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Communication Across Culture

Communicating Virtually with Teams Across Cultures

Global events and rapid changes in geopolitics are changing the business landscape around the world. Navigating these evolving changes successfully requires a fundamental understanding of the impact of cultural factors on how people interact, communicate, manage, and negotiate.  

As the global pandemic moves into an endemic phase, businesses are opening up and global travel is resuming.  

It’s tempting to think that conducting business globally will be the same as before the pandemic. It won’t be.   

Wondering just how much culture impacts communicating with, working with, and managing people from different backgrounds? Most people think that the language barrier is the only factor.  

But it’s more.  

Communicating with different cultures requires an understanding of how culture impacts attitudes and mindsets along with communication tones, styles, and preferences.   

When interacting with colleagues and customers around the world, be mindful that just because we have access to virtual platforms and technology does not mean that communications and interactions are the same everywhere.  

For example, while expectations vary by position and role, most cultures do not expect to answer emails, texts, or chats on weekends. In contrast, Americans often communicate 24/7, which can create an undue burden on colleagues, especially junior ones.  

In addition, don’t be surprised if your North European counterparts fail to provide much detail about their weekend activities. Whereas Americans and Australians often love to share personal information—often more than other cultures—recognize that’s not the case in many cultures.  

Here are a few reminders on how to communicate more effectively across cultures and develop cultural competency. 

Why Culture Matters

Communicating Verbally and Physically 

  • Be mindful of the formality expected when interacting professionally, even virtually. Zoom or teleconferencing can seem informal, but people from some cultures prefer to address each other with titles and last names, especially in larger meetings.  
  • Communication tones can also differ by generation and exposure to other cultures. 
  • Take the time to make some small talk or engage with a colleague or customer outside of the meeting setting. Covid-19 is requiring all of us to pursue new models of developing business relationships. Just because virtual is the current new normal, don’t minimize the value of social niceties, which provide a foundation for more meaningful business relationships.  
  • Establish parameters and expectations for interactions between people of varying seniority. Don’t leave it up to people across cultures to guess. Some cultures tend to be more formal and deferential with senior management, while other cultures, such as the US or Australia, are more likely to be informal.  
  • Encourage colleagues to engage in more one-on-one calls rather than relying on group chats for all communications.  
  • Establish simple rules for the moderator or meeting leader to provide mechanisms for including all attendees. In cultures that are more direct in their communications, people may be more aggressive about inserting themselves into a discussion. In contrast, people from high-context cultures—where the preference is for implicit and less direct verbal messages—may wait for their turn. The meeting leader can facilitate the conversation by making sure to give everyone a chance to speak.  

Learn more about High-Context and Low-Context Communications.  

  • Be mindful of your facial and physical gestures. Don’t assume a lack of eye contact implies disinterest or disrespect.   

Learn more about the Impact of Eye Contact in a cross-cultural interaction.  

  • Be mindful of audio speed and volume for non-native speakers of a language.  
  • If someone asks you to repeat yourself, be careful not to immediately raise your voice. Usually it’s a language issue, not a hearing one.  
  • Remember to speak slowly, and enunciate and pronounce words clearly.  
  • Avoid yes/no questions. People in some cultures prioritize saving face and individual dignity, including their own—meaning they may hesitate to provide a personal opinion or negative information, such as a delay in a project deadline, in a group setting.  

Learn more about Culture’s Impact on Body Language. 

  • Minimize slang or jargon and clarify industry terms and lingo. 
  • Confirm understanding with verbal and written communications. Clarify numbers and final values in writing. 

Sending Culturally Appropriate Emails 

  • Begin with a salutation (such as Dear, Hi, Hello, Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening). Many cultures find the lack of salutation abrupt. Some industries and younger generations are adopting the more forthright American style of communication that has emerged in recent years. In many cultures that value business formality, however, even the word hey may be considered too informal and unprofessional unless you know your colleague or customer well.  
  • When communicating with people who speak English as a second language, use simple phrases, tone, language structure, and syntax 
  • In all professional communications, make an effort to use correct tense, grammar, and punctuation with minimal abbreviations and emojis. In cultures where business continues to be conducted more formally, an informal style may imply unprofessionalism.  
  • If you are making a presentation, take time to review the format, graphics, layout, and instructions to make sure these are culturally appropriate and simple to understand. Not every symbol is globally recognized.  

    Not sure how to effectively conduct business with other cultures? Atma Insights can help.