What is Cross-Cultural Communication? 1

Diverse group of people participating in a team building activity

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What is Cross-Cultural Communication?

People who share geographic space, experiences, and history develop a pattern of behavior and norms known as culture. Culture comprises ideas, beliefs, value systems, language, and lifestyles that a group of people shares.

“We express our culture through foods, celebrations, music, art, laws, customs, rituals, and language. Culture is not taught. We learn culture by living it”
The Critical Thinking Consortium of Canada

Usually, the way we behave, make decisions, think about life, and interact with our surroundings are influenced directly by the culture in which we grew up. The fastest way to become aware of this fact is by traveling and experiencing life in a context other than our own. If this is not possible, I believe that reading can allow us to come to a clear understanding of how important it is to keep this aspect in mind if we interact with people from other backgrounds.

Cross-cultural communication is recognizing the cultural differences and similarities between cultural groups to engage effectively in a given context. In other words, cross-cultural communication is how two or more people from different cultural backgrounds communicate effectively and understand and appreciate each other.

How Cross-Cultural Communication Affects Us at Work?

Learning to communicate effectively is a task that requires skill, knowledge, and awareness. Today we live in an interconnected world that has brought about many changes in how organizations and businesses work. As a result, we have highly diverse workplaces and work-team members spread across the country. Those people who might have interacted with just one demographic; now have to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds. Cross-cultural communication then comes into action and becomes vital in our workplace.

Developing A Better Cross-Cultural Communication

One way to improve our cross-cultural communication is to expand our understanding of the world and people. In the long run, learning to manage ourselves in different cultural contexts will become a highly beneficial asset in our work and personal lives.

The Human Resources company Chrysos shares some tips that can help us navigate how to improve our cross-cultural communication:

1. Maintain etiquette: Many cultures have particular ways of communicating and behaving. Ideally, do your research beforehand to be informed about the formalities at the beginning of the interaction. Then you will know the best way to introduce yourself and keep everything smooth. For example, make sure you can use their first name or find out if they prefer being called by their last name.

2. Avoid slang: Non-native English speakers will have difficulty understanding the context of slang, idioms, and sayings. They could end up confused and misunderstand the meaning and intent. You could use the situation to make sure you explain yourself if necessary. In this way, you also explain where you are coming from and introduce them to your culture.

3. Practice active listening: Listening is the most effective way to improve our cross-cultural communication. Ask them questions! In this way, you will build rapport and trust in the process.

4. Be careful with humor: There is nothing worse than a joke that can offend another person from another cultural context. Make sure that if you use humor, it is used with caution and does not offend the other person.

5. Take turns to talk: Make the conversation flow. Make your point and allow the other person to respond. Talking for too long can confuse your counterpart, or they might not understand what you are saying.

6. Be supportive: Develop a relationship based on respect, do your best to communicate with this person, and always allow them to express themselves.

A couple more tips that can also be helpful in your process of improving your cross-cultural communication are:

  • Be Open-Minded and Accept Agility: The inability to accept changes or different ideas can be a barrier to improving your cross-cultural communication. It does not mean that you have to change your way of being but to understand that there are other points of view and ideas. Part of being exposed to a different point of view can lead to finding new solutions that you have not considered before.

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About Jessimar Lopez

Jessimar Lopez graduated from the University of Puerto Rico Río Piedras Campus with a bachelor’s degree in audiovisual communications and participated in a study abroad internship at the University of Málaga with the sponsorship of the Benjamin G. Gilman Scholarship. She joined the Empower Brokerage team in 2022 as a videographer and editor.

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