Let me tell you a quick story. Some years ago when I first visited South East Asia as a Professional Speaker, I was somewhat apprehensive about how I well I would communicate with people from totally different cultures. After all, I was born and brought up in Glasgow, Scotland. It was even a challenge at times, to communicate with people 150 miles away in Aberdeen, whose culture was slightly different from mine. So how would I communicate with people on the other side of the world?
I needn’t have been concerned because the people I met and spoke to in Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia were much closer to me, in communication, than I had anticipated.
We need to understand the world
In this global economy, we all have to interact with suppliers, vendors and our counterparts in other cultures. Our effectiveness as cross-cultural communicators will be determined partly, by our knowledge of other cultures. Knowledge of food, art, fashion, behavior, customs, language and religion; all of this will stand us in good stead when we communicate with others. This knowledge can be gathered from books and other media; also from closely listening to and observing the people that we interact with.
We are all human
More importantly, our effectiveness as cross-cultural communicators will be determined by our emotional intelligence and human qualities.
Many business people seem to forget that when dealing with other people, they are dealing with human beings. Whatever culture these people have been raised and reside in, they still display human characteristics such as happiness, sadness, confidence, insecurities, desire for acknowledgement and acceptance of others. They experience anger and frustration, jealousy, fear of rejection, laziness and much more.
As humans, we are predominantly driven by our emotions when making decisions; whether to buy product or service or to accept what other people say.
When dealing with others, people will allow their emotions, rather than logic, to influence them.
Step 1 – Communicate on a Human and Business level.
When you work with suppliers, vendors, staff and customers; communication happens on two levels – the Human level and the Business Level. It is always better to open any interaction, be it written or verbal, on the Human Level before doing any business. This satisfies the individual’s need for acknowledgement, courteous treatment and acceptance of their viewpoints.
This does not mean that every time you interact with a supplier, a colleague or a customer, that you launch into some personal discussion. Opening on a Human Level can only take a couple of words, however, they have to be genuine.
The Business Level is about work related issues. If you interact with other people only on the Business Level, their needs on the Human Level will not be met and may get in the way of their ability to understand and respond positively to what you say.
When other people are angry or upset, they will demonstrate strong feelings. It is important to address these feeling on a Human Level or the business aspect may be disrupted and conflict will be created. You need to deal with the other person’s feelings, and then deal with their problem. When the business part of the interaction is completed, it is important to end on the Human Level
Step 2 – Get people to like you
Much of our success in cross-cultural communication will be determined by our ability to sell ourselves to others. Whether in our personal or working lives; people will judge us by what we say and what we do.
More importantly, this will be influenced by how likable we are. Likability is about being human; it’s about displaying warmth.
Warren Buffet, Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, sometimes acclaimed as the world’s greatest investor, once said:
‘I’ve walked away from some great deals because I didn’t like the people I was dealing with.’
Likability in people will also be measured by their ability to really listen and be interested in others. Likable people use your name and look as if they care. We like people who have something positive to say and don’t whinge!
Likable people empathize with our problems and accept that we may have a different view of the world from them. Likability is demonstrated by a genuine smile, good eye contact, a sense of humor and relaxed open body language.
Step 3 – Be a credible communicator
When communicating with other people, and particularly when you’re trying to persuade them, the key ingredients are credibility and believability. Your credibility will be determined by the verbal, vocal and visual elements of your message.
If the words you say aren’t confirmed by your tone of voice and how you look, you won’t be believed. People will evaluate you (an average of 11 decisions within the first six seconds) based primarily on non-verbal information. We all tend to make snap judgements about other people, and often make mistakes – we stereotype.
So don’t fall into this trap when you meet other people, or speak to them on the phone. Also, be very aware, they will make decisions about you based on your tone of voice and body language.
Low self-esteem and self-image affect body language and tone of voice. People tend to make movements and display posture which indicates a lack of confidence. The people you communicate with, will sense from your tone of voice whether you are confident and believe in what you say.
If you don’t feel confident in a particular situation, act or pretend to be confident. Walk into a room as if you own the place. Pick up the phone and speak in a clear, confident and distinct manner.
You confidence and credibility will be determined by the self-talk that goes on inside your head.
Listen to that self-talk and ask yourself – ‘Is what I’m saying allowing me to be confident, positive and credible?’ If so – great! ‘Or is it holding me back and stopping me achieve my goals?’ If this is the case – STOP IT, change the program!
By talking to yourself in a positive manner, you’ll start to feel physically better; you’ll look better, sound more confident and credible. Words have an enormous power to create change in the chemistry of your body. Your heart rate, blood pressure, muscles, nerves and breathing will all react to the words you say to yourself and this will evident to other people.
‘Who you are speaks so loudly that I can’t hear what you’re saying’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Make no mistake about it, if you build your knowledge of other cultures and couple that with these 3 Steps, you will become an even more effective cross-cultural communicator.