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English For IT

3 Essential Tips for Effective Cross-cultural Communication

Business communication is hard. Cross-cultural business communication is even harder since you have the cultural and language barrier to deal with. However, there are 3 key rules of thumb (=basic rule) that will make you a much more effective communicator in any cultural setting.

Without further ado, here are the rules.

#1 Err on the side of politeness

When you err on the side of politeness (=always choose to be polite), you run less risk of being misunderstood or violating cultural norms. Politeness is not just about saying “please” and “thank you” although that’s very important too.

Here is what it means to be polite in a business environment:

Treat others the way you’d want to be treated. Sounds simple enough, but you’d be surprised how many people overlook the importance of the day-to-day business etiquette norms.

Let’s go over 4 common business etiquette violations. There are 4 things you want to avoid doing at all costs (=regardless of how much effort you need to make).

  1. Don’t ignore messages

Try to answer business messages in under 24 hours. If it’s been longer than that, answer as soon as you can, and apologize for the late response. If you leave messages unanswered for days or even weeks, that will reflect very poorly on you (=make you look bad).

Pro tip: if you haven’t done this yet, consider setting up auto replies in your email account for when you go on vacation or take a leave. This way people emailing you will get a quick response instead of having to wait weeks for your reply.

2. Don’t ignore feedback

When you receive feedback, acknowledge it. Take it on board (=accept it) if you agree with it. Challenge it if you disagree with it.

For example:

Your colleague asks you to use a certain hashtag in the company's LinkedIn posts.

If you agree this is a good idea, acknowledge the feedback with phrases like:

“Noted! Will do next time”.

“I’ll be sure to do that next time”.

“Ok, got it”.

If you disagree, you can say something like this:

“I’m not sure this makes sense”.

“That’s a good idea. I might use it in the future”.

“How would we benefit from doing that”?

The bottom line is — to let people know you got their feedback.

3. Don’t be a no-show

If you’re late to a meeting, make sure to inform everyone about it upfront. Some cultures are more relaxed about punctuality than others, but in any case, sending a message that shows you’re mindful of other people’s time is good business etiquette.

4. Don’t make finger-pointing statements

Try to avoid finger-pointing “you” statements, especially when you deliver negative feedback.

Instead of: You told me not to do that

Say: We agreed not to do that.

Instead of: Your forgot to add those details.

Say: It appears some of the details are missing.

Instead of: I’m in the meeting room. Where are you?

Say: I’m all set and waiting the meeting room. Feel free to join when you’re ready.

#2 Always ask for feedback

Seeking (=looking for) feedback is an important part of successful business communication. Not only will it improve your business relationships, but it will also help you grow as a professional and learn quicker.

Whenever you share an idea, suggestion, or project you did, make sure to ask for feedback from colleagues and stakeholders.

For example:

“Sharing the work I’ve done on the (project name) project so far. What do you think? Is there anything that needs to be added ot changed?”

“I’d love to get your input on the suggestion I shared. All opinions are welcome!”

“I have an idea to (do XYZ). How do you feel about it? I need to hear your perspective”.

“DM me your thoughts on (the presentation) or drop them here in the chat. I would really appreciate your feedback!”

#3 Explain “why”

Whenever you ask someone to do something for you, explain why you need it. That goes a long way in terms of building trust and communicating efficiently.

Look at the examples below. Note that the bolded phrases answer the question “why?”

“Could you share login details with Susan so that we could start building the prototype?”

“Let’s hold an additional coder review meeting to get on the same page

This will be our final meeting before launch so make sure you ask all the key questions”

Do you want to get more recommendations on how to be an effective cross-cultural communicator, check out our English For IT: Communication Course and get a 25% discount.

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