Eleven tips for cross-cultural communication

Communicating across cultures can be confusing and uncertain – unless you have the right frame of mind and approach.

Here are some practical strategies to help you prevent misunderstandings and communicate effectively across cultures.

  1. Slow down. Even when English is the common language in a cross-cultural situation, this does not mean you should speak at normal speed. Slow down, speak clearly and ensure your pronunciation is intelligible.
  2. Separate questions. Try not to ask double questions such as “Do you want to carry on or shall we stop here?” In a cross-cultural situation only the first or second question may have been comprehended. Let your listener answer one question at a time.
  3. Avoid negative questions. Many cross-cultural communication misunderstandings have been caused by the use of negative questions and answers. In English we answer “yes” if the answer is affirmative and “no” if it is negative. In other cultures a “yes” or “no” may only be indicating whether the questioner is right or wrong. For example, the response to “Are you not coming?” may be “yes”, meaning “Yes, I am not coming.”

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