Only because we speak in the same language, we don’t necessarily understand each other:
“The colleagues in a nursing home in Finland were amazed by the diligence of the Filipino nurses: “We knew that they were diligent but that they don’t even want to take coffee breaks!” Turned out that the newly recruited thought that the coffee breaks literally were meant for enjoying a cup of coffee. The nurses being tea drinkers continued to work ‘til it was explained what “a coffee break” really was: a stipulated short break for all nursing personnel.” – Finnish Senior HR specialist
Let me ask you:
What do you understand when someone says “as soon as possible”? Or: How high is “high quality”?
Has it happened to you that there were misunderstandings when you spoke to a person from a cultural group you identify with?
Why is this important?
When we know and understand the differences in the way people communicate and how these differences can be explained, it allows us to rethink the interpretive framework that we apply to evaluate people and enables us to understand ourselves and others better. Misunderstandings may occur increasingly when communicating with a person from a different cultural background; yet, it may as well occur when speaking to a person from your own cultural group.
The general competence to communicate, especially when situation appear as problematic, is crucial to communicate in an intercultural context.
Check out the exercise to understand better which communicational matters may influence the way of communication.
1) Look at the aspects that may influence communication: Some people might talk in an assertive, aggressive, submissive, manipulative, relationship oriented, task oriented, direct, indirect (etc.) way.
2) What happens when the communicative interaction happens in an intercultural context? In what way can it change the interaction and why?
Briefly explained: An intercultural context is one where certainty, plausibility and security are lower due to the fact that there is a perceived difference in the person you are encountering. Therefore, humans tend to act on intuition, which in most cases is based on habits and unconscious knowledge. Consequently the ability to act according to the context is hard to access if one is not aware of this process.
The clues is, in consequence, that through communication skills, one is going from a passive, intuitive-driven actor, to an active, conscious actor, especially in intercultural context.
Be careful with guide that tell how people form cultural groups are/communicate (e.g. Finns are…): Why? Everyone acts differently, especially due to the intercultural context, as they would act when they were surrounded by individuals from their own cultural group.
3) Identify the ways you communicate. Then, reflect on the communicative interactions with people and reflect if you would do something differently next time.
An example: You indentified that you tend to communicate quite directly. You would, for example say, “Schedule a board meeting, please”. In a communicative situation you notice that your interactant tends to communicate in an indirect manner.
How could you change the sentence to make it more indirect and therefore adjust your style flexibly to the one of your counterpart? *
4) Identify conversation traits of your work colleagues and make necessary adjustments to your own, once you know what they are. Check for example Toolkit’s material Non-verbal communication, and Do you have 4 ears too?
– I want you to organize a board meeting.
– How about organizing a board meeting?
– Can you organize a board meeting?
– Wouldn’t it help to have a board meeting?
To be able to communicate effectively you need to have behavioral abilities of empathy, tolerance, role awareness, flexibility and the ability to stand uncertainty. Why? Because only then you can be responsive to the other person in an intercultural context.