Cross Cultural Awareness and Communication

In business, there is a need for cross cultural awareness. We are global society now, more than ever. On a daily basis, we are communicating across cultures, whether it be in business or over social media. Social platforms are being used now, that have never been used before. It is getting increasingly easier to target a worldwide audience over the internet. Hours have been spent searching the internet for reassurance and information. Our director, Ellen Gunning gave a webinar on Communicating Across Cultures to the World Trade Centre members in Boston, Madrid and Dublin, where she discussed the simplification of messaging, the power of imagery and the sheer speed of communication.

Simplifying a message is the easiest way to be heard. If your message is clear and concise, everyone will be able to understand it. Barrack Obama had an extremely clear and simple message for his 2009 election campaign. ‘Yes We Can’. What can we do? It does not mean anything specific and therefore allows you to decide what you want it to mean. It was said over and over and over again. No one could forget it. Donald Trump had the same idea in 2016 with his slogan ‘Make America Great Again’. Again? Was America great before? Why is it no longer great? Each individual who hears this slogan can decide for themselves what it means. It means everything to everyone, so does this mean it means nothing?

There is a unique weight to the power of imagery.

Visuals hold a special kind of power. Until recently, everyone believed a picture is worth a thousand words. If there was a picture of something, it must therefore be true. Although we are now aware of the ease of editing, pictures still tell great stories. They hold a sense of universal power that words do not. Images of staff in hazmat suits scream Covid-19 to us today. Before this year, the image of hazmat suits would have told a different story. A photo of a gay marriage shows more than two people in love. It tells the story of what is culturally accepted in the location of the photo. Images can tell us stories in a matter of seconds.

We try so hard to be culturally aware, but it is easy to accidentally be offensive. In the webinar, Ellen uses Irish journalist Carole Coleman’s interviewing techniques on the then president of the USA George Bush. Coleman probes Bush, often speaking over him to ask a pressing question. In Ireland, she was praised for this, but the Americans were appalled at how she spoke to their president. Culturally, the Irish believe that journalists have a job to hold someone accountable for their actions, no matter who. In the USA, journalists treat the President in a more deferential way.

The way we communicate is only getting faster and faster.

The speed in which we can communicate these days is incredible. A topic can arise on social media and be questioned on national radio in less than an hour. The delivery system of PR has changed. A customer can now air problems they have had with a product or service and it can reach millions. Crisis PR is so important. People are taking to Twitter and Facebook to make claims that could potentially ruin business’ and those business’ need to act promptly and appropriately before they are ‘cancelled’.

Communicating internationally is such an important part of business and it is important to do it effectively. The most important things to remember when communicating across cultures is:
• Simplicity and brevity of messaging
• The power of visuals
• The need for cultural awareness and having respect for the culture you are trading in
• Communication is storytelling

Watch Ellen Gunning’s full webinar here: