Ten International Business Tips for Cross Cultural Communication

As our world becomes smaller through innovative technology and international business, effective cross-cultural communicating skills are the foundation to building strong relationships. Review these ten simple tips to keep in mind before your next business trip abroad.

Understand the Culture

Before planning any business trip to another country, it is always a good idea to research and develop some awareness on the target culture. Many cultures have specific etiquette and customs when dealing with communicating. For example, when doing business in China, you do not want to appear insensitive by asking how many children someone has. Although this may be usual in America, Chinese government has strict restrictions on family size and could find this question disrespectful.

When in doubt, opt for friendly formality.

Some cultures you encounter will range in formality vastly. It is important to be aware of different greetings and introductions that are traditional to a culture. If you are unsure, it is always a good idea to assume formality then proceed to follow the leader of the meeting’s attitude. Being respectful and considerate of those differences will set your company apart and develop a strong relationship from the beginning.

Keep It Simple

Language barriers are a common challenge in international business settings. As an effective communicator you can take the correct precautions to avoid confusion. Stray away from idioms, metaphors, abbreviations, and other culture specific language that would require additional information. Even in more casual environments avoid humor and slang. One must remember English is more than likely the other cultures second language, therefore complicated English jargon can not only be lost in translation but misinterpreted and offensive. Just keep it simple.

Slow Down

Don’t rush through your communication. Concentrate on speaking slowly, clearly, and enunciate throughout any conversation. Although this may seem tedious, be patient, for you are probably in their country speaking your native language. Be sure to check-in with yourself throughout the conversation.

Stay Away from Negative Questions or Answers

Double negatives are confusing enough to those of which English is their native language. In a cross-cultural interaction double negatives are easily misunderstood. Keep questions and answers simple so everyone understands. For example, the response to “Are you not coming?” may be ‘yes’, meaning ‘Yes, I am not coming.’

Be an Active Listener

Being an active listener means paying attention and giving the speaker you undivided attention. Because most communication is nonverbal, it is important to show that you’re listening by using your own body language and gestures to convey your attention. You can use your own body language by occasionally nodding, smiling, using inviting posture, and encouraging the speaker to continue with small verbal comments like ‘yes.’

Summarize What They Say

Be sure to frequently check you have understood what is being said. Ask questions such as, “So what I hear you saying is…” and “Let’s see if I’m clear with this…” If you are not 100% sure you’ve understood what others say, politely ask for clarification. Avoid assuming you’ve understood what’s been said.

Maintain Respect

Be patient. Is the listener of the other culture is having a difficult time understanding, do not show any form of frustration, continue to invite questions. Your body language conveys unspoken communication. Avoid large gestures with your hands and keeping your arms crossed. When you respect the people or culture you are communicating with, a strong relationship will come naturally for both parties.

Ask for Feedback

As important as it is to check in that you understand the speaker, it is just as important to reassure that the speaker has understood you. Frequently check in for questions or better explanations. A good way to pause a conversation is by saying, “It is a moment to take a step back and get your thoughts on…” or “how am I doing with explaining…”


At the end of any large presentation or conversation with a different culture it is important to summarize your main points and welcome any questions. Giving encouragement to those of different cultures develops the trust needed a strong and effective cross-cultural relationship.