How To Communicate Effectively With Other Cultures: 17 Strategies

Today you’re going to learn how to communicate effectively with other cultures.

It is important to understand how to interact with people from different cultures, both verbally and non-verbally, in order to create positive relationships. Learning about their culture and showing tolerance can make things go smoothly.

If you know how to communicate properly, you can learn from people from different cultures and share your own with them.

How To Communicate Effectively With Other Cultures:

1. Conduct preliminary research.

When it comes to knowledge, a little is all you need.

If you have time, before you go on vacation or interact with a person from another culture, try to acquire some basic information about what to do and what not to do in that culture. You can find information about this on the Internet, such as the National Center for Cultural Competence website.

2. Be prepared for miscommunications.

Different cultures speak at different levels, express emotions more or less directly, have small talk, and exhibit other differences in communication. You should be prepared to encounter such differences when talking to people from different cultures, especially those you did not know existed.

3. Recognize and respect hierarchies.

When interacting with people from a foreign culture, you may encounter unwritten norms of social hierarchy that you are unaware of. For example, you may come from a society where men and women are expected to communicate equally, but you may need to interact with someone from a culture where men are expected to talk more in mixed company.

Similarly, you may be talking to someone who believes that a younger person should let an older person speak the most, while you believe that people of all ages should speak equally.

4. Be honest about communication problems.

Speak out if you are unable to understand someone or think that person is unable to understand you.

Instead of being rude or disrespectful, explain the situation thoroughly. It is usually better to be honest than to let a communication problem get worse, as this can lead to worse situations in the future.

If you’re not sure you understood correctly what someone said, say something like: “I’m not sure I understood what you were trying to say.” Would you please repeat it again?

If you suspect that someone did not understand what you said, say something like, “Repeat it again to make sure we agree.” Also make it clear that the person has the right to ask questions.

5. Maintain a friendly and accepting demeanor.

In every society, there are dominant ideals, ideas, and prejudices. In conversations with people from other cultures, you may see signs of this.

However, basic communication is not the time to judge others based on their differences. Instead, appreciate and tolerate them for who they are. You may even discover something new.

Even if cultural differences are brought up openly in a discussion, instead of arguing, remain accepting and open. If someone says something like: “Many Americans take work seriously and there are many reasons for that,” then say something like: “Why don’t you tell me more about your culture’s approach to work?”

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6. Be patient with yourself.

Communicating with people from other cultures can be educational and rewarding, but it can also be challenging. Expect that not everything will come out perfectly or that you won’t fully understand everything. Be patient with others and ask that they do the same with you.

7. If required, speak clearly and slowly.

Avoid shouting or treating others as if they are deaf. Raising your voice does not make you more understandable and may be considered disrespectful.

Similarly, even if interacting with people from different cultures is difficult, do not treat them as if they are not smart. Communication problems stem from cultural differences (1) rather than IQ problems.

8. Maintain proper etiquette.

Until it’s obvious that you don’t need to, be polite and use formal ways of speaking (e.g., business contacts are told to use first names). Depending on the culture, this may involve addressing others by first name and last name only, using titles such as “Mr.” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” 

9. Improve your command of a foreign language.

If you will be speaking with someone who speaks a different language than you, try to learn some basic phrases beforehand. Due to circumstances, you may not have an obligation or need to be fluent in a foreign language, but you can still try to learn it.

“Hello,” “Please,” “Thank you,” “How are you?” and other basic phrases should be practiced.

Carry a phrasebook or phone app with you to help you find phrases you don’t understand.

When someone tries to use your language, be patient.

10. If you are in a language minority, try to use the majority language.

If you are talking to someone who speaks a foreign language, try to use it as much as possible at first. Even if you don’t understand the language and can only say “hello” and “how are you?”, the gesture is usually appreciated.

SEE ALSO: How To Be Less Annoyed With People: 13 Quick Ways

11. Avoid using slang or vulgar language.

This is very important unless you are sure how they are used in another culture. Inappropriate use of non-standard or foul language can make it difficult to understand the speaker and can be disrespectful.

Since slang and obscenities in a language are tricky and context-dependent, it is best to avoid them until you are sure you know how to use them correctly.

12. Make movements with open hands.

Pointing with your index finger, making the “ok” sign, and other familiar gestures may be considered disrespectful in different cultures. Stick to “open hand” movements because you never know which gestures may be misinterpreted this way.

For example, if you want to point to something, try using your whole hand.

13. Assume a formal posture at first.

Maintain a more or less conservative posture by putting your feet on the floor, sitting straight, not using your hands too expressively, and generally maintaining a more or less conservative posture. This is because some postures may be objectionable to other people.

For example, in some cultures, showing your foot is considered a rude gesture, so you should not cross your legs in such a way that the sole is sticking out.

If you find that a less formal posture is okay, you can follow suit.

14. Be aware of restrictions on touching.

During a conversation, some cultures may expect more physical contact between individuals than others. For example, some cultures may be more willing to shake or touch hands than others.

When talking to representatives of another culture, don’t be offended if they are more or less physical than you are used to. The only exception is if you feel you are being mistreated or harassed. If you feel unsafe, let them know.

When talking to people from different cultures, it is a good idea to be cautious about how you are touched. If these people seem to use more physical touch, you should do the same if you feel comfortable with it.

15. Know when to make eye contact and when to avoid it.

In different cultures, looking another person in the eye while speaking is seen as a sign of sincerity and attention. However, in other cultures, it may be seen as rude, hostile, or indicative of sexual desire.

On the other hand, some cultures consider avoiding looking into the eyes (2) of a superior during a conversation to be a gesture of respect.

16. Be prepared for a variety of facial expressions.

Different civilizations often use facial expressions in different ways. For example, Americans may smile a lot, but in other cultures, excessive smiling may be seen as a sign of shallowness.

When talking to people from different cultures, you may notice that their facial expressions are more expressive (to express pleasure, sadness, annoyance, etc.) than you are used to, or that they don’t express their feelings at all.

No matter what culture you come from, most communication is nonverbal. However, you can focus on the content of what is being said and ask questions to clarify it if necessary. For example, if someone unexpectedly smiles or laughs at what you say, you may need to respond, “I actually mean it.”

17. Consider the amount of personal space required in a given scenario.

Some cultures may require more personal space than others.

If you are talking to a person from a different culture and that person moves closer or further away from you than you are used to, it is not always because they are trying to avoid you or invade your space. Just try to read their cues about personal space and communicate as effectively as possible.

Thank you for reading this article about how to communicate effectively with other cultures and I really hope that you take action my advice.

I wish you good luck and I hope its contents have been a good help to you.

Przemkas Mosky
Przemkas Mosky started Perfect 24 Hours in 2017. He is a Personal Productivity Specialist, blogger and entrepreneur. He also works as a coach assisting people to increase their motivation, social skills or leadership abilities. Read more here