Effective cross-cultural communication is crucial for today’s globalized business community. This is especially true in the world of PR, where words can make or break the success of a company’s media outreach efforts. PR is a communication-driven profession that deals with people living in various countries with diverse cultures. It is important that PR professionals have the capacity to deal with their foreign counterparts and be able to implement successful PR campaigns that will appeal to those in their respective countries.
So, how can PR professionals train themselves to be culturally aware?
1. Familiarize Yourself with Other Cultures
Culture is a powerful factor that provides a foundation for which our worldviews are shaped. When people take on the challenge of working across borders, misunderstandings can arise, sometimes without knowing that culture is a central factor. There are six patterns in cultural differences that are important to keep in mind when communicating in PR. These include different communication styles, attitudes towards conflict, approaches to completing tasks, decision-making styles, attitudes towards disclosure, and approaches to knowing (epistemologies). Although all of these can play a factor in PR interactions, differences in communication can be particularly problematic as it is far more complicated than a simple language barrier, as use of phrases, non-verbal communication, norms of assertiveness, and sense of time also need to be taken into consideration.
By analyzing these behaviors we will be able to expect with reasonable accuracy how people will react to us and how we should approach them. Understanding the nuances and intricacies won’t happen overnight, however. After all, think about how long it takes us to be socialized in our own communities to know how to speak and interact with others? People study for years in order to truly understand the intricacies of culture However, the basics can be learned without committing to a PhD in the matter.
Recommendation: Organize a cross-cultural training with your office to teach the basic skills to communicate effectively across cultural barriers.
2. Be Aware of Your Own Culture
According to Edward T. Hall, an anthropologist and author of several international communication studies, culture is essentially hiding in plain site for those immersed in it, resulting in a lack of recognition. This can lead to miscommunication even if you’ve taken the time to study a foreign culture. Self evaluation of your identity is important as it results in increased awareness and flexibility in your interactions. Learning about others’ cultures can highlight the details of your own as well as challenge assumptions and enlighten one to a variety of approaches.
Self-awareness will serve you in every aspect of your life. In order to communicate more effectively, take the time to think about how your approach to others is affected by your cultural norms is and how it might be tricky for others to work with.
According to David Livermore, President at the Cultural Intelligence Center, the key to cross-cultural communication is patience – so simple that some of us tend to forget it. Patience is a lost art in our busy work cultures. In the age of instant gratification and technology, we have been trained to expect a certain pace when dealing with others. Patience is not a trait that has been fostered, and is a truly difficult skill to master, especially when confronted with deadlines and work pressure. Nevertheless, patience is crucial in building business relations.
Recommendation: Take a deep breath and examine the circumstances again. Clear communication, clarification, and a sense of humor are your best friends here. Patience is not something you will learn overnight but rather is something that needs to be worked on. Assume that everyone is trying their best and that frustrations may be from an underlying cultural issue and not a lack of effort.
While there are many more steps required to become culturally aware, I hope this is a good beginning foundation. Of course, it can be dangerous to over-generalize as societies will always be full of exceptions and unique personalities, so consider these tips a helpful guideline rather than rules set in stone.
I would love to hear additional suggestions of what tactics you are trying at your own companies!