How to Communicate with Anyone from Any Culture

Contributed by Mieu Phan Coaching, 08 March, 2019

In our global economy, cross-cultural integration is not only the right thing to do, but it is the profitable thing to do. Our cities are becoming more and more multi-cultural. Being able to relate to other cultures is essential to every level of a person's growth including career, friendship, love and self-confidence. Cross-cultural integration is not as complicated as many think. This article lists some of the strategies to build a rapport with anyone from anywhere.

1. Know Your Own Culture

Knowing your own cultural beliefs, values and perceptions is important because it prevents us from projecting our own cultures onto others. We need to know how we act, react and what we tell ourselves about events. Let's examine your culture in a few ways.

a) Eye Contact - What does eye contact mean to you? Does having eye contact with a person means disrespect or does it mean honesty?

b) Small Talk - When does small talk occur? Does small talk rarely occur because you want to get down to business? Is small talk the first thing people say? If you do small talk, what information is exchanged? Is the information about our religion, our family status, our occupation, something else? Or is the information not about us at all such as the weather, sports, or popular shows and movies?

c) Touching - When does touching occur and how? Is touching rare? Is touching with a handshake, air kisses from the side of cheeks, or hugs? If there is touching, does it occur at the beginning of a conversation, end of a conversation, or when celebrating a special event?

d) Independence - What does being independent mean? Does being independent means strength of character? Does being independent means boasting and being obnoxious? Or is collaboration the preferred method of accomplishing goals?

2) Do Your Own Research

However you learn, you can also apply it learning a new culture. Do you like to read, listen, or write things down? Aspects to learn about a culture are:

a) History - By learning about the culture's achievements, struggles, and injustices you are able to figure out the importance of a culture.

b) Daily Life - How do people live? How do they interact with one another? How do they raise their family? What is the extended family's role?

c) Holidays - What are the holidays? How are they celebrated? How did the holiday come about?

d) Religion - What is(are) the religious preference(s)? How do the religion(s) and holidays correlate?

All these things add up to a view into the values, beliefs, and perceptions of a culture. People create their views of the world through their experiences as well as the views passed down from generation to generation.

3) Interact with Someone from a Different Culture

To get the nuances of a culture, get to know someone from a different culture. You don't even need to talk to them about their culture. By talking to people from different cultures, you find out more about their lives and experiences. When communicating, it would benefit from being aware of the different types of communication. The various types of communications are:

a) Neutral Communication vs Effective Communication - In neutral communication, emotions are reserved. In effective communication, emotions are displayed such as shouting, crying, even storming out of a room.

b) The "Straight-talk" Approach vs the "Saving-Face" Approach - In the straight-talk approach, disagreements are out in the open. In the saving-face approach, disagreements are done outside the meeting room.

c) High-Context vs Low-Context Conversation - In low-context cultures, people are clear and precise. In high-context cultures, people read in between the lines.

4) Be Accepting

Being accepting means that you acknowledge something is different than you expected and then choose to acknowledge that there is nothing wrong. Here are some areas to look at when accepting another culture:

a) Monitoring your Thoughts - Monitor what goes through your mind when you hear a last name, hear an accent, or learn that a person is from a certain type of group.

b) Removing the right/wrong dichotomies - By labeling a person/thing as right/wrong, good/bad or stupid/smart, we then are essential ending our curiosity. We don't investigate how and why things have become a certain way. By removing right/wrong dichotomy, we are encouraging new ideas to flow. A way to monitor your wrong, bad, or evil dichotomy is to notice when you are emotionally charged. If you are willing to be with the occurrence then you can allow it to pass through you. If not, there is a story you are telling yourself. Your story is an attachment.

c) Focus on the Now - Focusing on the now does not mean you do not have a plan. In fact, having an intention keeps us focused on a goal when difficult things happen. It means that we let the past be the past.

e) Focus on the Positive - It is easy to disregard what is different. Getting rid of the inferiority complex is key. Yes, there may be a certain parts of your culture that are superior to another, but the reverse is true for other aspects of your culture. By embracing tolerance, humility, respect and openness, it leads to self-development.

f) Put Yourself in the Other Person's Place - When you find yourself judging someone, imagine putting yourself in the other person's place.

