Cultural Clues & Cues: Tips for Dealing with Diversity
Some Basic Tips – always helpful, but critical with other cultures:
- Watch for uncomfortable body language in the other person. If you ask for a favor and get shifting around, wrinkled brow, downcast look or other signs of discomfort, consider altering your request gracefully.
- Listen for trailing off at the ends of sentences, hesitant voice tone and other vague responses.
- Ask leading questions to probe for more information rather than open-ended questions.
- Cultures that fall toward the more indirect side of the spectrum include China, Japan, Korea, India, sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Latin America and more. Large portions of the world communicate in this way and it pays to be tuned in, especially in a business environment.
- Individuals from some cultures find this distressing. Co-workers might say, “I don’t want to have to figure all that out! I don’t have time. If someone can’t just come out and say something, that’s their issue.”
- Be aware that people from indirect cultures might use third parties to communicate sensitive or difficult issues; this is in their view another way of saving you from the embarrassment of direct confrontation.
- Widen your spectrum of what “communication” is. For example, if someone does not call you back in response to a favor you asked, is this communication? Yes, it might be. That person might feel it is best to spare you from a direct, embarrassing “no” by not returning your call.
- Start by bumping your conscious listening up to at least one level above your norm. When you have a conversation with a friend from your own culture or background, you can listen a little more passively because the cues are familiar and known. When listening to someone from another culture, tell yourself to be extra alert.
- Many of our connections with colleagues come in whispers, subtle but important messages that are easy to miss if we do not listen attentively. Moreover, all forms of listening are not alike. Sometimes we listen more passively, taking in what the other is saying and giving them our attention. At other times we listen actively, seeking out what is not being said and reading between the lines.
- Bump your conscious listening up to at least one level above your norm. When you have a conversation with a friend from your own culture or background, you can listen a little more passively because the cues are familiar and known. When listening to someone from another culture, tell yourself to be extra alert.