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Valuing Diversity: Communicating Across Cultures

Now let's add one more big chip to the melting pot! Globalization is the sea wave for growth of all the world economies! Here comes more change, more diversity in everyday business life.

What does all this really mean? To provide just a small insight into the impact of "diversity in 2001," let's focus on communications—already a difficult art that is always singled out for improvement potential.

Misunderstanding of cultural differences can have major impacts on effective performance in all situations. Under­standing that there are differences in communication style is a key to improving communication across cultures. Here are some thoughtful prescriptions to consider in coping with this increasing cultural diversity.

• SEQUENCING—Skillful exchange of information is essential to all business situations. Some people talk in a set, logical, linear manner, while others may appear to talk in circles.
• PHASING—Cultural differences dictate when it is appropriate to discuss certain things. Some cultures or even regions of a country jump right into a business discussion, while others like to spend time developing a social rapport before discussing business.
• OBJECTIVITY—In different cultures people have dif­ferent ideas about how arguments should occur. Some are non-emotional while others are more animated.
• CONVENTIONS FOR COURTESY—Every language has common conventions for courtesy that we must be aware of. Many are different than ours.
• SPECIFICITY—Trust takes time to develop and comes from opening up to others. Different cultures develop trust and relationships in different ways.
• ASSERTIVENESS—Some cultures are more verbally expressive than others; for example more talkative versus being silent and respecting privacy.
• SIMPLICITY—In all cultures, pre-knowledge of com­munication "no/no's" will help to avoid offending your audience inadvertently.
• ACCENT—A common mistake across cultures is to judge the ability of others based on their accents. People often make wrong judgments about others' abilities because of their accents or mispronunciations.
• TELEPHONE—When communicating electronically with people of other cultures it is important to use the medium appropriately. People of some cultures tend to prefer direct personal contact. It is always best to use the telephone to enhance, not replace personal contact.
• WALKING "ON EGGS"—While it is difficult to com­municate across cultures, it's especially difficult to communicate about differences (for example, certain topics are difficult to talk about: politics, religions, family organization, disabilities, sex, and race). Be­cause they are so emotionally charged, the conse­quence is that differences of opinion never get aired out so misunderstandings occur frequently.

• HOT BUTTONS—You should be thoughtful in how you express yourself (for example, not everyone appre­ciates ethnic jokes). The words we use and many of the expressions we use without thinking can be "Hot Buttons," causing rage or suspicion or hurt feelings.
• LESSON: The key is to remember that whoever we are, our way is not the only way!

Part 1  Part 2   Part 3  Part 4  Part 5  Part 6

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