Cross-cultural communication can be complex, especially in business relationships. These tips will help you avoid awkward—and potentially costly—mishaps.

A young woman shakes the hand of a an older man at a business meeting.

As today’s business world becomes more and more global, it’s increasingly important for employees at every level of an organization to have the intercultural communication skills needed for successful interactions with international collaborators.

Learn how to achieve effective cross-cultural communication with these four essential tips.

  1. Consider other perspectives. The first step to effective cross-cultural communication is looking beyond your own experience. While we may not immediately recognize it, our communication skills are subconsciously—and understandably—shaped by the culture in which we live. When faced with culturally based differences in communication, our initial reaction may be surprise, especially when those differences relate to the tone or perceived attitude of a message. However, once we open our minds to the fact that there is no right or wrong way to communicate—and that our own culture’s communication norms are not the only, nor the best, way to interact—we’ll not only be more receptive to intercultural communication, we’ll be more successful at it.

  2. Do your research. Preparation is key when it comes to cross-cultural communication. Whether you’ll be collaborating with colleagues from the United Kingdom or traveling to a conference in Japan, take time to do some research about cultural differences in communication to understand the nuances of both your own culture and the one you’ll be engaging with. From how you introduce yourself to your overall tone when writing an e-mail, you may be surprised by how everyday business etiquette differs from culture to culture. If your business or organization has employees with relevant personal or professional experience in working with others from a particular location or culture, ask them for guidance. A little bit of research can go a long way.

  3. Pay attention. In addition to pre-communication research, you can further promote effective intercultural business communication by simply paying attention to how your clients, potential clients, or colleagues conduct themselves—in person, over the phone, and in writing—and then follow their lead. Listen to how people are speaking. Are they quiet or more boisterous? Watch their body language and gestures. How are they sitting and where do they place their hands? Take note of how e-mails are composed. Are recipients addressed formally or casually? Every culture has its own communication nuances. Noticing these actions, then mirroring them, is the fastest, most effective way to promote positive cross-cultural communication.

  4. Get the right education. Your educational experience itself can do wonders for your intercultural communication skills, especially when you’re in a diverse learning environment—something you’ll often find if you’re earning your degree online at a university with a large international student population. Many of today’s communication degrees, such as a BS in Communication, also feature a strong focus on the cross-cultural skills needed for today’s global business world. And many of today’s professionals depend on online degree programs to further equip them with the expertise they need to excel in multicultural businesses around the world.

With an array of concentrations and specializations to choose from, Walden’s online bachelor’s and master’s communication degree programs and certificates help prepare students to effectively communicate in today’s fast-paced, global business world.
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