The Internet has opened the door for cross-cultural communication. Where the United States was once isolated because of its size and location, you can now easily communicate with people in other countries, for work or networking, without having to leave home.
If you work for a global company, your team might be located in the United States, Germany and India, but you can easily communicate via email and can have face-to-face team meetings through video-conference.
Social media offers wonderful opportunities for networking around common interests, and opens the door to direct conversation.
As the opportunities to use the Internet to communicate with people in other countries increases, we must think differently about how we communicate.
When you are physically in another country, you can see the cultural differences around you. However, if you are at home, and especially if you are communicating via email, you don’t get the cues that remind you there are cultural differences.
Unfortunately many people from the United States treat people in other countries as though they should adapt to us, and an unfortunate stereotype has emerged.
The best way to create effective, respectful relationships when engaged in cross-cultural communications via the Internet is to adapt your style to theirs instead of expecting them to adapt to yours.
Nine tips for making your email communications more effective.
Here are 9 simple things you can do when communicating by email that will demonstrate you recognize and respect your cultural differences. Although very simple things, they give the message that you don’t expect them to adapt to you.
- Spell words the way they do. Although English is a universal language, many countries use the British spelling, such as Australia, India, and South Africa. You can check the Internet for common spelling differences or simply watch how they spell words (e.g. organisation, recognise, analyse, flavour, and colour).
- Write your greeting in their language. You can easily look up how to translate “Good Day” into any language and that simple effort is much appreciated.
- Use their colloquialisms. For example, when communicating with colleagues in the UK, try using “brilliant” instead of “wonderful” or “great.”
- End your communication with “Kind Regards” or “Best Regards.” In the United States, we tend to be more informal, ending with “Thanks” and sometimes no valediction at all.
- Communicate meeting times using their time zone. Instead of making them do the work to convert the time of the meeting, you can do it for them. Use a time zone converter to find out what 7:00 am your time is in their country.
- Format meeting times the way they do. Many countries use a 24 hour clock. If so, set a 2:00 pm conference call for 14:00.
- Format dates the way they do. Many countries format the calendar with the date before the month. For example: 21 August 2011
- Offer to schedule conference calls at times most convenient for them. Think about what time it is in their country before suggesting a time that converts to 9:00 pm their time.
- Be aware of their holidays and key religious observances when suggesting a meeting time.
Four simple things you can do to learn more about life in other countries without leaving home.
To really be successful in cross-cultural communication, you must become aware of their culture.
- Read novels by authors from other countries who write about events in their country. Stories give you a sense of the cultural context.
- Watch movies from other countries. Even Bollywood movies, although westernized, can give you a sense of some of the differences.
- Seek alternative news sources outside the US.
- Read blogs by authors in other countries. A recent post on the Brussel’s Leadership Watch blog explains Why Learning Chinese Business Etiquette is Not Enough.
These are all simple steps that you can easily take that help tear down barriers. The world is getting smaller and our old isolationist assumptions no longer serve us. We must educate ourselves about our differences in order to discover our similarities, and to make the real connections that will enable us to truly work together effectively.