5) Build a Rapport

Rapport is total responsiveness between people. Building a relationship of rapport means you have connection and a spark. If you pay attention to happy couples or close-friends, you will realize that these people are very much like one another. Also a person builds rapport with another who embodies something they want to be. Remember high-school, when the intellectuals made friends with the intellectuals, the athletes made friends with the athletes, the popular made friends with the popular, and so forth! What we learned from high-school is that a feeling of commonality creates a rapport.

Unfortunately, most people try to create rapport by words. In fact, only 7% of communication are words. The rest of the 93% is in the area of matching and mirroring. Matching and mirroring implies that you match a person's demeanor, posture, gestures, tone, pace and volume of words, usage of the same terminology, eye contact, facial expression, breathing pace, touch, ways of greeting and so forth. The best part of matching and mirroring is that it invokes the subconscious mind of the other person. For the most part, the other person will not know what you are doing. The reverse is also true. People do not like those who are not like them or are not what they want to be. For more information, check out Dr. Erickson's research on "Matching and Mirroring".

To notice a social faux-pas, you will find a person's facial/neck muscle tense up. A person might try to create personal space if they shift their body from side to side, move backward or turn his/her head around. If you happen to make a cultural faux-pas, don't beat yourself up. Be kind to yourself because you are more creative, responsive and brave when you are calm.

6) Travel

Nothing helps learning about a culture more than being in the midst of it. Vacationing like foreign tourists is a great way to see what a culture has to offer. That experience is limited at times because it does not give exposure to the true nature of the locals. To really experience the local life you need to get away from the attractions even though you're a tourist. Being among the locals is to vacation like the locals. In places where foreigner's are not common it is cheaper and you may be treated much better. Some of these experiences can be the most memorable. Here are some of my memorable experiences:

a) I remember walking down a narrow 15th century stoned walk-way in France as if I was being sent to a dungeon or to worse fate. At the end of the walk-way, I approached an opening with a woman behind a make-shift table. The table legs were multiple wine barrels with large and aged slat of wood. On the table were multiple bottle of of wines. Behind her were more barrels and more bottles. That was the beginning of wine-tasting tour for the day in the Alsace region of France.

b) Our driver gave us an impromptu tour of a sugar plantation in India. We saw rows and rows of sugarcane stalks all stacked up. Around the corner we saw a man pressing the stalks with a machine that sent liquids away in a pipe. Eventually, we went to a room with women who were feeding pressed stalks to multiple fires. The fires were used to boil down the freshly pressed sugarcane juice in large wok-like container that held hundreds of gallons of yellowish liquids. We later went into the storage room where blocks of yellow-brown sugar are stacked.

c) We made friends with our local neighbor when we rented a beach house in Brazil. My children got to witness the fishing routines with the nets in the early morning, fishing sting-rays during the day, and nightly hunting with flash lights to catch crabs.

d) We loved eating in Vietnam where people have turned their living-rooms into restaurants by day. In these places, there is very limited menu items that you are sometimes not even asked for a choice. Food appeared and we just ate. Time and time again, we had our best meals at these mom and pops places.

7) Learn the Language

By learning a bit of the language you are demonstrating that you are putting effort in understanding the culture. You are demonstrating that you care. Here are some strategies in learning a language:

a) Practice with a native speaker.

b) Study the language every day.

c) Watch, listen, and write in the language.

Learning a language is not as time-consuming as one might think as you now have the technology to listen while doing your daily chores.

Communicating with anyone from any culture requires curiosity and intention. With a positive mindset, the rewards are boundless. Like anything new, you are going to make mistakes. Being kind to yourself will encourage others to become curious in your culture.

Tags: Education | Lifestyle | Education | Expats | Lifestyle |



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