Tips for Intercultural Communication in the Workplace

You may already feel comfortable and settled in your career by the time you move abroad for your employer. However, once you’ve made the move and crossed borders you may not feel as such. There is an entirely new office to adjust to, a new set of co-workers and possibly a new set of cultural aspects that you’ll now have to assimilate to. The workplace in your home country may already be diverse, but once you move overseas the cultural differences may become more apparent. With communication being one of the greatest aspects of a functioning work environment, knowing how to interact with your coworkers is crucial. Here are some tips for intercultural communication in the workplace.

Make the message clear

Most often, problems arise during message transmission. Either the message itself is unclear or it is just misunderstood. The receiver will interpret the message with information from their own culture. When people from two different cultures are trying to communicate, the intended message may not be interpreted as the speaker hoped.

When trying to communicate with coworkers from a different culture, try to simplify the message as much as possible so it can be clearly understood across the board.

Language barriers

Keep in mind that if you’re moving to another country, there will probably be somewhat of a language barrier regardless of how much language training you’ve had. To limit misunderstandings and confusion, jargon and slang shouldn’t be used during meetings or in emails. If you speak a language foreign to your coworkers it’s fine to converse with someone during your break time in that language, but if you’re in a meeting with no one else who does, it’s best to refrain from it. It’s encouraged to stick to the common language around the office during business hours.

Do your research

After you’ve found out where employer will send you, the next step should be researching the country. Your employer may have already though of that and provided you with some background information about where you’ll be moving, but you should still do your best to dig deep and find out as much as possible about the culture and traditions that you’ll be encountering after your move abroad. You’ll not only save yourself some time overcoming culture shock, but you’ll prepare yourself for interacting with your new coworkers.

Reach out

Before your move, try to reach out to your counterpart overseas. Try to begin to get to know your new coworkers or team. Your boss should be able to provide you with contact information for people in your new office.

Nonverbal communication – Nonverbal communication is just as important as verbal communication. Variations in body language and speech rhythms can cause misinterpretations on their own. Be sure to do some research about common hand gestures, eye contact and facial expressions as these can easily be misinterpreted as well.

Keep these ideas in mind:

  • Develop cultural sensitivity
  • Anticipate the meaning
  • Careful encoding
  • Use words, pictures, and gestures
  • Avoid slang, idioms, regional sayings
  • Build relationships, face-to-face if possible
  • Get feedback from multiple parties
  • Improve listening and observation skills


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