Intercultural communication (communication between people from different cultures) is now taking place all over the world, especially in large cities like Boston and New York. We are encountering people with different ways of communicating in every area of our lives including our careers and the business world, our social lives and in our academic courses. This is an exciting moment but do you sometimes feel confused or lost in these encounters? For example, did you ever wonder why your colleague said "yes, I will try " when he really meant "no, absolutely not"? Culture is more complex than we realize! To be successful in intercultural communication, we need some knowledge and skills. What do we need to successfully communicate with a friend, colleague or acquaintance from another culture? In this article, I will talk about 6 things you can do to improve your cultural competence and become a better intercultural communicator.
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5 Ways to Improve your Intercultural Communication Skills:
1. Be aware of your own culture: After my experiences living and working in Asia, Europe and Latin America, I have realized that self awareness is the first step to effective intercultural communication. Step back and think about the way that you communicate. Are you direct or indirect? Do you use nonverbal gestures frequently or rarely and in what contexts? Do you seek agreement from the people who are listening to you when you make a statement? Now think about how you developed your communication style. What aspects of your culture shaped the way you interact with others?
2. Be a learner: When you are trying to solve a problem with people from all different parts of the world, you know that you have a rich opportunity for learning. Try to focus less on asserting your own opinion or ideas and instead, try to find out what other people's ideas are, how those ideas might reflect their own culture and how various points of view could create a stronger solution to your problem.
3. Get curious: Curiosity is important when you are dealing with different cultures. If you aren't curious about other cultures, then you probably haven't had the chance to experience them. The challenge and the exciting thing about intercultural communication is that everyone is operating on different assumptions and values. Traveling abroad is a great way to spark your curiosity about different cultures.
4. Listen and observe: In US American culture, there is a lot of emphasis placed on the value of speaking and voicing your opinion but not as much value is placed on observing and listening. There is so much that you can gain if you are willing to listen more than you talk and watch how others communicate. How do your international colleagues communicate nonverbally? How close do they stand to the people they are talking with? How do they change their intonation or speaking rythm and what purpose does that serve?
5. Experience different cultures regularly: Traveling is the best way to inspire curiosity about other cultures but you can also have exposure to different cultures by visiting different kinds of restaurants or districts in your city, like the North End in Boston or Koreatown in New York City. You can also join social groups for international professionals or even attend plays, art museums or watch movies that are from another culture. Increase the variety of cultures that you encounter in your daily life.
photo credit:Leo Reynolds, U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv