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How to fix cross-cultural communication issues

Sarah K. White | April 28, 2016
If your company operates on a global scale, you might find yourself running into problems with colleagues on other continents. If that’s the case, it’s time to and reevaluate how your company handles cross-cultural communication.

And ethnocentrism isn't only threat to the communication in a workplace, it also affects the overall productivity and efficiency of a company. Says Pant, "it says that you're coming from your personal reference point and you're not showing any kind of empathy or understanding of where the other person may be coming from." Cultural sensitivity can go along way at work, and can ultimately eliminate a number of common issues that businesses face, which will only increase productivity and efficiency.

Miscommunication can be as simple as email or deadlines

One example of poor cross-cultural communication that Pant commonly is email. He finds that in the U.S., we view email as a more casual form of communication - you might send over five emails back and forth before you complete a conversation or answer the right questions. But oftentimes, workers who are trying to get in touch with a coworker in another country might find that they aren't as responsive as they'd like, and then chalk it up to that person being inconsiderate or flighty.

But Pant points out that the reason someone might not be responding to your email the way you'd expect them to be might boil down to the fact that they come from a consensus-driven culture, and perhaps they need to double check with others on their team before they send a response. Or it could be as simple a cultural view on email - they might not use email as casually as Americans do, so they want to ensure they have all the right answers to give a complete response to all of your questions in one email, rather than multiple.

In America, we're far more likely to fire off a quick response to say we're working on it, to answer just part of their question and follow up later, or even just acknowledge we received the email. So, while a slow response might seem rude in America, to someone in another culture, sending a quick, thoughtless response will seem just as rude.

Another example of poor cross-cultural communication can come from project deadlines, says Pant. You might have a deadline set up, and assume that someone isn't meeting your deadline out of a lack of consideration for you or their job. But it could mean that the person you're working with comes from a culture where they work as a full team, and respond as a team, rather than an individual.

It could be that you assume the person you're working with is higher ranked in the company, but their office might not have the same hierarchy as your American office, so they might be waiting on someone above them to respond. And the problem isn't necessarily these interactions, it's when people jump to assumptions based off their own experiences - instead of addressing the underlying cultural differences, they chalk it up to negative behavior.


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