Top 5 Tips for Navigating Business Communication Challenges That Arise From Cultural Differences

AEC’s bimonthly Tune-Up sessions are designed to spread information easily, foster knowledge sharing and open communication within AEC, and support everyone’s individual growth. Copyright 2023, AEC.

Just like your car’s engine needs regular check-ups, making small enhancements on a regular basis can ensure that you work as effectively as possible. In this spirit, growth is one of our corporate values at AEC and it is embodied in an internal platform called AEC Tune-Up. These 30-minute sessions are designed to create a space to spread information easily, foster knowledge sharing and open communication within AEC, and support everyone’s individual growth. This time, we looked at business communication challenges, specifically those relating to cultural differences – a topic that’s highly relevant in AEC’s global team. The discussion and examples were based on the research and publications of INSEAD professor and researcher Erin Meyer. Based on her book called the Culture Map, we summed up the most relevant takeaways from cross-cultural encounters; here are our #TopTips for navigating business communication challenges that arise from cultural differences.

First of all, patience and flexibility are key in situations involving cross-cultural encounters, because learning cross-cultural effectiveness takes time. Developing your own ability to recognize others’ behavior and adapt accordingly will help you to get increasingly better in understanding and reacting to cultural cues.

In some situations, you might feel that regardless of the cultural background of those involved, you are simply right, and your conversational partner is wrong. However, in most cultural encounters there is no right or wrong, only “different”. Cultural sensitivity means to be aware that cultural differences and similarities between people exist without assigning them a value, such as positive or negative, better or worse, right or wrong. The more we are culturally aware, the more open and understanding we become and therefore we can better navigate the cross-cultural challenges of the business world.

Last but not least, when you suspect that you are facing a misunderstanding due to cultural differences, be curious to understand the reason behind someone’s behavior instead of judging it from the get-go. Ask yourself first what might be happening, but more importantly ask those involved to explain their own thinking, or if that’s not a possibility, ask someone else who has insights into a certain culture’s characteristics. One of the most effective steps you can take to become more culturally aware is being curious and communicating about the challenges you’re facing.

If you have lived in two or more countries, or perhaps have parents from different countries, you probably have noticed how multiple cultures have shaped your personality. Different parts of you were influenced or are being influenced by the times spent working or studying, or even by traveling abroad. The challenge is however, that when we are in and from a culture, it might be difficult to see our own cultural characteristics, much like fish that don’t see water… It’s also possible that people get defensive about their cultures upon hearing characteristics that they might consider more “negative”, that’s why culture can be quite a sensitive topic. However, humor goes a long way in such situations and might help us overcome the challenges associated with talking about cultural differences.

Interested in other Top Tips from our colleagues? Read about our Top Tips for Efficiency from one of AEC’s Office Managers in a previous blogpost.