Solid communication is the bedrock of any healthy relationship, but sometimes cross-cultural interactions can be challenging. Whether you’re traveling to another country or just out for groceries, the world is a melting pot of cultures and customs. Learning how to navigate it deftly with individuals or groups makes for a more enriched and fulfilling life.
While the art of respectful, productive cross-cultural interaction can be learned, it’s impossible to distill every culture into a few hard and fast rules. In some cultures, direct eye contact is a sign that you’re engaged and paying attention. In others, it’s deeply disrespectful. If you’re traveling, take the time to read about the customs and cultures you’ll be experiencing. No one sets out to offend their hosts, and informing yourself ahead of time can be both revealing and rewarding.
Leave the Phone in Your Pocket.
Sure, your smartphone has plenty of handy travel apps for translation or for learning about history and culture. When you’re traveling, and even when you’re staying close to home, it’s tempting to rely on your trusty device at all times. However, when you’re establishing rapport with new acquaintances, especially cross-culturally, it’s best to keep the screens out of the conversation. For more meaningful interaction, face-to-face communication is always preferable.
Listening is Even More Important.
In a fast-paced world where people seem perpetually busy, distracted and eager to respond with whatever they’ve already planned to say next, real human connections can feel increasingly elusive. Taking the time to stop what you’re doing and listen can make all the difference in a cross-cultural conversation, but it requires a mindful approach to dialogue. Remind yourself to listen actively – considering what you’re hearing and fully absorbing it – before responding.
Share Food and Drink.
Breaking bread with someone you’ve just met can be an enlightening experience – even revelatory. Sharing food and drink together opens cross-cultural windows, as you learn about different traditions, customs, tastes and preferences. Understanding is built on a mutual respect for differences in background and lifestyle, but it’s tough to think of a better way to break down cultural barriers and get to know someone than sharing a meal or even a simple mug of tea. Don’t be afraid to try something new, whether it’s food, drink or a new conversation topic.
Relax. You Can Do This.
Once you understand that a little background research, some active listening and an insistence on mutual respect is all you really need to pursue fruitful, cross-cultural interactions, you’ll seek them out more often and be rewarded accordingly. Don’t stress out though. You’re only human. Keep these etiquette guidelines in mind, but try to relax and be yourself. Before you know it, you’ll have made new friends and opened up your world to a wider, better-informed view.