Effective Cross Cultural Communication
by Marlene Bylenga, SCSBC International Student Program Coordinator ◊
I am sure that many of us can share times when we have dealt with individuals from another culture other than our own and communication has broken down. We may have come away quite perplexed by the breakdown in communication especially when we may have thought that we had been clear in our intentions.
So how can we bridge those differences and be effective communicators? What are some of the personal requirements for communicating effectively?
Effective communication occurs when both parties possess a good self-esteem and are accepting of themselves. If we don’t like ourselves, it is difficult to believe that others like us and we will become defensive and misinterpret the messages (signals) others send us.
We also need to be able to see ourselves as others see us. We are unable to do that until we know ourselves; we need to know who we are, our values, our personal strengths and weaknesses and why we react as we do. Until we step out and interact with others and then reflect on and learn from our interactions, we are not able to totally become aware of our own cultural values and norms. We cannot become effective in our intercultural communications by only gathering information, we need to put ourselves in situations where we come to an understanding of ourselves and our own culture and realize that people from other cultures have different ways of thinking.
In our interactions we need to develop a respect for difference, be eager to learn and be willing to accept that there are many different ways of viewing the world. We need to think about who others are. We need to keep a spirit of inquiry of who others might be, what they may want and what is important to them. This isn’t always easy. At times we may feel defensive and angry, and we may find it difficult to maintain curiosity and deepen our understanding of the other. It may become easy to label the other person as unreasonable, or calculating, cold or cunning and come to the assumption that the other person is the one who is making the problem more difficult rather than stepping back and realizing that we are not maintaining a spirit of inquiry.
All too often we forget that it takes two people to produce a positive outcome. We often find it difficult to perceive our role in the conflict. Effective communication happens when both parties are interested in communicating. Effective interchanges will occur when both individuals are interested in each other and what each person feels and needs. We also need to realize that communication is complex and at best imperfect. There are times where we may need to realize that no matter how hard we try, communication will fail. It is very important that we recognize that this will happen and not give in to cynicism or despair.
And lastly, we need to enjoy the journey-there will be times when we will be stretched but if we are determined to grow and learn from our experiences, our lives will be enriched and deepened by the people we meet.