IN THIS global economy, you have to interact with colleagues, suppliers, vendors and your counterparts in other cultures. Your effectiveness as a cross-cultural communicator will be determined partly by your knowledge of other cultures.
Knowledge of food, art, fashion, behaviour, customs, language and religion will stand you in good stead when you communicate with others. This knowledge can be gathered from books and other media as well as from closely listening to and observing the people you interact with.
More importantly, your effectiveness as a cross-cultural communicator will be determined by your emotional intelligence.
Many business people seem to forget that when dealing with other people, they are dealing with human beings. Whatever their cultural backgrounds, they still display human characteristics such as happiness, sadness, confidence, insecurities, desire for acknowledgement and acceptance of others. They experience anger and frustration, jealousy, fear of rejection and much more.
People are predominantly driven by their emotions when making decisions — whether to buy a product or service or to accept what other people say. When dealing with others, people will allow their emotions, rather than logic, to influence them.
To interact more effectively with people, especially those from another culture, follow these three steps:
1. Communicate on a human and a business level
When you work with colleagues, suppliers, vendors, staff and customers, communication happens on two levels — the human level and the business level.
It is always better to open any interaction, be it written or verbal, on the human level before doing any business. This satisfies the individual’s need for acknowledgement, courteous treatment and acceptance of his viewpoint.
This does not mean that every time you interact with a supplier, colleague or customer, you need to launch into a personal discussion. Opening on a human level need only involve an exchange of a couple of words. However, the emotion conveyed has to be genuine.
The business level is about work-related issues. If you interact with other people only on the business level, their needs on the human level will not be met and this may get in the way of their ability to understand and respond positively to what you say.
When the business part of the interaction is completed, it is important to end on the human level.
2. Get people to like you
Much of your success in cross-cultural communication will be determined by your ability to sell ourselves to others. Whether in your personal or working lives, people will judge you by what you say and do.
More importantly, this will be influenced by how likeable you are. Likeability is about being human — it’s about displaying warmth.
Likeability in people is also measured by their ability to listen and be interested in others. Likeable people say your name and look as if they care. People who have something positive to say and don’t whinge tend to be more well-liked.
Likeable people empathise with problems and accept that others may have a different view of the world from them. Likeability is demonstrated by a genuine smile, good eye contact, a sense of humour and relaxed body language.
3. Be a credible communicator
When communicating with other people, particularly when you are trying to persuade them, the key ingredients are credibility and believability. Your credibility will be determined by the verbal, vocal and visual elements of your message.
If the words you say aren’t confirmed by your tone of voice and how you look, you won’t be trusted. People will evaluate you based primarily on non-verbal information. People tend to make snap judgements about others and often make mistakes.
So, don’t fall into this trap when you meet other people or speak to them on the phone. Also, be very aware that they will make decisions about you based on the tone of your voice and body language.
Low self-esteem and self-image affect body language and tone of voice. People tend to make movements and display postures that indicate a lack of confidence. The people you communicate with will sense from your tone of voice whether you are confident, and accordingly, believe or disbelieve what you say.
Even if you don’t feel confident in a particular situation, act or pretend to be confident. Walk into a room as if you own the place. Pick up the phone and speak in a clear, confident and distinct manner.
Your confidence and credibility will be determined by the self-talk that goes on inside your head. Listen to that self-talk and ask yourself: “Is what I’m saying allowing me to be confident, positive and credible? Or is it holding me back and stopping me from achieving my goals?”
If you answered “yes” to the second question, change the programme. By talking to yourself in a positive manner, you’ll start to feel physically better and look better, sound more confident and credible.
Words have an enormous power to create change in the chemistry of your body. Your heart rate, blood pressure, muscles, nerves and breathing will all react to the words you say to yourself and this will evident to other people.
If you build your knowledge of other cultures and couple that with the three steps discussed above, you will interact with other people with assurance and they will like and trust you.