Communicating Effectively Through Cultural Barriers

People from different backgrounds send and receive messages through cultural filters.  Words, expressions and gestures that mean one thing in one culture may mean something entirely different in another culture. A term or a gesture that may seem perfectly harmless to you may be offensive to someone from another ethnic group.  It is recommended that you recognize what terms and expressions are offensive to minority ears and avoid slang words that refer to people of different racial, ethnic or national minorities.

“Saving face” is an important consideration in some cultures and this may influence the way people respond to you. If you say, “Do you understand?” to someone from a particular culture, you may get a polite “yes” when the person has no idea what you’re talking about. If they say “no,” it can only mean one of two things to someone in that particular culture: They’re too dense to comprehend or you are a poor instructor.  Watch the facial expressions of the person with whom you’re talking. It’s hard to disguise puzzlement and it’s usually easy enough to tell whether the face comprehends.

Ask for feedback and listen carefully for questions because if there are no questions, there is likely no understanding.  Use clear, simple language and most importantly hold yourself accountable by recognizing that you are more responsible for sending the message than the other person is for understanding it.

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