Cultural Differences and Your Communication

man bowing and woman holding out hand to shakePlease pardon my long absence.  I’ve recently moved from one corner of the U.S. to another.  Between illness and housing challenges I am slowly getting settled into a new life.

Although I grew up in this neck of the woods, it’s a big adjustment.  Culturally, Central Florida is a wide mixture of transplants from all over the U.S. and Caribbean and what seems to be a much smaller portion of long time Floridians.  I also live very close to what I “lovingly” call Tourist Town, the epicenter for family vacations.  Which means I have the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world.

Obviously, there are a lot cultures clashing here.  And more than once, it has tried my patience.  But I keep reminding myself that what is normal to me, what I consider good manners or appropriate behavior, may not be normal within the cultures of the people I am running into (sometimes literally).

These entertaining HSBC commercials do a great job of illustrating cultural differences:

All of this got me thinking about how often we write from our own personal perspective and surrounding culture, then get frustrated when some of our audience doesn’t understand the message.  How often do we take a step back and consider different perspectives and how someone from another culture might interpret our message?

Ethnic cultural difference is an obvious consideration.  But consider the varied cultures within a single organization.  The sales department is likely to understand your message from the perspective of bringing in business and interacting with customers, the operations group might focus on the nuts and bolts of putting your message into action, human resources will be concerned that your message doesn’t put the organization at any legal risk, while the front line team will want to know how this impacts their daily goals.

Consider the various perspectives your message will be received from.  Then forget what you know on the topic and read your message with each audience in mind.  Fill in the gaps, define terms that are not common throughout the organization, and ensure the message is clear.

When it comes to communicating to multiple groups with one message, always consider that what is basic to you may be foreign to others.

Happy communicating!

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