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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.

"These are every day occurrences where people would say, 'Oh they're not really being responsible, they're not interested, or they're being rude.' You could say all those things, and none of them may be true. And that's what catches people by surprise," says Pant. "I could say all these things to you and from my point of view everything I've said is correct. But people don't say 'how might they be feeling in a different culture about what I'm asking and why they're not responding'."

Approach from the get go

For businesses that are trying to diversify, Pant recommends approaching cross-cultural communication right from the start. It's much easier to implement a program from the start to addresses cultural barriers at work than to implement one later after issues have already come up. It sounds simple enough, but Pant says the biggest issue is that businesses are - for the most part - completely unaware of this issue. Rather than fix the underlying problems, they continue to throw their hands up in exasperation at their foreign colleagues. But all that time spent wondering why their colleagues aren't responding the way they'd expect them to becomes wasted energy and time that could be spent improving the business.

Pant says that this type of persistent ethnocentrism can cause minor issues to blow up into bigger ones, when it could be solved by a simple understanding of one another's cultures. In the end, every miscommunication that takes time from workers' days adds up and that can affect the bottom line of the business. If missing deadlines or not communicating correctly causes issues in your department or company, Pant essentially says you can either go around experiencing the same problems over and over again, or you can get right to the root of the problem to minimize any future problems and also improve relationships with foreign clients and coworkers. And if your business won't get on board with cultural training, at the very least, when you experience a cross-cultural miscommunication, instead of jumping to conclusions, take a step back and consider one another's perspectives.

While most businesses might be happy to implement more cross-cultural training, according to Pant, some businesses are naïve to the problem. "People are really not tuned to the fact that they're running into issues that have nothing to do with anything other than cultural differences, and yet they seem to be oblivious to it a lot of the time and blame other things which may be secondary or maybe even nonexistent."


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