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10 Simple Ways to Reduce Stress and Avoid Confusion When Communicating Across Cultures

Subtle differences in how cultures around the world communicate can sometimes cause misunderstandings between us.

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Communicatin Across Cultures

Whether at home or abroad, many of us are now having to work with people from different countries and cultures.

Communication can be challenging.

Sometimes this comes down to cultural differences in how people from around the world approach communication.

Unless we appreciate such differences exist, we tend to see others’ through our own cultural lenses. When we do this, we can misread what is being said, or not said. The end result can often be confusion and stress, which nobody really wants more of.

Although there are always two sides to any cross-cultural encounter, there are some practical things you can consciously doing to try and close the gap.

Here’s 10 for starters….

1.Whoa! Slow Down there Partner

First things first, remember if you’re talking to someone from another culture, then chances are they aren’t native English speakers.

Just slowing down your speech a notch or two can really make a difference. It gives people time to really hear all the words, connect sentences and process their thoughts. Speak clearly and try not to blend every word into one!

2. One Question at a Time

Asking double questions is unhelpful. “Do you want to grab a coffee later and shall we call Jim about the meeting?”

Focus on Jim first and then worry about the coffee later. Not only have you overloaded them with having to process two questions at the same time, you have also confused them by linking the two subjects together. “Why is she asking me about the coffee and Jim? Hmm? What does she want?” You see…unnecessary confusion over two simple questions!

3. Stop Asking Closed Questions

“Yes” and “No” don’t mean ‘yes’ and ‘no’ all over the world. So, if your communication style is heavily reliant on asking closed questions, then you’re in trouble.

People from many cultures tend to say what they think is necessary at the time, either to please someone, to look good, to cover up a mistake, to hide ignorance or simply because that’s what they think they should say. Start asking people questions that really demonstrate whether they have understood something or not.

4. Ping-Pong Not Basketball

Cultures take turns in different ways when communicating. Sometimes when we’re working across cultures, we can forget this and come across badly.

In Western cultures communication is a bit like basketball. You grab the ball off the opponent and vice-versa; interrupting one another is part of the game. However, in other cultures its more like ping-pong; people take turns to talk. So, remember, sometimes you just need to sit back and wait for people to finish before its your turn on the ball!

5. Embrace Your Inner Artist

One of the most underused and underrated ways of overcoming confusion in communication is using your hands – writing, pictures, doodles, etc.

When its difficult to explain a concept or map out a vision to someone, then try drawing it. Some cultures are much better visual learners than others so getting out a piece of paper and showing someone what you mean can save a lot of headache.

6. Be Nice and Be Encouraging

One of the best ways of creating more confusion when it’s not needed is by getting impatient. When we start to start to get emotional and stressed we stop thinking straight.

Communicating effectively across cultures is in about being comfortable and relaxed. Remaining calm, being nice and offering encouragement through our words, tone or general demeanour helps both sides engage with the situation more positively.

7. Check for Shared Meanings

A big mistake we tend to make when communicating across cultures is that we make a lot of assumptions. We assume people mean one thing whereas they actually meant another.

Never assume someone has the same understanding of you or what that looks like. This even applies to vocabulary and terminology. Always check, both verbally and in writing, that your interpretations match theirs.

8. Avoid the Sports Slang

The English language, whether you’re American, Canadian, British or Australian, is full of phrases and slang taken from the world of sports.

“The ball’s in their court now,” “I’m going to knock it out of the park”, “Well, that was a curveball of a meeting!” Don’t be surprised if people come away with some strange ideas as to what you have said as they will translate the words literally!

9. Check Yo’self!

A common reaction to confusion, stress or challenges when working across cultures is that we tend to automatically look to the ‘other’ as the problem. It’s them and their difference that is the root cause.

Yes, it’s their difference, but its only their difference to you. So, you’re 50% of the problem as well as 50% of the solution. So, think about how you may be reacting, how you may be coming across and what you can do about it.

10. Smile

People across all cultures understand the value and meaning of a smile – the emotion we know as happiness.

Maintaining your smiley face helps you keep control of your emotions as well as signal to others that they can also relax and be comfortable with you. However, remember that in many cultures people smile to mask their true feelings so don’t always judge a book by its cover.

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