When negotiating with direct communicators like Israelis, make your message crystal clear and avoid tentative language
When presenting to low-context cultures like the US stick to what is most relevant. Your audience will ask for additional information if there is an interest.