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  • Writer's pictureRong Yue

Improving Cross-Cultural Communication

By Laura Perry, Copywriting & Editing Intern at Talent Academy

The human race is an ethically and culturally diverse group. It is this rich diversity that often makes for great teams in the workplace, as people bring their different experiences and ideas to create a well-rounded and innovative team.

Team members from different countries

But it is not always easy to communicate between cultures, and we often miscommunicate. An array of factors contribute to this, including;

  • “Misinterpreting non-verbal cues

  • “Believing stereotypes portrayed by the media

  • “Assuming people of the same cultural background will behave similarly

  • “Evaluating someone’s behaviour based solely on your own cultural upbringing

  • “Having breakdowns in understanding due to language differences,” (Baker).

However, for a team to work well together to succeed, it is integral that we learn to communicate cross-culturally.

Before we can learn how to improve cross-cultural communication, we need to understand what culture is.

Colin Baker explains culture as:

“Culture doesn’t only mean where someone comes from. After all, two people from the same country might identify with very different cultures. Instead, think of culture as the values, beliefs, behaviors, and attitudes a person learns from those within their cultural group. Culture can affect a host of different things, from decision making processes to how best to resolve conflict. A person’s culture may also be informed by things such as geography, religion, race, or ethnicity.”

Now that we have a better understanding of culture, here are some tips from Baker to helping overcome miscommunication in multicultural teams:

Have an Open Mind

There is more than one way of accomplishing goals. Keep an open mind and learn all you can about other cultures! Ask questions when it is appropriate to do so, and in the learning process you might even discover new ways of thinking and making business decisions.

Learn to Adapt

Interacting with people from other cultures often requires some flexibility and adaptation on your part. This can be difficult for some people to accept new things, maybe because they have a fear of failure or worry that it might not work. Be more willing to try new things and feel free to experiment with new ideas and see how they improve yourself and your company.

Develop Self Awareness

We all make assumptions about other people whether we are aware of it or not. The first step to correcting these assumptions is recognising that you have them, i.e. becoming more self-aware. You can do this by looking at how you communicate with others. Go back in your emails and note how you respond. Do you react differently depending on the person you’re responding to? Do you react differently dpeneding on the person you’re responding to? Do you factor in another person’s culture? How inclusive are you in the projects you assign and activities you hold? More introspection will lead to better outward communication.

Open Communication Channels

To improve cross-cultural communication, you first need to improve organisational communication. To do this you need to open up those channels to that people feel free and comfortable to voice their thoughts. Invite team members with diverse perspectives to share their opinions.

Encourage Face-to-Face Interactions

As remote work increases, the opportunity for face-to-face interactions decrease. Try to encourage people to have in-person conversations, or even via face-to-face platforms such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams. These interactions help people get to know each other which can make communication significantly easier. While written communication like email and direct messages can be convenient, they take away from the human element that is so important for understanding other cultures. If you make time for these in-person meetings, you’ll start to see cross-cultural communication improve.

People from different countries hold signs writing "multicultural"

Other tips for improving cross cultural communication:

  • “Avoid using slang.

  • “Speak clearly and avoid mumbling.

  • “Leave space for the other person to speak.

  • “Actively listen to others.

  • “Keep instructions simple.

  • “Be respectful.

  • “Ask questions to confirm understanding.

  • “Practice proper etiquette.” (Baker)

Having good communication between people of different cultures is important for your team’s success. By making some adjustments to your approach and attitude to interacting with people from other cultures, you can improve communication, increase employee satisfaction, which ultimately improves company performance.

To learn more about team communication, contact us for information about workshops, or attend our FREE WEBINAR which is hosted every second month.


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