The Most Important Skill for Cross-Cultural Communication

Most important is the ability to suspend your assumptions.

When you enter into another culture that is not familiar to you, or when speaking with someone who comes from a different background, they probably do not share many of your assumptions about the world.

Everything is potentially on the table: from huge philosophical issues like gender roles and the rule of law, all the way to mundane customs around speaking to elders, how to tell a joke or what kind of food is appropriate for breakfast.

Even if people will tolerate your misunderstandings or faux pas, it will make it difficult to connect with them on a deeper level and build rapport.

On the other hand, showing sensitivity for their norms and going out of your way to respect them will lower barriers and open them up to your perspective.

Interestingly, all of this applies within “our culture” as well. People from a different city, region or demographic group cannot be assumed to see the world they way you do.

Even if they dress similarly and speak the same language, they still may have very different assumptions and values than you.

Entering every conversation with an open mind is critical if you want to maximize your potential for rapport, connection and ultimately, influence.

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