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Important Tips for Successful Intercultural Communication

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

Having strong intercultural communication skills is becoming more and more of a necessity in our increasingly globalized society. Globalization has resulted in increasing intercultural relationships, and the growing international phenomenon of cultural mixing adds even greater emphasis to the role of intercultural communication. Communication itself serves a variety of functions. It helps fulfill interpersonal needs, assists in gathering information about other people, establishes cultural and personal identities, and allows you to influence other people. Although communication is often used to advance relationships and share thoughts and opinions, communication between people of different cultures can present a variety of challenges.

Because of the range of values, beliefs, and opinions that can differ from one culture to another, disagreements are likely to occur during any kind of intercultural communication. From religious values, political beliefs, and history, to cultural patterns, communication styles, and uses of language, each culture has its own distinct set of values that together create the area's cultural identity. Dissimilar cultural values and attitudes are at the base of many controversial issues, and the only sensible course of resolution is through dialogue and agreement, which requires the use of competent intercultural communication skills.

Competent intercultural communication is achieved when the participants find commonality in their identities. Rather than focus on the differences that may separate them, choosing to acknowledge their similarities will lead to a more comfortable and positive conversation. However, values and world views will likely come into play at some point during intercultural communication. Knowledge of the other culture’s societal norms and main values will improve communications and relations, and it will expand your awareness and understanding of the new culture as a whole.* When engaging in intercultural communication, it is typical to approach and respond to other cultures from the perspective of your own culture. However, this can be dangerous, as an attitude of egalitarianism - the belief that your culture is superior - can be perceived as a lack of respect for any other culture. Although it is difficult to be objective when observing the actions of other cultures, keeping an open mind and restraining from judgment can aid in the success of intercultural communication.

Nonverbal communication is also an important aspect of intercultural communication. People use nonverbal communication to express internal states, create identity, regulate interaction, repeat messages, and substitute actions for words. Nonverbal communication involves all nonverbal stimuli in a communication setting and can be generated by both the source and his or her use of the environment. The body is a major source of nonverbal messages; nonverbal messages are communicated by means of appearance, judgments of beauty, skin color, attire, body movements, posture, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact, and touch. During any kind of intercultural communication, it is important that you choose your gestures, body movements, and posture carefully, as a friendly gesture in one culture may be viewed as offensive in another. You can improve your nonverbal communication skills by keeping your interpretations tentative, being conscious of the context, employing feedback, having a basic knowledge of the other culture, and monitoring your nonverbal actions.

Here are a few tips for developing language and communication competence in an intercultural setting:

  • Be aware of conversational taboos. Your topics must follow the established cultural norms.

  • Be attentive to your speech rate. Speaking more slowly and distinctly will make the conversation much easier to follow.

  • Be conscious of differences in vocabulary. Avoid using professional words and slang.

  • Attend to nonverbal behavior. In order to receive feedback on your talking speed, type of vocabulary, and overall comprehensibility, be alert to the body language of the person with whom you're speaking.

*To learn more about the cultural patterns and societal norms of different cultures, check out the blog post entitled, "Cultural Patterns in Spanish and Japanese Culture vs. American Culture."

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