Improving your intercultural communication skills helps you interact with individuals of different cultures and expands your viewpoint on life. In today’s society, for a majority of people it is difficult to avoid interacting with others outside your own culture. Our world is multicultural and that should be seen as a benefit to your life rather than a disadvantage. There are so many new ideas and experiences you can have when you interact with other cultures. Such interaction can be exciting as well as difficult. Your intercultural interactions may occur in the educational or business world, at work or through your social network. This article will discuss steps on how you can improve your intercultural communication skills.
1. Respect is the Golden Rule
Without respect for one another, your intercultural communications are not going to go well. You need to think outside the box and realize that with different cultures come different experiences. So, you must embrace the idea that your experiences most likely will be different from the person you are communicating with. Sharing our personal experiences is one of the best ways to get to know someone better. It allows you access into a deeper level of the individual’s life. When it pertains to intercultural communication, it is vital to respectfully listen when an individual is describing cultural differences and experiences. Always maintain an open mind and never ridicule another person. Embrace the differences that you encounter and learn from those experiences.
2. Open-mindedness is Key
Another way to improve your intercultural communication skills is to operate with an open mind. Be cognizant of self-education regarding various cultures. If you want to communicate well with those from other cultures, you actually have to learn about them and their differences. A sincere open-mindedness is a key factor to opening the doors to intercultural communciation. Your HR Department should have resources available to employees for situations where you are expected to interact with those from another culture. There are also resources available online which can provide assistance with your communication training.
- Intercultural Communication Institute – The ICI provides resources for intercultural diversity training and education.
- Judith N. Martin & Thomas K. Nakayama have authored the book, Intercultural Communication in Contexts which addresses steps on how to improve the way you communicate with those from another culture.
3. Be Genuinely Inquisitive
Throughout the communication process, you want to be inquisitive and ask questions about the individual’s culture; however, you must always remain genuine. Most people, regardless of the language barrier, can discern if you have disingenuous intentions. Your goal is to make an honest connection with another human being and if your behavior is forced, that connection will be lost. One way to show that you are being genuine is to learn how to master nonverbal communication techniques, such as posture, gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice. Maintaining good eye contact tells the other person that you are interested in the conversation. If you are busy looking around or texting on your phone that is not an effective way to build your communication skills. It is also important to be aware of your tone of voice. Not every culture is loud and boisterous or laughs out loud in public. Some cultures are more reserved and respectful. When you do your research on the specific culture that you’ll be delving into, you should remember to ascertain what they deem as disrespectful communication.
4. Choose Your Words Wisely
You may utilize slang during your normal conversations with friends or even with colleagues. However, you need to tread lightly with your intercultural communication. For example, when a foreigner learns English, they usually are taught proper grammar and are not privy to every slang word. If you use a slang word in front of them, it is possible they could get offended or become confused. When I learned Spanish during my four years studying it in high school, I was taught the proper grammar that is spoken in Spain, but did not learn the various dialects of other Spanish countries. The following are two examples of words meaning two separate things in two different countries (Source: Wikipedia)
- “Bangers and mash” – in British and Australian culture this is used to describe sausage and potatoes. However, in the US, “bangers” can mean gang members or a club friendly beat or song.
- “Bash” – in British culture this word means to give something a go or a try. However, in the US, it means to strike or verbally attack someone.
Trying to improve your intercultural communication skills takes time and effort on your part. You need to remember to view respect as the golden rule and value the other person you are speaking with. Having an open mind is a key factor toward understanding and appreciating an individual from another culture. It is also important to be genuinely inquisitive and truly want to get to know the other person and understand his or her culture better. The final step is to remove slang from your conversation so you can eliminate possible confusion that may arise.