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Ten Commandments of Intercultural Communication

More and more companies around the world are hopping national borders to conduct business. Regardless of the organization you join, you are likely to be dealing with people who come from various national, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. Communicating across language and cultural barriers at home will also challenge your skills. Without leaving your own country, you’re likely to come into contact with people from a variety of backgrounds who work in your company, industry, and community.

Communicating with people from other cultures can be challenging. At the same time, your ability to foster successful communication between people of differing cultures will bolster your success in business and career. To overcome cultural barriers to effective communication, you must first learn what culture actually means. Culture is a shared system of symbols, beliefs, attitudes, values, expectations, and norms for behavior. Subcultures, in turn, are distinct groups that exist within a major culture.

Cultures differ in several ways that affect communication:

• Stability: conditions in the culture may be stable or may be changing either slowly or rapidly;

• Complexity: cultures vary in the accessibility of information.

• Composition: some cultures are made up of many diverse subcultures and generally, the fewer the subcultures in a person’s background, the easier it is to communicate, because you have fewer potential differences to consider;

• Acceptance: cultures carry in their attitudes toward outsiders, some are openly hostile, some maintain a detached aloofness, and others are friendly, and cooperative toward strangers.

By bridging these differences, you can successfully achieve intercultural communication. However, the four elements of culture are very general in nature. They don’t say much about how to communicate with persons from other cultures. Here are the so called ten commandments of intercultural communication.

I. Be aware of differing social values;

II. Be aware of differing status symbols and how to demonstrate them;

III. Be aware of decision making customs: not all people like to make decisions quickly and efficiently;

IV. Be aware of concepts of time: not all people like to see time as money;

V. Be aware of personal space: people from different cultures have different ‘comfort zones';

VI. Be aware of cultural context: people from certain cultures (called ‘high-context cultures) rely less on verbal communication and more on the context of nonverbal actions and environmental settings to convey meaning. People from low-context cultures like the USA rely more on verbal communication and less on circumstances and implied meaning to convey meaning;

VII. Be aware of body language: learn the basic differences in the way people supplement their words with body movement;

VIII. Be aware of different etiquette rules or manners: what is polite in one culture may be considered rude in another;

IX. Be aware of legal and ethical behavior;

X. Be aware of language barriers: English is the most prevalent language in international business, but it’s a mistake to assume that everyone understands it.

Learning as much as possible about another culture will enhance your ability to communicate with its members. Read books and articles about the culture and talk to people who have done business with that culture’s members. Concentrate on learning something about the culture’s history, religion, politics, values, and customs. Find out about a country’s subcultures, especially its business subculture, and any special rules of protocol.

Here are some tips when communication interculturally

• Take responsibility for communication

• Withhold judgments

• Show respect

• Empathize

• Tolerate ambiguity

• Look beyond the superficial

• Be patient and persistent

• Recognize your own cultural biases

• Be flexible

• Emphasize common ground

• Send clear messages

• Increase your cultural sensitivity

• Deal with the individual

• Learn when to be direct

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