Clashing Cultures – Tackling Cross-Cultural Communication
In our globalized world, it has become commonplace to encounter members of diverse cultures at every turn. Our business environment has been elevated to a global stage: I dare say a sizable number of your clients, superiors, colleagues or work acquaintances are members of other cultural groups. Since there are numerous benefits a culturally diverse workplace provides, it is not surprising that many organizations today have embraced diversity initiatives.
While cultural diversity may enrich the work environment, cross-cultural communication failure can become a stumbling block to career advancement. Striving to build strong and lasting relationships at work is indisputably important. The question is: can you navigate your culturally heterogeneous work environment with ease? Well, the answer is yes – with practice, sensitivity and the right mentality, cultural communication can be a lot less cumbersome. In our blog today, we share tips and pointers that can be applied in non-work contexts as well.
A brief look at culture
Cultures are systems of meaning. Each of us has grown comfortable with perceiving each situation through our own cultural ‘lens’, and our behavioural responses may differ in dramatically varied ways. Our rich repertoires of cultural knowledge are specific to each culture and differ accordingly. Be mindful of existing cultural gaps and always take the initiative to transcend them!
Confronting the fear of clashing cultures – Some of us are averse to working closely with members from foreign countries. It is always entertaining to read about cross-cultural communication and advertisement faux pas in the news, but many of us find ourselves wary about committing the same blunders. Be aware that you may unconsciously steer away from opportunities to work with members of other cultures, and actively seek them instead.
Keeping stereotypical beliefs at bay – You will be surprised to find out how one bad encounter can reinforce stereotypical beliefs that cross-cultural communication is fraught with uncertainty and frustration. Keep your mind open and free to indulge in new experiences. Despite how stubborn cultural stereotypes may appear, research on cross-cultural communication confirms that they can be eroded under certain conditions. For example, cultural stereotypes are more likely to melt away when both parties are cooperating on a level playing field in order to achieve the same goal.
Focusing on the conversation – It can be as easy as slowing down your speech. Without the aid of body language, expressing yourself clearly over the phone may be especially difficult. In fast-paced PR industries where each email is fired away in mere seconds and phones are ringing off the hook, you may be tempted to subject your listener to a hasty and brief conversation.
Instead of hurrying through your sentences, take your time to convey your message clearly. This is important even if English is a common language in a cross-cultural scenario. More importantly, refrain from making assumptions. Never be too quick to assume that the other party has understood what you meant! Active clarification and attentive listening will go a long way in minimizing thorny misunderstandings.
When in doubt, find out! – Carry out some undemanding research on your target culture – learn about the socially accepted norms and the common mistakes that will be frowned upon. A superficial understanding may not guarantee smooth-sailing relationships, but a keenly developed familiarity will take years of immersion and practice. In any case, your foreigner friend will appreciate your willingness to become acquainted with his or her culture.
To begin with, communicating within the same culture is no easy feat! One can only imagine how wide and daunting cultural chasms may seem. It may facilitate your learning process if you accept that some cultural differences will always be present. It is important to have mutual acceptance that lapses in communication are inevitable – they are part and parcel of the experience of fostering beneficial cross-cultural relationships.
By Cho Yi Ting, PR Associate @ Corporate Media Services