The globally connected world we live in has diversified the way we work. Different cultures are mixing and working together more than ever before. This also leads to a change in communication, given that different cultures communicate differently. Think about the thumbs up signal. While the verbal expression of the thumbs up is an expression of approval and appreciation in many cultural circles, it is considered an insult in countries such as Australia and Nigeria.  

Both verbal and non-verbal communication need to be considered to avoid misunderstandings. Luckily, explanatory videos are a great way to train our teams on intercultural skills.

1.)         Make Intercultural Differences Visual

Culture is not tangible. Fortunately, training videos can show the dimensions of communication. A powerful example of this is the iceberg model. The visible part of the iceberg includes all observable phenomena and represents the explicit perception of a culture. Values, culture, norms and basic assumptions of a population lie below the water surface of the iceberg and represent tacit knowledge.

In order to shape internal communication or communication with business partners in a cross-cultural manner, it is helpful to understand their behaviors and ways of thinking.

2.)         Learn From Your Mistakes

The iceberg model shows the complexity of communication. Some of these complexities are seen in the verbal and nonverbal communication issues among remote teams.

These same complexities can often be seen in intercultural communication. One way to help people identify these communication issues is to demonstrate it through the storytelling method. This gives more context to gestures, facial expressions and even what is said. It helps the viewer to relate. As part of your training, show participants a story using a short video that demonstrates an intercultural interaction and ask them to discuss what they observed. Using storytelling videos as a training tool helps the viewer to see what went wrong (or right), improving their overall understanding of effective intercultural communication.

3.)        Try It Out (In Real Life)

Your palms are sweating and your heart is racing: The first meeting with a business partner from South Korea is about to start. You’re prepared: You’ve read the country’s etiquette manual, have basic knowledge of the language and you have completed the cultural training. But the fear of doing something wrong still exists. Don’t worry! Practice is the key to success. Training can convey in-depth knowledge, and yet there are always challenges in the course of a business relationship that were not part of the cultural training sessions. The good news? Real life experience is the best practice.

Welcoming words in the language of the other person and an appropriate greeting are appreciative gestures and show your interest in the culture. Mistakes are then quickly forgiven and can even become a positive talking point.

4.)         Know Your Cultural Similarities and Differences

Do you understand the cultural dimensions of your own culture? Or even what a cultural dimension is? According to Hofstede, each culture can be divided into dimensions: Power Distance, Individualism, Masculinity, Uncertainty Avoidance, Long Term Orientation and Indulgence. Let’s take a closer look at the cultural dimension, Indulgence, for instance. Some cultures live to work and others work to live. Cultural dimensions show more precisely why a culture behaves in a certain way.

A comparison of one’s own cultural dimensions and their counterparts can be insightful. By looking at similarities and differences between cultures, you can determine connection points and you will also understand  which areas you would be better off adapting to your counterpart. Before any of this though, it is critical that you know your own culture well.

5.)         Put Your Know-how Into Practice

Explainer videos and training on intercultural communication can help advance your understanding of cultural differences and how to best handle certain situations. Let’s put this into practice: Have you ever tried a language tandem? This offers a great opportunity for two people to learn cultural differences in a natural environment. How it works is that two people from different cultures engage in conversation about their respective cultures, discuss differences and similarities, and even learn each other’s language.

This strengthens the intercultural understanding and can increase collaboration. The great thing is that your counterpart will not judge you for any mistakes you make while exploring these cultural differences. It’s all about learning. In order to master intercultural communication, one thing is essential: An appreciation for the other person’s culture. If you keep this in mind, you will become a pro in intercultural communication skills.