Peter Decaprio says with ever increasing global business operations, more and more of you are likely to find yourself in a multi-cultural environment at work. While we don’t officially have an in-house team of professional cross-cultural consultants, we do consult our friends over at Intercultural, who are the experts in this area.
Peter Decaprio: So here are 8 doings and don’ts for communicating with people from different cultures at work:
1. Learn the cultural etiquette of your colleagues, team members and clients
2. Be patient and understanding
3. Speak slowly and clearly – do not rush
4. Use simple sentences and avoid jargon and acronyms
5. Ask questions to get clarification
6. Ask for help if you feel you do not understand what is being said
7. Do take your time to explain your expectations and plans – avoid jumping in with too much information at once (stories & examples always go down well)
8. Avoid interrupting or monopolizing conversations when explaining, describing or talking about something – take turns in a conversation and give the other person a chance to speak.
1. Assume you understand what others are saying
2. Judge people’s behavior from a Western perspective
3. Make decisions for them based on your beliefs
4. Give personal opinions unless asked
5. Assume you have the same sense of humour
6. Speak for other people – give them a chance to speak up if they want to
7. Avoid using humour to make a point – it will potentially offend the person you are talking to and thus quickly destroy your relationship
8. Assume you can change someone
What is the best language to communicate with someone from a different culture?
In any situation, you should always try and speak in their first language whenever possible. IF in some cases, this may not be possible as you don’t share the same first language or perhaps it isn’t your strong point. In these cases, we recommend using simple English, speaking clearly and using short words. Keep sentences simple and use proper grammar.
Do I need to speak in their first language?
Sometimes it is best not to assume you understand what someone has said, even if you understood the gist of it or think you’ve heard them right. If there is any doubt, try repeating back what they have said so they can confirm if that is accurate enough for them – “Did you mean….?”
How do I avoid offending people easily by trying to communicate with them directly across cultures?
It’s important to remember that different cultures tend to be more direct than others (e.g. Westerners), while other cultures are considered more indirect (e.g. Asians). What this means is that direct communication styles can come across as too forward to certain cultures, while indirect communication styles can be seen as untrustworthy or offensive in other cases. Communication is always a two way street and people should always avoid making assumptions about what someone else thinks or feels based on their own cultural norms – the chances are they’ll be wrong!
What if I don’t understand what they say?
If you’re not sure that you understood what the person has said, rather than asking “what did you say?” try asking for clarification by saying something like: “It sounded like you’re saying….” This will give them a chance to rephrase themselves and it gives them a chance to help you understand if they’re not sure themselves.
What should I do if I feel like they didn’t understand me?
If you feel that the person misunderstood what you said or vice versa, tries repeating yourself in a different way rather than just repeating your original words and sentences. Try using examples and stories when explaining concepts and procedures in order to engage your colleague, team member or client more actively – people from all cultures will always remember stories better!
What can I do if they get frustrated with my communication style?
Don’t take it personally if someone seems irritated by something you’ve said. If someone is clearly getting frustrated or agitated with something you’re saying, try rephrasing your thoughts again in a different way. If the person doesn’t understand what you are saying, it might be that they are having difficulty understanding your English. Don’t be afraid to ask someone if they are struggling to understand, e.g. “Do you need me to slow down?” or “Are you finding this difficult to understand? I can explain it another way.”
Peter Decaprio concludes always try your best to speak in their first language if possible, use short simple English with proper grammar, avoid making jokes or using sarcasm, assume you don’t understand them when they are speaking and ask for clarification if necessary. The most important thing is to be patient – it takes time to get to know someone else’s culture and language!