In today’s technologically-savvy world, we have the ability to communicate at lighting speeds with people all over the globe. This creates incredible opportunities to learn from people of other cultures. However, it can also create problems if the parties involved are unfamiliar with intercultural interaction. The next time you find yourself in a situation like this, keep these tips in mind.
1. Be open-minded: When we hear about traditions, foods, clothing, etc., that are different from ours, we tend to jump to conclusions about how weird the “other’s” life is. Although this may be the first impression, we have to remember to keep an open mind. Our customs are likely as strange to them.
2. Avoid judging: When at all possible, steer clear from judging the other person. Without understanding their cultural background, it is difficult to recognize why they do things a certain way. Find out about their culture before rushing to judgment.
3. Listen: In order to truly listen to someone, we need to clear our minds and focus on what the person is saying. Without this focus much of what they say goes in one ear and out the other. Stop, focus, and listen.
4. Ask questions: Be inquisitive without interrogating. Ask what the other person does during festivals or how they interact with family members or what foods are typical. Find out about their background and share yours too! These can be the most interesting conversations.
5. Focus on the content: It can be difficult to understand some people due to heavy
accents. This is likely something that the person is aware of and perhaps even embarrassed by. Help the person out. Listen carefully but focus your attention on the content. You’ll be surprised how much more you will understand if you listen beyond the accent.
6. Be patient: Engaging in intercultural communication requires great patience. Messages may be misunderstood, offenses may be taken, but these things can be resolved with patience and sensitivity. Allow the person a chance to explain. Listen patiently without judgment.
7. Create opportunities: To improve our intercultural communication skills, we have to look for opportunities to develop them. Be on the watch for talks, celebrations, books, and more that will put you in touch with people of other cultures. Review your local newspaper, inquire about groups at the local library, or look online for events. Take advantage of such opportunities!
8. Keep practicing: Developing effective intercultural communication skills does not happen over night. It is a long and involved process unless you grew up in a multicultural setting. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again! Keep at it! Stay positive and don’t give up!
9. Watch others: One of the best ways to learn about another culture is to observe them in their daily activities. Attend a cultural festival, for example, and watch how the dances are done. Pay attention to the costumes, foods, nonverbal behaviors, and general interactions. You’ll be amazed at what you pick up by just watching!
10. Make mistakes: People don’t often encourage us to make mistakes, but that is one of the key elements of becoming effective at intercultural communication. Making mistakes helps us learn. We all are guilty of making cultural faux pas so learn to laugh at mistakes and file away the appropriate action for the next time you find yourself in that situation.
These tips are certainly not the only tips for improving intercultural communication, but they will definitely set you on the right track. Overall, be considerate, polite, and open to learning from others.
For additional tips or information about our wide variety of intercultural communication workshops, please contact Global Perceptions at 787.455.7764. You can also like our Facebook page or follow us on Twitter!