Tips on Communicating Virtually Across Cultures
October 22, 2020
The global pandemic continues to complicate how we conduct business with colleagues and customers around the world.
It’s tempting to think that just because we have access to Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, and other teleconferencing platforms, communications are the same everywhere.
They are not.
Wondering just how much culture impacts communicating and working with people from different backgrounds? Most people think that the language barrier is the only factor.
But it’s more. This month, we’re reviewing how culture impacts our communications and identifying tips for virtual interactions.
Communicating with different cultures requires an understanding of how culture impacts communication tones, styles, and preferences.
Here are a few tips to communicate more effectively across cultures.
Scheduling Calls and Meetings Globally
- Take into account the range of time zones for group meetings.
- Give your colleagues non-video options. Bandwidth can differ by local connection. Don’t assume equal and consistent access to virtual platforms. Some global companies have established non-video calls as the default for routine intercompany meetings, with video reserved for webinars.
- Dress code is always the question mark, and most people prefer to meet virtually in attire that reflects their industry. Communicate meeting guidelines in advance.
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 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.