Culture and language can create barriers to understanding, to team cohesion, and to organizational culture.
In this episode of the AXIOM Insights Podcast, we’re joined by Lauren Supraner, founder and president of CAL Learning, a New York-based intercultural communication training, coaching and consulting company, who works with global professionals to help them communicate clearly and effectively across cultures.
“My motto is clarity of message, clarity of speech,” Supraner says. “The message itself has to be culturally appropriate, and people have to understand you speaking.”
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“Both sides of the conversation are missing out,” says Supraner. “We are all different. The American style of communication is just a style of communication. Native speakers of any language, not just English — the combination of their culture and language sets up their frame on the world, and how they interact.”
Supraner explains that language is both the words that are used and how they are used. “How do you say no? How do make a request? How do you make a suggestion? How do you interject in a meeting?”
All of these things are not taught explicitly to non-native speakers. Generally, they are learning the words and the grammar, and not necessarily the nuanced language functions, how to be persuasive, and how to be direct and not rude, Supraner explains.
Beyond the words used, each individual’s cultural perspective affects how people interpret communication.
And communications styles and preferences vary substantially between low-context and high-context cultures.
“In general, low-context cultures… are direct, they are explicit. The context does not carry the information, the words do. They words that you say are what’s important.”
But, Supraner says, Americans may not realize that their low-context expectations are the global exception, not the rule.
In high-context cultures, Supraner explains, it’s much more indirect, because there’s a greater concerns about the relationship and the hierarchy.
Additionally, conflict may also be created by a low-context communicator who is task-focused, when interacting with high-context communicators for whom the task is secondary to the relationship.
Understanding who you’re speaking with and their expectations is important, Supraner says. “Listen to the person speaking. Understand them from their perspective. It doesn’t mean you have to agree, but you do have to respect, and you do have to listen.”
“Once someone feels heard, that changes everything,” Supraner says. She advises: listen, pay attention, try to see from another’s perspective, and be willing to learn.
Audience awareness requires attentiveness to words and body language, Supraner says. “It’s also helpful to give the person an opportunity to express themselves… ‘tell me more about that’ is just the greatest sentence ever. It acknowledges the other person, it gives you a change to figure out what’s going on without jumping to a conclusion.”