Remember the old adage ‘the best way to remember your story is to tell the truth?’ Well, it’s the same with Intercultural Communications. The best way to interact with others is to be keenly aware of yourself…but also hyper sensitive and receptive to the individuality and autonomous experience of others around you.
Good news? These tips apply whether you are traveling around the globe, interacting in a diverse work environment, or, my favorite this time of year, trying to better understand and appreciate the unique traits of key family members over the holidays!
1. Beware of making assumptions about people based on physical characteristics: race, ethnicity, age, ability, gender, etc. (That can’t be reiterated enough!)
2. Do good research in advance, but do not take ‘country guides’ as being the final word. Individual preferences vary and will trump any group customs, but might be helpful to know that the clock you about to give as a gift to your Chinese host might imply death.
3. Welcome feedback as a gift. Thanking someone for his or her suggestions is a great way to solicit ‘insider’ knowledge. Once you say thanks for the insight, he or she may be willing to share more. When a business deal is at stake that could be just the ticket to your success.
4. Embrace your own identity and use that as a platform to communicate with others. (I statements instead of you statements—as in “that’s so interesting, I do it this way, how do you do it?
5. Asks questions to understand what motivates others.
6. Be open to learning, and learn to teach without being judgmental or making the learner feel embarrassed. Remember Emerson (sic) Everyone is my master because I can learn something from everyone.
7. Be an Anthropologist. Ethnographers or Participant Observers are keen to watch the interactions of others closely when approaching new communities or situations. How are items being used? How do people greet one another? It’s a chance to really listen with your whole being. Think “don’t drink the water in the finger bowl.”
8. Be sure to try new things, particularly foods when in another country. But, allow a little latitude when ordering food in restaurants, as in, you may understand the word for lasagna, but it may not be served as you expected…enjoy-seeing how similar concepts are enacted in different countries is part of the fun. (on the flip side, ff you have allergies or things that don’t allow latitude, like a peanut allergy, bring a dictionary to know key words.)
9. Be patient with yourself and others. Anger, unease, defensiveness, etc. may come with the territory. Just remember, that moment of discomfort is usually when you are at the cusp of learning! Kind of like in weight lifting—the moment the weight is too much and the muscle fails, is the moment the muscle gets stronger.
10. Be brave but safe, confident but humble…don’t be afraid to simply open the dictionary to the right page and just show it to the person with whom you are speaking; learn where the street signs are-sometimes they are on the corner, sometimes on the side of the building, sometimes on the sidewalk. If you go out alone, bring a piece of paper with the phone number and address where you are staying.