5 Tips for Being More Effective in Intercultural Situations

Have you ever been in an intercultural situation and found yourself growing confused, frustrated, annoyed or even angry? I sure have, and definitely more than once.

We miscommunicate every day with those who share our linguistic and cultural backgrounds. And being in a cross-cultural situation, whether through travel, hosting an international visitor or teaching diverse students, can increase the likelihood of miscommunication and unintentional offense.

The good news: There are simple, though not always easy,  things we can all do to improve our intercultural effectiveness. Here are 5 things* we strive to do every day.

1. Be patient, with yourself and others.

We’re all going to make mistakes. It’s ok. Be patient with yourself, and with others, and move past these occurrences as quickly as possible.

2. Don’t get angry. Instead, ask questions.

Recognize that unexpected behaviors and strong emotional reactions are often signs of language and culture barriers. Put aside your own emotional reactions to unexpected behaviors, and avoid making assumptions about the motives behind those behaviors. Ask questions instead, and you may be surprised at what you will learn.

3. Ask descriptive questions.

The Describe-Interpret-Evaluate process (written about by Jon Wendt and Stella Ting-Toomey, among others) is an excellent tool for double or triple checking one’s reactions to a cross-cultural experience. The emphasis on description is helpful in that it is much better to ask what might it mean if someone stands and touches me on the shoulder?, because it is much less apt to get a defensive response than asking the interpretive why are the people so aggressive in this culture?

4. Check for understanding.

If you’re not sure whether you’re interpreting something the way the speaker intended, retell what you heard. Ask the speaker to clarify, and retell what you heard again.

5. Engage in on-going self-reflection.

Always allow time during or at the end of each day to reflect – through journaling or talking with others.

*Adapted from Intercultural Insights: List of Guidelines.

What are your tips for effective intercultural communication?

About the Author: Cate Brubaker

Dr. Cate Brubaker is a re-entry/repatriation coach, consultant, and author of the Re-Entry Roadmap creative workbook and the Study Abroad Re-entry Toolkit. Cate has lived in Germany, worked and traveled in 36 countries on four continents, and has helped all kinds of globetrotters successfully navigate global transitions for over 20 years.

Leave a Comment