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Communication Without Borders

Published on September 2, 2020, at 7:53 p.m.
by Allie Rose.

Communication is key in the field of public relations; communicating is what we do. When thinking strategically and implementing tactics for clients, it is important to note the perception of the culture receiving the information. It can be challenging to create messages for a campaign that crosses time zones.

Photo by Andrew Butler on Unsplash

When working on international tasks and with international co-workers, it is important to ensure that you have researched the area and their perception of what you are trying to communicate. Before crafting a message or campaign that might be accepted in your home country, you should know how phrases are translated across cultural boundaries.

Contextually, there is a high-to-low continuum that each country falls on according to Hofstede’s insights. Where each country falls on the continuum is not definite, but using this tool is helpful in understanding how a culture perceives and takes communication aids and in preventing future misunderstandings.

Low context communication refers to explicit communication, whereas high context cultures refer to implicit communication and the use of verbal cues. Chinese, Japanese and African cultures fall on the high context end, while countries such as Germany, America and Australia fall on the low context end.

This particular aspect of communication plays a large part in giving feedback and resolving conflict. In her book “The Culture Map,” Erin Meyer discusses certain British phrases that contextually have different meanings. When the British say, “with all due respect …,” they actually mean, “I think you are wrong.”

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When speaking across cultures, it is important to note how they receive praise and criticism. You can quickly damage a relationship by not understanding how certain colloquial phrases are translated in their culture. A positive comment from a client could mean that you have done a great job in a low context culture, but in a high context situation, they might be expecting you to read between the lines that more work needs to be done.

A popular article from the Harvard Business Review discusses cultural intelligence, or CQ: “Whether it’s the way you shake hands or order a coffee, evidence of an ability to mirror the customs and gestures of the people around you will prove that you esteem them well enough to want to be like them. By adopting people’s habits and mannerisms, you eventually come to understand in the most elemental way what it is like to be them. They, in turn, become more trusting and open.”

Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Being aware of stereotypes that you might have prior to working with others in another culture can help enhance your time internationally. You may not even be aware of some of the perceptions you have. By researching the core basics of how a country interacts rather than relying on your knowledge from television or social media, you can open yourself to adaptation and learn how things are done in your new environment.

It can be frustrating, especially if working on the ground in another country, to navigate the levels of context between countries and cultures. It may seem as if they are speaking not only in a different language but also in a code that you don’t have the cipher for. But breathe. It takes time, a willingness to learn and openness to how situations are handled differently. Having this attitude will help you understand how to better communicate across cultures.

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