ATD Blog

Improving Cross-Cultural Communication in the Global Marketplace

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

One of the most important things to consider when doing business internationally is mastering the art of cross-cultural communication. It is crucial for you to be equipped with a thorough knowledge of the cultural, business, and social customs of the people (and country) with whom you are meeting. In diplomatic circles, the term associated with cross-cultural communication is protocol. But protocol as it relates to business helps you adapt your style to be effective across all cultures, ensuring that you treat your colleagues and potential clients with dignity and respect.  

At the Protocol School of Washington, we educate students on cross-cultural communication and protocol intelligence to add value to organizations that do business with international clients. As the global marketplace and enhanced technology allows us to build relationships with an internationally diverse client list, it’s crucial to successfully communicate with people from different cultures, and truly understand and respect those differences. 

Here are some tips to help you succeed across the global marketplace by improving your cross-cultural communication skills:  

  • Be aware of your own cultural lens: No matter how culturally evolved you think you are, you might have some subtle cultural boundaries or ideas about people from other countries that may or may not be accurate. This is where it’s crucial to never generalize people of different cultures and to change your mind about preconceived stereotypes. As you learn to become more mindful of letting go of preconceptions, you will remain receptive to new customs. Most important, try not to judge the cultures and customs of your host country until you understand a situation from the other side of the table. 

  • Avoid being on cultural cruise control: Thinking you are culturally aware and being culturally aware are different. Knowing the customs of your host are always important, but be aware of unexpected curveballs or situations that may come your way. 

  • Avoid triggering the other person’s cultural immune system: As cognizant as you may be about your host’s customs and culture, you may accidentally offend someone with other native habits and behaviors that you never knew could be deemed offensive. By being mindful of even the most seemingly innocuous of behaviors, you will show ultimate respect across the board.

  • Know your audience: Brief yourself on the history and culture of your host country as much as possible. When there are similarities across cultures, share that information to bring about a higher level of mutual respect. 

  • Accept that cross-cultural situations are complex: Because communication and business customs vary from country to country, you have to go into the deal knowing that negotiations can be far more complex than in your native country. You should be prepared for higher levels of ambiguity and show respect and flexibility in all business concerns.

  • Learn to watch and listen: When doing business with international clients, always pay attention to the impact your behavior has on the other person. There are often subtle clues that will alert you as to how the meeting is going. By being a good listener and observer, you can build a stronger working relationship. 

  • Trust the process: When you are mindful of building trust with your international colleague or prospect, your positive intentions help build a long lasting relationship. For example, business deals are done at a much slower pace in countries other than United States, but when you state your intentions clearly and with good measure, you have a greater opportunity for success. 

  • Speaking the same language: Perhaps the easiest and most obvious way to effectively communicate with an international client or colleague is to speak their language. You may not have to become fluent, but try to at least learn some words, phrases, and greetings in your host’s native tongue. You should also take the time to learn about body language and how it varies from culture to culture. Humans have more than 700,000 forms of body language in our diverse world, and body parts sometimes have vastly different meanings from one country to the next.

In building relationships with people from different countries, cultures, and societal norms, you will be introduced to different ways of communicating through rank and status, including attire, body language, greeting, and gift giving. By mastering the art of cross-cultural communication, you will develop this vital business skill that will let you not only “talk the talk,” but also build long-term relationships that will benefit you for many years to come. 

About the Author

Pamela Eyring is the president of the Protocol School of Washington, the global leader in international protocol, business etiquette, and cross-cultural awareness training. With offices in Washington, D.C., and Dubai, the school was founded in 1988 and is the only U.S. educational institution of its kind accredited by the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training. For more information, visit 

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