There’s nothing like being misunderstood when you have the best of intentions.

When we’re aiming to make someone happy but they then seem displeased, we feel really disappointed in ourselves. Sometimes, it just means we don’t have the right information and have just miscommunicated in some way. When we don’t know exactly why this has happened and what went wrong, it can leave us feeling bewildered. This can be particularly true when we’re communicating with people from different cultures speaking in native foreign languages.

Here are some tips that may help in the quest for clearer communication across cultural and geographic lines.

Be open-minded – Trying to stay open-minded with cross-cultural communication can be extremely important for success. Sometimes when someone from another culture says or does something, it may mean something completely different to the other person. For example, when living in Japan and within the Japanese culture itself, no one would ever want to put their chopsticks stuck down into their rice, as it actually means death within in the Japanese culture. If someone had done that and didn’t know, another person more familiar with the culture norms of that society could kindly take the person aside and explain the delicate situation. The person that had been unknowingly offensive would be enlightened on the situation because someone else was open-minded and gave them the benefit of the doubt. Just because one person may not know a lot about another culture doesn’t mean they can’t learn about it if they’re willing.




Be friendly – Some say that smiling can be an international language for demonstrating friendliness. When we make it clear that we’re accepting of foreign culture, it can open the gateway to a multitude of new friendships. There’s a lot to be said on the subject of having friends from different cultures. Nothing says ‘I care more’ than being friendly and open with others. Also, be sure to give a genuine smile. Smiling can be interpreted as an international sign of goodwill and cheer.

Apologise when wrong – Even if the offence was unintentional, apologise if you’ve offended or hurt the feelings of another from a culture different to your own. This can go a long way between people that are just getting to know one another, and it demonstrates some degree of respect for the other group’s culture. Sometimes, people believe that saying “I’m sorry” means that we’re accepting blame, but that’s not always the case. We can always clarify what we mean. For example, “I’m sorry that what I said seemed unclear. What I actually meant was …”




Speak clearly – When there’s a language barrier, be sure to speak clearly and distinctly. When someone just keeps smiling and nodding their head, especially if you’ve asked them a question, this is a good sign that they haven’t understood what you’ve said and they just don’t want to be rude. When communicating with the foreign person or people, also be specific so that the person knows exactly what you mean. We can always speak distinctly at a volume that is clearly audible, without coming across as obnoxious and rude.

Do some homework – If it’s possible, try to learn more about the foreign culture of those you’ll be communicating with. Even when you both can communicate fairly well in one language, there are many different cultural norms that make up another culture. It can also be important to remember that not all cultural norms within a society will seem common or even reasonable to you. Some traditions can span back hundreds of years and even beyond that, so it’s important to respect foreign traditions when we’re communicating across cultural lines.




If you don’t know, ask – There are times when it’s easier and less time-consuming to simply ask for clarification and feedback on something. If you aren’t sure whether or not they understand what you meant, ask questions. There are cases when people from another culture are apprehensive to communicate a critical point that they feel may come across as offensive, so it’s important to tell them that you won’t take offence if they’re open and make critical remarks.

I hope these are helpful and can be used to aid in your cross-cultural success of communication.


Do you have some ideas and tips of your own?

Let us know in the comments section below.