Lingua East

People should hear your ideas, not your accent.

Tag: cultural communication

Listening Between the Lines

If you have spent considerable time in a culture you didn’t grow up in, then you have likely found yourself in a situation where there was a misunderstanding, but it wasn’t due to the words that were spoken. What we refer to in English as reading between the lines indicates picking up on information that is not explicitly said, but rather, implied by context. The level to which we rely on our implicit understanding in a conversation is cultural, and this is an area of cultural communication where we often go wrong without even knowing it.

In her book The Culture Map, Erin Meyer describes a scale ranging from low-context, where one participant in a conversation makes no assumptions about what another participant knows, to high-context, where the information that is read between the lines can be much more important than what is explicitly said. The United States is the most low-context culture in the world. Latin American cultures, including Mexico, are considered high-context[1].

In the US, we value transparency and factual statements that are both explicit and specific. When it’s time to get down to business, we do not like to beat around the bush. In Mexico, such is not the case – as I have learned firsthand.

When I first started communicating with individuals from Mexico (friends, family of friends, businesspeople, etc.), I noticed that before [what I saw as] the actual conversation takes place, there is a ritual of politely saying “hello, good morning/afternoon/night,” and asking how the person is doing, sometimes followed by lengthier small talk. Being a low-context estadounidense, I tend to breeze past these pleasantries without realizing. Paulina, a friend of mine from Mexico, has confirmed that skipping this initial stage of the conversation can come off as brusque, unless both participants in the conversation know each other well.

Sometimes we have to alter the way we communicate with others in order to successfully get our message across. When I am consciously trying to have a positive interaction with someone from Mexico, I remind myself to greet them politely (with appropriate reference to the time of day) and to ask them how they are doing.

Usually, I am anxious to get to the real reason for the conversation. As a time-obsessed low-context communicator, the pleasantries feel like a waste of time. However, they are most certainly not. They serve as a small investment toward building a relationship of trust that is important for business, community, and culture.

Our patterns of cultural communication are ingrained from the moment we are born. Therefore, making an adjustment in order to effectively communicate with someone from a different culture can be difficult. Despite the difficulty, sharing your ideas with other people in a way they can easily understand is one of the most valuable things on Earth.

Whether you come from a low-context culture like the United States or a high-context culture like Mexico, make a conscious effort to accommodate your listener’s cultural communication style. Let them hear your ideas.

[1] …although not at the extreme end of the high-context cultures. Japan has the honor of being the most high-context culture in the world.

Cultural Communication for Exceptional Service

Human relationships are the source of business success. These relationships can happen in many places. They occur among staff members, they develop between your company’s representatives and guests, and they serve as the backbone of customer referrals. The human connection is the most valuable part of your business.

Every facet of business matters. To succeed in business, one must be constantly striving, working to improve in every area without leaving any aspect of the business behind to stagnate. That’s why it is so important to work on communication skills. There is always space for improvement.

Every facet of business matters.

Every facet of business matters.

Consider the hotel industry. Hotel employees deal with guests from all over the world, perhaps with the majority of visitors coming from one or two foreign countries. Operators work very hard for years to select the best quality linens and furnishings for the accommodations, and staff works tirelessly around the clock to provide guests with other special features that make a stay at the hotel an unforgettable experience.

What so many business operators overlook, unfortunately, is the crucial importance of communication skills. After all, hotels and other service-oriented businesses rely on the customer experience more than anything else. Customers can experience the best in activities and accommodations, but if their interactions with staff are less than stellar, then they will be significantly less likely to refer others to the hotel.

Negative experiences are memorable.

Negative experiences are memorable.

Negative experiences are memorable. Studies show that we remember them more than positive experiences, and with greater detail[1]. In fact, guests are more likely to talk about their negative interactions with the staff than they are to rave about the excellent quality of the Egyptian cotton bath towels or the LED temperature controls for water fixtures in the bathroom. We have to work harder to provide memorable positive experiences.

Particularly when dealing with guests from other cultures, we come up against cultural expectations that we often do not even know about. These cultural expectations can occur in the unlikeliest and most mundane of interactions, such as a server checking on dining guests. When these expectations are violated, people notice, and they remember.

The best way to prevent individuals from your organization from inadvertently violating guests’ expectations is to educate yourself in cultural communication. Just as you make an effort to stay on top of industry news through publications, networking, and working with consultants, if you are in a service industry behooves you to work on communication skills. Especially if you provide services for international guests, communication is one area you do not want to leave behind to stagnate.

What matter most are the connections forged between people.

What matter most in the service industries are the connections forged between people. Read any business book and you’ll find countless examples of companies that sell product at higher prices than competitors, but still experience success due to an unwavering commitment to customer service. The companies that are able to persevere through tough times and turn profits, year after year, are not the ones that base their basic operations on shrewd economic principles with dead-eyed employees fulfilling job duties, nothing more, nothing less. The companies that are able to find true longevity and success are the ones that focus on people – that means both the customers they serve and the individuals they employ.

In order to provide value to your customers and excellent customer service to your guests, you must invest in your employees. Part of their training in operations and company culture should include a section on communication skills. If you serve international clients, special training in cultural communication can set your organization apart from the competition.

We all want to be the best at what we do. Employee training in cultural communication can be extremely valuable to your organization. Have a consultant train your staff once and you’ll see lasting customer service improvements that quickly recover the cost of the service. Companies of all sizes reap the rewards of communication skills training through better, more responsive customer service.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can increase profit margins with cultural communication training for employees, contact us. We provide consulting services to select organizations looking to build customer relationships through effective cross-cultural communication. Help your company make a name for itself through the human connection.

We provide consulting services to select organizations looking to build customer relationships through effective cross-cultural communication.

[1] Mickley, K. & Kensinger, E. (2008). Emotional valence influences the neural correlates associated with remembering and knowing. Cognitive, Affective, and behavioral Neuroscience, 8, 143-152.

Mickley Steinmetz, K. & Kensinger, E. (2009). The effects of valence and arousal on the neural activity leading to subsequent memory. Psychopsyiology, 46, 1190-1199.

© 2017 Lingua East

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