Lesson #5: Don’t Be Offended By Different Styles of Communication in International Business

This week I’m sharing with you the fifth and final lesson in flexibility I’ve learned on my international travels.

Lesson 1, Lesson 2, Lesson 3, and Lesson 4 for “5 Keys Lessons in Flexibility for International Professionals” have already been released.

Lesson #1: Get Comfortable With the Unknown
Lesson #2: Learn to Adapt in International Business
Lesson #3: Why Being Humble is Important in International Business
Lesson #4: It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

Lesson #5: Don’t Be Offended By Different Styles of Communication

One of the first things I learned in my cross-cultural studies was that people around the world use very different styles of communication.

When you learn about cross-cultural communication from a text book, you learn that there are direct and indirect styles of communication. There are high-context and low-context cultures, this impacts the amount of nonverbal language relied on in conversations. And there are some cultures where people prefer lengthier discussions as opposed to a get-to-the-point attitude. Even the styles of “listening” that people around the world use are different.

It isn’t always clear how different communication styles translate into real-life. I want to share with you two viewpoints from the same conversation that will hopefully illustrate how easily miscommunication can occur across cultures. I’ll use an example of French style communication versus Australian style of communication. This communication difference is something I’ve personally had to adapt to living in France.

Here’s the situation: You’re in a conversation with somebody and you’re trying to explain your viewpoint. That person interrupts you numerous times during the conversation. They don’t wait until you’ve finished your sentence; they finish your sentences for you. They ask lots of questions and don’t really listen to your answer. You can never get your thoughts or opinions out there fully.

Here’s a common viewpoint for the above situation from Anglo-Saxon cultures (US, UK, Australia, Canada etc): You feel that person wasn’t interested in what you were saying because they never let you finish your sentences. You consider interruptions rude because it makes you feel the other person doesn’t truly care about your thoughts and opinions. You get frustrated and annoyed. You walk away from the conversation not having a positive impression of the other person.

Here’s the French cultural perspective: Everything you said triggered a profound thought inside the other person. The conversation was so interesting and engaging they had to tell you their thoughts immediately. They wanted to ask so many questions to find out more. They wanted to show you they were “in” the conversation with you and they were really engrossed in what you were saying.

In France, the communication style is very responsive. What do I mean by that? I mean that conversations are very interactive. People often interrupt others to indicate interest, attention, and delight with the conversation. Lingering silence in French conversation means the topic isn’t very riveting or thought provoking.

A big learning curve for me in France was to learn that interrupting others during conversation is okay and in fact, it’s actually welcomed, embraced, and a preferred way of talking.

What I want you to walk away with from this last lesson is to not be offended if you’re in conversation with somebody and they have a different style of communication. Maybe that person is used to a more direct style of communication, and you’re not. Maybe he/she is more comfortable with silence, and you’re not.

The key is to keep an open-mind and not immediately assume the other person is ill-mannered or impolite. There are many cultural differences at play when you interact across cultures and the other person could very well be picking up cultural differences with your style of communication, too.

I hope you enjoyed this blog post, and if you haven’t already, please download the audio.

Before you go, I want to invite you to join Executive Impressions’ weekly newsletter where you’ll get my insights, tips and advice delivered straight to your inbox every week – and it’s free.

Interview Etiquette with Executive Impressions

About Kara

Kara Ronin is the founder of Executive Impressions. She is an executive coach who specialises in leadership presence, social skills and business etiquette. She is also the creator of Bestselling Udemy course, Business Etiquette 101. Kara’s advice and unique perspectives have been featured in Time Inc., Business Insider, Ignites Europe (a Financial Times Service), The Muse, The Local France, The West Australian, and more. Kara works regularly with lawyers, investment bankers, and finance professionals to help them build presence, authority and influence in business. Get Kara's insights delivered straight to your inbox