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Archive for the ‘Cross-Cultural’ Category

Cross-Cultural Competency

Friday, December 11th, 2009

In today’s global marketplace, the chances of losing business due to cultural misunderstandings run high. The above example perfectly illustrates how a lack of cross-cultural competency negatively impacts business abroad. Did the Americans not know that in Libya it is the norm to be late? Did the Libyans not realise that the Americans would have expected them on time? Both parties were at fault yet also blameless at the same time. A little cultural awareness would however have radically improved the outcome.

Culture can no longer be taken lightly by businesses. None of us are exempt from dealing with foreigners anymore. Our businesses and personal lives have become more unpredictable and to guarantee success we have to adapt. Let’s be clear culture is not just about how people shake hands and exchange business cards. You could memorise a book of do’s and don’ts for India and still experience confusion and difficulty working with the Indians. It is about learning to survive in the globalized maze of modern business.

The first step to cross-cultural competency is to rid oneself of assumptions, prejudices and stereotypes. Modern business calls for modern thinking; thinking where no one is at fault and where people have differing priorities and values. Accepting that we do things in different ways and adapting behaviours to this is 80% of the battle won.

Having said all this why do businesses nowadays not prioritise cross-cultural competency training? Part of the reason is that it is still seen as a soft-skill and not as important as hard-skills like engineering or IT. Whereas one can quantity whether they have learnt IT skills, how can a business quantify if an employee has become more culturally competent? Businesses favour measurable results, and in the case of cross-cultural competency the true value may not get quantified until too late, such as when two of their sales people walk away from an important meeting with the Libyan government!

Companies that incorporate cross-cultural competency into their core values always come out on top. Not only do they lower their risk of lost revenue, but they also gain a new set of strategies and a clear perspective of what is offered by other cultures. Globalization has completely reshaped the flow of information, goods and services and it is crucial to view the business world differently. Rather than view successful cultural skills only as a means to prevent lost revenue, smart decision makers and employers emphasize the personal benefits of cross-cultural competency.

How to Effectively Communicate Across Cultures

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

As we know that Culture affects everything we do. This applies to all areas of human life from personal relationships to conducting business abroad. When interacting within our native cultures, culture acts as a framework of understanding. However, when interacting with different cultures this framework no longer applies due to cross cultural differences.

If you are a good communicator in your own culture, does that automatically make you competent in another culture? The answer is no, if you only interpret through your own cultural glasses and don’t take cultural differences into account.

Since communication happens on both a verbal and on a non-verbal level, understanding non-verbal signals in a conversation is just as important as understanding what is said. To be able to interpret non-verbal signals from another culture accurately it is first necessary to become aware of your own non-verbal signals.

To improve your cross-cultural communication skills, compare and contrast your personal preferences in the following areas of non-verbal communication. To know what the norm in your host culture is and how it differs from your own will help you to feel much more comfortable in social situations and become a more effective cross-cultural communicator.


All cultures have rules about touching in regard to communication. What are the rules in your culture? Do people greet each other with a handshake, an embrace or kiss on one or both cheeks? Is there patting on the back? Is there touching in public or would that be frowned on? Now compare with your host culture.

Eye contact

How do you use eye contact in communication? Do you interpret direct eye contact as a sign of active listening, honesty, a sign of respect, or does direct eye contact make you feel uncomfortable? Do you see it as a sign of aggression? Once you are clear about your own interpretation, compare with the local culture.


We all use our body to contribute to communication – our hands, face, head, torso, etc. What gestures are commonly used in your country? Which ones mean the same in your host cultures, which ones differ? To realize that many gestures are very localized, and what might be understood positively in one culture might be negative or an insult in another culture can save you from a lot of embarrassment and misunderstandings.

Personal Space

Do you know what your “personal space” is? What distance feels most comfortable to you during a conversation? This “comfort zone” will vary from person to person but there are norms within cultural groups and your personal space is most likely influenced by your culture. If you know the general rule of thumb in your host country, this will make it easier for you to understand your discomfort if the space in the host culture differs from your culture. With this new understanding and insight you can now practice to get more comfortable with the norm of the host country.

Becoming aware of your own way of communicating and learning as much as you can about the communication style of your host country will help you to be understood and to understand another culture more fully.