Intentionality: Cross-cultural Communications, Part One

February 11, 2013 — 3 Comments


Communicating is probably this single most important thing we do – yet we often pay little attention to how we communicate. While basic communications are important, in the business world cross-cultural communications have become essential.  Even if you do not work across regions, it is highly likely that the person in the office next to you, or perhaps even your boss, is from a culture different from your own. Even though you may speak a common language, communication goes much deeper.  In the spirit of understanding that different cultures espouse different worldviews, here are just a few of the orientations that often differ and may help you gain some perspective as to why it is often difficult to communicate across boundaries & borders:

  • Time:
    • Scarce – in some cultures, time is a valuable commodity that is carefully saved and allocated judiciously.  It is viewed as critical to plan, delegate, learn to say no, and set strict priorities.
    • Abundant – in other cultures, time is something to be savored… appreciated. Relationships are critical and little will be accomplished without the time invested to create an environment of trust. The human interaction is the single most valuable aspect of a business transaction, even to the exclusion of achieving business goals.
  • Power/Responsibility:
    • Humility – People should accept inevitable natural limitations and have little control over outcomes
    • Harmony – People should strive for balance with nature
    • Control – People are in complete control of every aspect of life.
  • Context:
    • High Context cultures communicate meaning not only with words, but with voice tone, body language, facial expressions, eye contact, speech patterns, and the use of silence. Words play a relatively small part in the overall meaning of the communication, and the context conveys the bulk of the information.
    • Low Context cultures expect explicit communications. They want detailed background information before making a decision, however they are generally unaware of subtle nonverbal signals going on around them.

Cross-cultural Orientations reside in a world of continuums. While each worldview represents an extreme position, most of us fall somewhere between the two polarities. These continuums provide us with a way to better understand our own worldviews and our colleagues’ orientations. Once we can begin to understand how we may see things differently from our colleagues, we can begin to build bridges between cultures that have the capacity to positively impact both relationships and business results.

Always seek to understand before you seek to be understood.  Understand that there is always more than one perspective.  Be sensitive that, specifically when working across cultures, your colleagues from other backgrounds may not see things exactly as you do.  Ask questions. Clarify points. Be considerate… and never assume the rest of the world sees things as you do.

How intentional are you about communicating across cultures? How might your colleagues worldviews differ from your own?

Please engage the discussion and let us know how you intentionally communicate across cultures. Please feel free to contact me at or by visiting our website at Check back soon for the next installment of Leadership Across Boundaries and Borders.


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Sheri is The Global Coach, founder of Luminosity Global Consulting Group, Global Executive Coach, Speaker, Writer and Global Business and Cultural Expert.

3 responses to Intentionality: Cross-cultural Communications, Part One

  1. Thank you, good article, if one can add; be genuine when seeking to understand and be understood.

  2. Most people consider communication as the exchange of words, the “talking”. But much more important than talking is the listening part! And not only listening to the other, but to what is happening within you. Emotional Intelligence will lead you to cultural intelligence… or maybe they go hand in hand any way.
    thanks for the article and discussion thread.

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