The 3-step solution for overcoming cultural barriers in global business
As businesses expand globally, cultural barriers are occurring more and more, and this can create communication problems and make it difficult to understand other people’s behavior.
First of all, it is important to understand the types of misunderstandings between different cultures and why they occur. It can be broken down as follows:
- Differences in the decision-making process in meetings
- Our dependence on words
- Differences in interpretation of “nodding” and other body language
Here is a simple 3-step solution for overcoming cultural differences in global organizations:
Differences in the decision-making process in meetings
When you’re running a meeting with people from different cultures, you need to consider your colleagues’ different needs and approaches.
If you’re in a meeting with Japanese colleagues, for example, they are unlikely to make a choice on the spot. They like to go away and consider their options first. They are therefore likely to refrain from saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ immediately. Whereas Americans are used to making quick, sharp decisions off the cuff.
Top tip: If you are looking for decisions to be made in meetings, give all colleagues plenty of time to weigh up options. Just because someone takes longer to make decisions, it doesn’t make their opinion any less or more than those who can make decisions quickly.
Difference in dependence on words
The dependence on verbal and nonverbal communication can differ greatly between different cultures.
According to American cultural anthropologist, Edward Hall, cultures can be divided into two categories:
- Low context
- High context
High-context cultures will use communication has underlying meaning, supported by context, tone and nonverbal communication.
Countries that fall into this categorization are Japan, China, France, Spain and Brazil.
Low-context cultures expect communications to be explicitly stated so that there’s no risk of confusion. It relies heavily on linguistic communication and does not consider anything other than words. It is called “low context” because it is less dependent on context.
Countries that fall into low context cultures are western countries like Switzerland, Germany, United States, UK, etc.
Top tip: To ensure that what you have said in a meeting is fully understood by everyone regardless of their cultural expression, make a point to catch up with key individuals face-to-face or via email to reiterate your point and see if they need anything clarifying.
Differences in interpretation of “nodding” and other body language
Another common cultural barrier is often caused by different interpretations of gestures and actions. In Japan, nodding during a meeting is to acknowledge what is said. It doesn’t always mean that they agree or understand. It is primarily a gesture made out of politeness.
For Americans, the act of “nodding” means people are in agreement with you.
Top Tip: If you want to make key decisions in meeting, don’t read too much into people’s body language, particularly if you are from different cultures. Make a point to get confirmation verbally or in writing to check they’re in agreement.
By mastering these techniques and being aware of how different cultures communicate, you can help prevent any misunderstandings that occur during cross-cultural communication.
For those who want to learn more about the logical methods to cross-cultural communication, enrol on my online course: “The Art of Persuasive Speaking in Global Business”. It’s designed for leaders who regularly need to communicate with a global audience with some great tips on overcoming cultural barriers.