Cross-cultural misunderstanding happens when people from different cultures communicate or interact with one another. People from one culture act according to their norms and values, but the other does not understand the message the way it was conveyed and might interpret it differently due to the cultural differences. Cultural misunderstanding also occurs when a word, gestures or social context have different meanings in different cultures.
How to avoid cross-cultural misunderstanding?
1. Assume Good Intentions
If you are in a discussion with an individual from another culture and they say something totally offensive or rude you should take a step back and give them the benefit of the doubt. If you have a close relationship, you can correct them, but do not do in front of others.
Obviously, not all interactions come from good intentions. It can be helpful to run the interaction by a trusted individual from within the culture who can help you understand what you might have missed.
2. Ask Clarifying Questions
You’re in the midst of interaction and something seems off. Maybe the person suggested a plan that appears completely outside of the parameters of your contract with them. Maybe they said something that seemed to hold a sharp edge to it.
Your best option is to ask a few questions to get some clarification. Some examples are:
-- It sounds like you might not be comfortable with this solution/situation. Can you help me see if there is something else I should consider?
-- Tell me more about that.
-- What is your perspective on this?
-- It sounds like you are saying………is that correct?
-- I’m not sure I understand the main issue, could you help me?
-- What resources were most helpful in coming to this conclusion?
-- It sounds like you found a solution for………..is that right?
3. Don’t Trust Your Intuition
You need experience. Research, Research, Research. Read books. Ask questions. Observe interactions between members of the host culture. Pay attention to positive and negative responses to your own interactions with the culture.
By doing this you build up that weight of experience to inform your observations, but even cross-cultural workers with decades of experience in a given region find this one thing most valuable: Trusted local friends who let you run your experiences by them.
These individuals know their own culture and hopefully understand a bit of your culture; they can help you see a given situation through their eyes. A few minutes of consultation with a friend can save you from very embarrassing or even expensive mistakes.