Cross-cultural collaboration

As businesses continue to globalise and as networks become more culturally diverse, it is important to understand that cross-cultural collaboration requires additional care. Linguistic, cultural, and technological issues are daunting to some. Others pay them no heed and as a result their collaborative efforts are less likely to succeed.

By making several basic adjustments to speech, style and body language, and by researching the cultural nuances of those with whom one will collaborate, cross-cultural collaborative ventures can be more successful. To begin with, conducting independent research about customs related to body language, eye contact, physical touch, salutations, and the founding tenants of the culture with whom one will be collaborating is key.

Secondly, understand several things about language. First, if those involved do not all speak the same native language and as well as the same dialect of the same native language, there is a very real chance that members may not fully understand one another. To overcome this problem, speak slowly and clearly and articulate all words. Use visual aids as much as possible. Make sure background noise is reduced to a minimum, along with outside distractions, and interruptions.

Be careful to avoid slang, idioms, expressions, and cultural jargon. To illustrate, Australians and Americans may both speak English as a native language, but most Americans would not likely understand what an Australian means when they say an opportunity has been grassed, because this expression, which means an opportunity has been mismanaged and wasted, comes from rugby, a game central to Australian culture and almost completely unfamiliar to Americans.

Avoid cultural examples, metaphors, and analogies as much as possible. Likewise be careful with humor. Obviously metaphors, examples, analogies, and humor are valuable resources in communication; therefore, if / when incorporating them, try to learn about cultural equivalents in advance and carefully adapt them to cross-cultural communication. Gestures (e.g. pointing) or unconscious habits (e.g. maintaining direct eye contact) may be offensive in other cultures. Do your research to determine what’s appropriate and what’s not where you’re working.

Likewise, particular forms of address, benedictions, and salutations may be considered offensive or impolite, so those involved in cross-cultural communication need exposure to and familiarity with them before beginning work on a collaborative venture involving members with differing cultural backgrounds. The aforementioned best practices are geared more towards verbal communication. That said, communication differences are not the lone hurdle to cross-cultural communication. There are also differences in the way those from different cultural groups collaborate. One should be mindful of others’ responses and equally mindful of how one’s own upbringing and cultural bias influences decision making behavior and communication. Always encourage differing viewpoints. Be sure to let a group diverge before attempting to bring the group to agreement and common understanding.

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