Cross-Cultural Communications Competence: Practical Applications and Loving Your Family

 Call it “How to win friends and influence people,”  “Getting to Yes“, or call it cross-cultural communications, but it’s all the same thing–how to communicate to come to agreement or understanding with people who are different from you to achieve your objective.   In business, no matter how you slice it, it all flows back to making money.  In day to day interactions, it may be about money or simply about maneuvering pleasantly through the transactions of daily life–a trip to the grocery store or a cab ride. 

Where does family fit in, you may ask?  I’ve always thought that if you are an expert at cross-cultural communications, you should be able to get along with anyone, including everyone in your family.    If the old adage “practice makes perfect” rings true, family life is rich with opportunity to practice your cultural competency skills. 

Diversity Best Practices captures diversity as “the wide spectrum of experiences, values, perspectives, and outlooks that are generated from our distinctions. These differences may include race, ethnicity, gender, age, religious affiliation, language group, abilities/disabilities, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, geographic region, and more.”  My family captures at least 8 of 10 of these differences.  Add differences in experience and belief systems, and it’s no wonder there are movies and plays about dysfunctional family gatherings from a multitude of cultural perspectives.

The good news is there’s still time to practice before the next round of holiday gatherings.  Here are three tips to help you prepare adapted from The Thiagi Group’s list of 101 Intercultural Insights

DON’T GET ANGRY — ASK QUESTIONS. Put aside your own emotional reactions to unexpected behaviors, and avoid making assumptions about the motives behind those behaviors.   

BE PATIENT, WITH YOURSELF AND WITH OTHERS. Working across cultures provides many ‘opportunities’ to make mistakes or be unintentionally offensive.

GIVE RESPECT. In working with people anywhere, probably the most important aspect of your behavior is conveying respect. If it is apparent that you have, and are trying to show, respect for the other person, then generally faux pas are of little consequence.

So if Uncle Bob starts to nod off after asking ‘what’s new’, ask “why?” Your life may not be boring; your uncle may just be tired from driving so far to see you.   And if mom says your pumpkin pie was SO much better this year, she may really be trying to compliment this year’s meal. 

Intercultural communications is about truly coming together to communicate across lines of difference.  Embrace your family holiday gatherings as the ultimate test of your accomplishment, and enjoy.