With the vast numbers of overseas visitors to Australia each year, you may have the opportunity to sell your products or services to a wider range of people from different cultures than ever before. What an opportunity! But what can you do to communicate most successfully?
Communication with people from other cultures covers three main areas:
This happens when one person uses language which is not known or fully understood by the other.
This happens when there’s a mismatch between what the speaker intends and what the listener understands. They understand each other’s words, but misread each other’s intentions.
3. Alignment/clashes in outlook and values
This occurs when the listener’s cultural attitudes and values clash with the attitudes and values expressed by the speaker’s words and behaviour.
So what can you do to avoid miscommunication?
To avoid non-understanding:
- If the person’s understanding of English is limited, keep your language simple and to the point.
- Speak clearly and slowly, but not in a patronising way. A limited understanding of English doesn’t mean that they are stupid!
- Be patient. For most people, communicating in their second or third language requires greater concentration and more effort to process than their first language.
- Use gestures and visual information to help explain your message.
- Watch for signs that your message has not been understood and clarify or paraphrase if necessary.
- When and where possible, check to see how much they understood.
To avoid misunderstandings:
- Remember that every person and every situation is unique.
- Don’t assume anything. If you think there’s a mismatch in understanding, check the meaning intended.
- Be aware that Australian slang is often misunderstood or misconstrued. Slang is also rarely included in the small basic dictionaries carried by tourists!
- Understand that cultures vary in what they consider humorous or taboo. Sarcasm, for example, is used by many Australians, but is sometimes taken seriously by people from other cultures.
To avoid clashes in outlook and values:
- Respect cultural and individual differences.
- Be aware that there are different styles of communicating and what may appear rude or abrupt to you, may be considered normal in another culture.
- Although a lot of body language is universal, much of it is also culturally specific. For example, people from some countries don’t touch or point in the same way Australians do, and may be offended by body language that you use.
- Try to avoid racial stereotyping. It is true that people from specific countries often have certain tendencies, but not all individuals are the same. Before you stereotype others, think about yourself – how closely do you fit the image of a typical Australian?
With Australia being such a multicultural society, you can use these same strategies to maximise the effectiveness of your communication in your everyday business and personal life.