Intercultural communication helps people understand each other
Sustainable Communication

5 basic steps to effective intercultural communication in the workplace

May 21st is World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.

In a globalised, interconnected world with true cultural communication gaps filled with prejudices and shallowness, this day reminds us to preserve the world’s cultural richness and to promote intercultural dialogue for achieving peace and sustainable development.

In order to understand how this can impact our daily life on a more practical level, it might be useful to shed a light on intercultural communication among individuals. It can be defined as the process through which people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds engage and communicate within a given context. A process to share implicit and explicit meaning, values, perceptions, culture-bound words, mindset, mannerisms, habits.

Generally speaking, proper intercultural communication skills allow us to build genuine, sustainable relationships with our interlocutors from other countries. We become more flexible, open-minded, and better at interpersonal communication.

In particular, intercultural communication can be implemented across many dimensions. Here I would like to focus on five extremely basic steps to start communicating effectively in a multicultural team.

1. Awareness

Be aware of whom you’re talking to. There are two things we should always bear in mind – everyone’s different and people do not communicate the same way. Let’s repeat together: my perspective is not everybody’s perspective.

While I suggest we should consider this when talking to anyone, I’d like to point out how important that is when communicating with people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

If we truly understood this, we would find ourselves halfway through the path to establishing sustainable relationships with any human being.

Ask yourself: “Is this thing I’m going to say or do really suited to the situation?”. And then do your homework and research! 🙂

2. Open-mindedness and empathy

Being open-minded is key if we want to establish a genuine relationship with a person whose linguistic and cultural background is different from ours.

The world is bustling with different cultures, ideas and needs, therefore, just like the previous point, we should be open to understanding that our own perspective may not necessarily be absolutely right.

This is why we all need to be more empathetic: look at a specific habit you have and ask yourself: “How does that person feel about this? What’s their need right now? Is theirs really the same vision I have about this? How can we find common ground?”.

And if you have no idea at all, listen to them! Use active listening and absorb anything you can about them, just like a sponge.

3. Learning basic cultural norms and words

If we wished to create a positive relationship with another person, we would certainly avoid annoying or offending them by disrespecting anything they firmly stick to. The same applies to cultural norms.

In addition to this, just like we appreciate other people’s attempts at using our own language, the same people would also appreciate our attempt at learning some words of their own language. It demonstrates we do care about their background and want to find a common point.

Try with a basic “Thank you”, “Hello”, “Congratulations”, and smile! 🙂

4. Language simplification, without exaggeration

Ambiguity is intrinsic to intercultural communication. However, we can also try to avoid any misunderstanding by slowing down our speech and possibly avoiding jargon and slang.

We could obviously use slang words if we want, but we should then immediately explain what they mean so as not to keep the listener in the dark.

Slang and jargon can truly be confusing, as they’re strictly related to the culture they belong to. We thus need to make our language explicit.

This habit does improve comprehension and helps us better organise our thoughts before articulating any syllable so that we do sound clear.

5. Inclusion

You know, the feeling of sitting at a table with people muttering some nonsensical sounds most of the time while you’re trying to smile and nod and probably eat or write as if everything were normal.

As if. It’s not that normal indeed.

When we’re part of a multicultural team and there’s another person from our country, it’s easy – and sometimes it becomes a real urge – to speak our mother tongue freely. It happens, no problem, yet it may sound indelicate. Let’s put it the other way round: how would you feel in the same situation?

Obviously, true inclusion is not just this. But making sure you’re not excluding anyone from the conversation is already a huge starting point.


Intercultural communication is certainly challenging, sometimes confusing, yet enriching. Take good care of your intercultural relationships, you’ll discover many interesting things about the world and… yourself.

Before wrapping this article up, I would like to leave you with this nice TED Talk on cross-cultural understanding.

“Wouldn’t it be great if we could look through each other’s glasses? And see how somebody else sees the world?”

Is there any other basic rule you would add to this list? Let me know in the comments!


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