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Cross-Cultural Communication: 4 Essential Tips for Success

Master the American Accent!How often do you communicate with people from different cultural or linguistic backgrounds in the workplace? If you’re like most professionals, your workplace is growing increasingly diverse as globalization continues to increase at a breakneck pace. This diversity can be incredibly beneficial: we now have the opportunity to reach clients and create collaborations across the globe. Diversity also allows for a wider range of opinions and ideas that we might not encounter in a more insular environment. Unfortunately, this diversity also comes with an increased risk for miscommunication.

Interacting with people from different backgrounds involves an added risk of misunderstanding or being misunderstood. Sometimes this is the product of language issues: a reduced vocabulary or heavy accent in your non-native language can make it difficult for others to understand you. Cultural considerations can also play a role: every culture has different communication conventions, and lack of awareness can inadvertently create offense. Take a look at our four tips below to improve your cross-cultural communication:

  1. If English is not your conversation partner’s native language, slow down your rate of speech, and be sure to enunciate all the sounds of each of your words. Running your words together makes it particularly difficult for others to understand your speech.
  2. Limit your use of idioms and slang. We often use these in our day-to-day speech more than we realize: “Drop me a line,” “Cut to the chase,” “That blew me away,” “Get the ball rolling,” “Ahead of the curve.” All of these phrases can be difficult to understand if you are not a native English speaker.
  3. If you are not a native English speaker and are having difficulty understanding, don’t be afraid to ask your conversation partner to slow down or to repeat themselves. If you are unsure of a point, restate it to your conversation partner to make sure you fully understand their point.
  4. Be aware that non-verbal communication can vary from culture to culture. For example, strong eye contact is considered a professional virtue in some cultures, while other cultures consider it rude and aggressive. Gestures can also be highly specific to a culture. For example, a “thumbs up” sign, which is used to show approval in the United States, is considered extremely lewd and inflammatory in some other cultures. Be aware of possible areas of offense and when in doubt, follow your conversation partner’s lead.

Want to learn more? Check out our innovative workbooks, Talking Business: A Guide to Professional Communication and Talking Business: When English Is Your Second Language

If you have questions or are interested in improving your communication skills, give me a call at 212-308-7725 or send me an e-mail at info@corporatespeechsolutions.com. I’d be more than happy to answer any questions you might have.

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