Cultural Differences in Communication
My name is Brigitte, and I am originally from Salzburg, Austria. For the last nine years I have worked in an international company and often travel to other countries for work. Growing up I always thought that I had a firm grasp on how to negotiate cultural differences because of my interactions with tourists from all over the world who visited Salzburg. But when I first started my current job I realized that there were a lot of issues that can arise from simple cultural differences.
The problems on my first trip to Asia arose from something I took for granted: admitting that I didn’t know something. During a meeting with my Asian counterparts I said I didn’t know the answer to a question but I knew I would be discussing that very topic with my boss in a meeting later that day.
Nevertheless, after my admission I couldn’t seem to connect with my colleagues. It was only later that someone explained to me that saying no or admitting that I didn’t know something meant losing face.
Along the way I’ve learned a few tips that I’d like to share with you to help you avoid similar situations:
Listen and observe
One of the most effective ways of avoiding or dealing with cultural differences is to watch and see what people in the new culture do. Keep your eyes open and take notice of as much as you can.
Don’t be afraid to ask someone. You might not always get a straight answer, but if you don’t ask questions, you won’t get answers to them.
Make mistakes and request input
If you notice that you seem to have made a cultural faux pas, try to find out what exactly you did wrong so you can improve for the next time.
Learn about your own culture
We often focus on the culture we aren’t used to, but many of us also struggle to see what influence our own culture has had on us. Taking time to dissect your own culture will help you see the differences in other cultures more clearly.
Increase your level of empathy
You have to realize that it’s not just you dealing with a foreign culture; the people you are interacting with also have to work with you, a representative of a different culture. Be as forgiving with them as you want them to be with you.