How to communicate and work well with people from different cultures

how to work with people from different cultures

You’re in the meeting and openly express your negative feedback about the results of your colleague’s project. Your colleague seems shocked and after the meeting rushes quickly out of the room.

It could be just the clash of personalities, but if you both come from different countries, chances are that you’ll have a different attitude to sharing feedback, scheduling appointments or making business decisions. So, to ensure smooth communication and avoid misunderstandings, you’ll need to be aware of how different personality types and different cultural backgrounds may impact your business interactions.

The first step to your cross-cultural journey

Whether you work in a multinational team or collaborate with partners from abroad, at some point you will need a key to unlock the door to efficient communication. It might be as easy as changing your attitude to negative feedback shared by your business partner or explaining how you reached the conclusions before jumping straight to the core of your presentation. Little tweaks can have a huge impact on how your foreign customers or business partners perceive you and your work. But to know how to adjust your cross-cultural business journey, you’ll first need to equip yourself with some background knowledge. By comparing your culture to the culture of your partners or colleagues, you’ll be able to find the right approach and ensure effective communication.

So, what to take into account when analysing cultures? What factors are relevant?

Twelve keys to success

The keys provide general guidelines and point out the most important aspects of human social interaction reflected by various cultures in different ways. Not being able to decode the meaning of each and every aspect of your own and your partner’s culture can easily get you into trouble.

Our 12 keys to efficient intercultural communication include:

  • Time
  • Space
  • Gender
  • Forming relationships
  • Collaboration
  • Achievement
  • Status
  • Seniority
  • Leadership & Management
  • Agreements
  • Rules/Legal systems
  • Risk


How to use the keys?

First, you’ll need to reflect on your own culture. Let’s take Time for example. Is time perceived as a line or circle in your country? Are the scheduled appointments fixed or do they only indicate a suggested time frame? Does time equal money for you? What about the culture of your foreign partners? Do you think schedules are equally important for them? And what does it mean to be late in your culture and in their culture? Is 15 minutes after the scheduled time considered “too late” or “still on time”?

Once you detect the differences, you’re ready to adapt your behaviour and communication style. Knowing that the approach to time in the culture of your business partner is more relaxed, you can schedule your meeting earlier to be sure that your partners show up more or less at the time you want them to come. It will also help you avoid disappointment about last-minute rescheduling or cancellations – you will learn how to interpret these behaviours from your (potential) business partners correctly and plan more efficiently.

Where to find out more?

Reflecting on every aspect of any two cultures may be a time-consuming and difficult task. To make this research easier for you, we’ll discuss each of the twelve keys in the following blog posts. With more insight into the approach to seniority or legal systems and with more examples from specific countries, you’ll be able to quickly find out differences and similarities in the cultures of your colleagues and partners. If you can’t wait and want to find out more about the twelve keys, have a look at our online course How to communicate and work with people from other cultures that presents the twelve keys in detail.

About the author: Monika Zatylny
Monika is a translator and a language and communication trainer with over 10 years of teaching experience. In Polish Localisation she manages the intercultural communication team.

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