How to Reduce Barriers to Effective Communication

February 25, 2009

j0289526Effective communication is incredibly important in today’s business environment because companies often operate in many countries and workforces are becoming more and more multicultural.  Employees who can effectively communicate in a global environment often find themselves being able to take on more and more difficult and complex work assignments, traveling and working in other cultures, and receiving promotions.

What can you do to improve your communication skills in this global context?  Keep reading for recommendations on how to reduce barriers to effective communication in a global environment.  

Seek to understand the why of culture:  Not understanding why people do the things they do can be highly detrimental to companies and employees seeking to conduct business in other countries.  I have seen this happen and have realized the importance of taking the time to learn about other cultures in-depth in order to facilitate effective communication.  Action:  Spend time researching the culture, learn about the people and seek to understand the why behind why people do the things they do.  The more you learn about the other culture, the more proactively you can prevent potential miscommunication.

Seek to understand onstage and backstage behavior:  People act a certain way in business when they know they are “onstage.”  These are the behaviors most commonly seen by others, especially those who are not familiar with the other culture.  However, there are also “backstage” behaviors which are usually unconscious.  Action:  Seek to understand the onstage versus backstage behaviors.  Doing so will help you further understand the “‘why” of culture.

Use a defined strategy to try and understand the culture:  I have found it to be helpful if I write down key questions I want to understand about each culture.  Then I follow the process of answering these key questions for each new culture.  Action:  Determine a strategy you will use to systematically learn about the new culture.  A great resource to use is the book, “When Cultures Collide:  Managing Successfully Across Cultures”, by Richard D. Lewis.

Seek to better understand yourself:  When we learn about something new, it’s a human tendency to compare the new against what we already know.  The better we know and understand ourselves, the easier it becomes to learn about new cultures.  Action:  Seek to understand yourself so that you can better understand others.

Be aware of and try to avoid certain behaviors:  As you research and learn about new cultures, be aware of and refrain from prejudice, bias, and discrimination.  These are behaviors that can negatively cloud your learning experience.  Try to keep an open mind because no one culture is better than another – cultures are merely different and unique.  Action:  Try your best to keep an open mind and non-judgmental attitude as you learn about other cultures.

All of these recommendations will help you reduce barriers to effective communication in a global environment.  All take time, patience and the ability to listen and observe; but, the benefits are worth the time invested and you’ll definitely see a pay-off in your career.

~ Lisa Quast

Source and Recommended Reading:  Intercultural Communication in the Global Workplace, Third Edition, by Iris Varner and Linda Beamer

Recommended Reading:  When Cultures Collide:  Managing Successfully Across Cultures, by Richard D. Lewis

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