7 tips on becoming an effective intercultural communicator.
Let me start this article by saying that I am neither a professional intercultural trainer, nor am I a certified communication coach. What I definitely am though is a third culture kid who over the course of her life has studied, lived, and worked with people from 100+ countries. Therefore, it’s safe to say that over the years, I’ve learnt a ton about how to effectively communicate with those whose backgrounds and cultures are different from mine. What that also means though is that I’ve witnessed firsthand what terrible communication skills in an increasingly international and connected world can lead to — missed opportunities, broken relationships, and a so-so reputation among others!
Improving the way I communicate with those in my personal and professional circles has been at the top of my priority list for as long as I can remember. Initially, I shied away from opportunities to engage with those who didn’t look like me for fear of being misunderstood, or confusing, or making a terrible first impression. However, the older I grew, the more I found myself in spaces where I was the only person who looked like me. Therefore, instead of focusing on the loneliness that came with existing in these spaces, or wondering whether I did indeed belong, I decided to use the discomfort as a learning opportunity.
I’ve now spent more than half my life abroad — living and thriving outside my home country. And because I understand just how strong my desire to explore the world is, I know that in the near future I will embark on a new adventure to make yet another country my home. As I prepare for that transition, I’m taking stock of all the lessons I’ve learned living abroad and have identified 7 most powerful behaviours that have helped me on my journey to becoming an effective intercultural communicator. These behaviours are the reason for this months post and I hope you find them easy to implement in your life, whether you’re in an international environment or not.
- Ask for guidance.
Asking for guidance can come in very handy but it requires you to admit that you’re not familiar with how to communicate in certain cultural contexts. Tone of voice aside, in Germany, you would use different pronouns to address someone you have a formal relationship with compared to let’s say one of your friends. The same is true in France and I’m sure in many countries that I’m not even familiar with.
If you come from a country where this is not normal, it may initially take some getting used to. However, when in doubt — ask. I’ve found that asking for guidance from those you’re communicating with regarding what’s most appropriate in their culture and what applies to the specific interaction you’re having with them turns them into allies. It shows that you’re considerate about how they would like to be addressed, that you respect them, and that you’re willing to learn more about their cultural norms.
2. Learn key words from the other person’s language.
I know from personal experiences that I tend to jump at opportunities to speak my mother tongue when abroad because it makes me happy and anyone who is not a native speaker but tries to say a word or two of Swahili to me actually makes me feel seen.
I’ve tried this trick the other away around and it has always produced positive results. I can now say a few key words in Albanian, Arabic, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, Zulu, and many others. That’s on top of the three and a half languages I speak fluently.
When you’re interacting with someone who comes from a different culture, ask them to teach you some key words from their language. It can be as simple as learning how to say ‘hello’, ‘thank you’, and ‘please’. But don’t stop there. The next time you’re with them, incorporate those words in your conversation. It will make them smile and will make them more comfortable around you which will help how you communicate with each other.
3. Use examples.
When communicating with others, I’ve found that using examples tends to bridge the gap between what I am saying and what others think I mean. When the tables are turned, I’ve found that people who’ve used clear examples when communicating with me have simplified their message and it has helped me understand their perspective better.
So, the next time you’re having trouble communicating with others, don’t be afraid to throw in an example. In fact, don’t wait until you’re struggling to incorporate this trick. Make examples part of your communication style from the get go. And if you’re struggling to understand someone else’s message, simply say, “Could you please clarify with an example?”. Trust me, it works.
4. Summarise what you think you heard.
A big part of effective communication is being able to synthesise someone else’s point of view and play it back to them in your own words without altering the original message. Doing so shows both parties that you’re on the same page and that you can now move forward in your interaction.
However, when summarising someone else’s thoughts, be sure to focus only on what you heard and not what you wanted to hear. It’s important during this step to simply share what you’ve gathered from the other person. Proceed to add your point of view only after you’re sure of the other person’s message. Otherwise, you will be building your thoughts on the wrong assumptions.
5. Learn their language.
Learning a new language requires considerable investments in time, energy, and resources. So, this is not one of those tricks on the move but it does tremendously help especially if you’re considering establishing long-term relationships with a specific group of people from a certain culture.
In the long run, speaking a local language is the fastest way to connect with those around you. Together with food, this is the fastest way to experience another culture and to expose yourself to new and different backgrounds. If you can, invest in learning a new language. It may be demanding at the beginning but there are no cons to being multi-lingual.
6. Don’t ignore body language.
Effective communication isn’t just about what you say with your lips, it’s also about what you say with your body. In some cultures, you bow when you greet someone. In others, you node or wave or smile, or give three kisses on the cheek.
Pay attention to these very important non-verbal communication cues around you and learn what they mean and when they’re appropriate so you can use them accordingly. After all, they are valid means of communication.
7. Be open to giving and receiving feedback.
The journey to becoming an effective intercultural communicator is not easy. It requires practice, a desire to learn, and a curiosity for the unknown. It also means that you will initially make some mistakes. Don’t worry, we all do and they’re not the end of the world.
What’s more important is to accept that you’re on a growth journey that may never end. Be open to receiving feedback from your cultural allies on how you can be better and more effective when interacting and communicating with them. They know their culture best and can give you some very effective tips that you may not be able to find elsewhere. Also, be open to sharing what effective communication means in your culture so they will not make embarrassing mistakes. Sometimes, sharing really is caring!
That’s it for this month’s post. I can only swear by these simple yet very effective tips that have tremendously transformed how I exist and thrive in international spaces. If you’re reading this and are aware of other powerful tricks, please share them in the comments section below. I cannot wait to learn from you.
Until then, stay curious!
This story was originally posted on my blog via this link: https://www.immabaradyana.com/post/7-tips-on-becoming-an-effective-intercultural-communicator