By Corporate English Solutions

11 January 2022 - 10:00

A man joins a virtual meeting from his laptop.

Reading time: 4 minutes

As a result of remote and hybrid working, we are interacting with colleagues from around the world via global virtual workspaces. We share 5 ways to help teams develop their intercultural communication skills so they can network and build relationships with people from diverse backgrounds.


Why are intercultural competence skills required?

Effective communication is central to the success of any business so the ability to communicate with others regardless of their cultural background is essential. It is important to be aware of how we react to cultural differences and having an acceptance that what might seem strange to us is commonplace in other cultures.

By being open, respectful, tolerant, and curious, people working in a global virtual space can make a dramatic impact on their intercultural communication skills and intercultural competence. Many employers look for these intercultural and cross-cultural communication skills in new hires.

1. Make an effort to understand new cultures

Some are naturally adept at communication and have no trouble interacting, but most people will need to learn about effective cross-cultural communication. The simplest ways are to use the internet or ask colleagues in a respectful, polite way about themselves and their culture. By asking them we display a genuine interest and a willingness to understand them which can help to build relationships.

We should take time to observe those things that we have in common, as we build the relationship on a combination of shared values and acceptance of differences, when we take the time to look below the surface, we often find that our similarities outnumber our differences.

2. Get the basics right

In the virtual space, small misunderstandings can cause breakdowns in communication, for example a direct manner can come across as rude, or a figure of speech can be taken literally. To address this issue, people who are involved in multicultural teams need to build their intercultural competence skills.

Learning a foreign language is rewarding but if the native languages of team members are multiple, it would be impractical and perhaps impossible to learn them all to any useful degree. Being able to say hello, goodbye, and thank you, shows colleagues that we want to engage with them, and they will respect our efforts to develop effective cross-cultural communication.

Getting someone’s name wrong is easily remedied by polite correction and good humour. However, someone who repeatedly mispronounces a colleague’s name could be seen as insensitive. The best way to counter this is by simply asking the person how to pronounce their name.

3. Use straightforward language

One thing that we can do to avoid cross-cultural miscommunication is to speak English in a way that is easy to comprehend. This means using shorter sentences, and simpler vocabulary.

It also means avoiding the kind of ambiguity that certain idioms and figures of speech can present. Even foreign nationals who speak excellent English can find these phrases difficult to understand which can result in misunderstandings and frustration.

People who are focused on improving intercultural communication skills keep language straightforward in the workplace.

4. Get social to improve intercultural communication skills

The internet and, in particular, social media have played a massive role in bringing together people from all over the world. Finding ways to connect with colleagues for work and pleasure through your preferred social media platform lets you interact in a more casual way, discover shared interests, and find common ground.

Being social across cultures is an excellent way of improving intercultural communication skills in the workplace.

5. Promote intercultural fluency

Being open to the possibility that all cultures have their good and bad points can help reduce cultural bias and promote intercultural fluency.

Cross-cultural communication in the workplace is not just about considering our colleagues, it’s also important everyone thinks about where their attitudes and opinions come from. Anyone who needs to communicate across cultures in a global virtual space should think about their preconceptions and ask themselves why they think in the way they do.

Having intercultural competence is beneficial because it reduces preconceptions and paves the way for a more expansive attitude. It is a great way to create positivity and stronger working relationships. It may be worth finding out about appropriate training courses and encouraging several team members from different cultures to attend the same course so that everyone is making the same effort to work together.

Embracing cultural differences is fascinating and rewarding and paves the way for a curious and open mindset. Discover how you can improve your business English, communication skills and grow your inter-cultural fluency.

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