In this pandemic era, organizations are making the wise decision to working remotely. And so we find ourselves on our home computers working to ensure business continuity. For those who work with clients, employees and colleagues across borders, online meetings are replacing face-to-face meetings. But the challenge of cross-cultural communications online is not without risk. To avoid them, here are 3 practical tips to make online cross-cultural communications more effective.
Tip #1 — Value Video
When social distancing is the new norm, videoconferencing is second to none in enhancing the impact of communications. Albert Mehrabian, a psychologist and professor of psychology at the University of California, explains communication using the “7%-38%-55% Rule“:
- Tone of voice accounts for 38% of meaning
- Body language accounts for 55%
- Words account for 7%
According to this theory, 93% of communication is based on non-verbal communication. This is amplified in a multicultural audience as both non-verbal and verbal languages vary among different cultures. An overall perspective on communication – verbal, vocal and visual – will facilitate the understanding of the message. Telephone and email provide a limited and sometimes misleading perspective. To avoid misunderstandings and missteps, it’s best to use tools such as Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts and others. And mind the time zones when booking meetings!
Tip #2 — Avoid Email Humour
Especially if you don’t know your contact person well! While humour can strengthen bonds or relax a dense atmosphere (as in the case of a pandemic), it can also be a slippery slope in cross-cultural communication. Each culture possesses its own values and views when it comes to humour, so it is hard to know what may be considered funny across the board. It gets even more complicated when combined with a medium’s limitations.
E-mail does not immediately gauge the intention or reaction of the reader. If your recipient is not in the mood to laugh when reading your email (which is common in times of stress), your attempt to lighten the atmosphere may have the opposite effect and may even insult the reader. And who wants to risk such offence in correspondence, even worse in these stressful times. This short guide may shed some light and orient you in the use of humour across cultures.
Tip #3 — Slow the Flow
With intercultural communication, it’s essential to consider the first language of your interlocutor. If their language differs from yours and the correspondence is in your language, don’t assume they understand everything at your pace – even if he or she speaks your language. Despite a language’s level of affluence, there are several elements involved in its understanding.
When the brain is busy translating to better grasp the message, it creates a delay in integration. If you speak too quickly – on the phone or by videoconference – this process is disrupted, and you may lose the attention of the one you’re addressing. Moreover, depending on their culture, some people will not dare ask you to slow down or stop. Within reasonable limits, it’s wise to adopt a less frantic pace in a cross-cultural context. Favouring short pauses during the conversation will also allow everyone to understand better and find a common rhythm.