To be a leader, you must be an effective communicator. To be a great leader, you must effectively communicate across cultural boundaries — recognizing that your cultural norms, values, and ways of communication can differ from others. When not in observance of this, it can be very difficult to get anything done in any setting where you are positioned as a leader.
One setting becoming increasingly culturally diverse is the business world. Managers are finding that to survive in the business world, you must be able to effectively communicate with partners from all over the globe. So, just exactly what does it take to be a great cross-cultural communicator?
Below we take a look at three common traits of people who are successful in leading cross-culturally.
Aware of Cultural Diversity
It’s one thing for leaders to know how to communicate effectively with their team and throughout their business, but many find it hard to do so outside of their cultural norms. Great cross-cultural communicators are understanding and aware of cultural differences and make sure that their team members are as well. A great business leader will take into account and accommodate differences across cultures.
Some cultural differences that should be researched and discussed, especially when conducting business, are differences in time zones, holidays, and religious and cultural customs. The noted attention and adherence to cultural differences will show to your international partners that you are accepting and willing to work with them. This will go a long way in furthering your communication and business efforts during your partnership.
An obvious difficulty when communicating cross-culturally is the language barrier. Native English speakers have it easy, as English is the most widely-used language in business. However, this does not mean that you can speak the same way to your international partners as you do to your team in your region of the world. Many things can get misconstrued and can confuse or even insult your partner.
Idioms, slang, and especially humor are often very culture specific. A non-native English speaker might be able to understand the literal words you said in a joke, but not the context in which would make it funny. This can be extremely confusing when trying to correlate complex business matters and, in some instances, can be taken as insults — whether the literal language translates to an insult in their culture or just the fact you have confused them and are now laughing. It is best to maintain professional demeanor in these matters, unless you have extensively experienced your partner’s culture and know how they will respond.
Any leader knows that effective communication doesn’t just involve talking, but listening as well. Actively listening to your international partners — meaning you are not just listening for what you want them to say or listening for a break so you can start talking again — includes providing feedback, answering questions, and proposing solutions to problems.
Listening attentively, paying attention to body language, providing verbal confirmations, and asking clarifying questions throughout your communication not only makes people feel listened to across all cultures, but it is an efficient way to handle intricate matters, whether it be business, public relations, or most any delicate matter that requires strong leadership.
The best ideas, information, and values are shared across cultures, and if there were more effective leaders to embody the traits above, the world might be a more peaceful place. The characteristics above need not apply just to business matters, but in any communication held in the interest of coming to common ground on any subject.
She spends her days pondering what makes a good leader, and dreaming up ways to teach these virtues to her sons creativity enough that she’ll get more than groans and eye rolls in response. To read more of her work, follow her on Twitter @faulknercreek