27 essential tips for speaking across cultures

You can maintain productivity and avoid costly mistakes by:

Asking Questions in the Right Way

  • Use a lot of open-ended questions
  • Avoid double questions, e.g. “Did you find the meeting interesting and useful?”
  • Avoid negative questions, e.g. “Don’t you have anything to report?”
  • Avoid rapid strings of questions?

Checking Regularly for Shared Understanding

  • Let people talk and listen, listen, listen
  • Ask probing and follow-up questions
  • Have listeners paraphrase, summarize, or retell what you’ve said

Choosing Your Words Carefully

  • Check for level of formality required
  • Define your key words precisely
  • Pronounce words clearly
  • Use pauses
  • Intonate well to convey your meaning
  • Avoid slang words or phrases
  • Avoid idioms
  • Use jargon sparingly
  • Use humor with great care
  • Do not shout to try and make yourself understood

Pacing Yourself

  • Talk at a speed comfortable for the listener
  • Listen, think, and then talk
  • Avoid trying to speed things up
  • Avoid interrupting

Paying Close Attention

  • Don’t let your mind wander
  • Don’t pretend to understand
  • Take more breaks
  • Listen for meaning, not just words spoken
  • Listen to how something is said and its impact on meaning, e.g., tone, intonation, pauses
  • Observe body language and its impact on meaning, e.g. facial expressions

About the Author

Terence Brake

Terence Brake is an author in the global learning & development field and has over 20 years experience helping executives to work better across cultures.

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