Cultural Communication Constraints

Last week I spoke with a graduate school candidate about my experience working globally and specifically about ways to improve communication.  There are some common constraints when meeting new colleagues that challenge communication.  This applies to anywhere in the world – even the next town over.

  1. Stereotypes – Yours.  Shed your biases and stereotypes – but recognize you probably still have some.

    “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” ― Ernest Hemingway

  2. Stereotypes – Theirs.   The world is a big place and they’ve probably met someone from your geography / function / background before.  Even if you’re shedding your stereotypes and trying to be a good corporate colleague, you may be playing into negative stereotypes they have from their past life.  There is no silver bullet for this problem – just continue to be authentic and focus on getting the task done.
  3. Global experience.  My interviewer was Brazilian – the 5th largest country by population and 4th by size.  Like many Americans, he had experienced many cultures just by traveling within his own country.  That isn’t always true when working globally.  If you are the more globally experienced person, then your new global colleagues will be learning things about how to work globally and may have concepts that take time to grasp.
  4. Domain experience.  If you’re dealing with language and culture issues, it may be more difficult to understand if there are also differences in domain experience.  Language and culture may constrain your ability to talk clearly about your domain of focus.  In manufacturing good topics to create a common understanding are reliability, quality, and safety.
  5. Language fluency is not domain fluency.  The counter balance to #4 is that it becomes easy to project domain experience on to those where we have easy language and cultural communication.  A global traveler will believe that their most fluent colleague is also the best technically – this is a trap to look out for.
  6. Rapport.   Rapport takes time to build.  It starts by respecting the geography – everyone loves where they live.  People want to be a good host, they want the guest to enjoy the local highlights.  Take the time to be a good guest and local tourist, it goes a long way in showing respect as you encounter new parts of the world.

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  1. Pingback: 8 Tools to Improve Communication | Fred Lybrand

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