Listening is like a bridge from one individual to another. When we listen, we open the other person to feeling received and accepted by us. In turn, we often find a mutuality in listening. The other person is then open to listening to us as well.
I have been thinking a lot about listening lately. Not only because I am always intentionally looking for new ways to improve my skills, but also because it is a skill I share with others. Last night, laying awake listening to the sound of cold wind shaking the window, as if knocking to enter, I thought about the differences in listening across cultures. The skills for listening across cultures is part of the Intercultural Way, a model I have developed living and working across cultures.
The Intercultural Way is a system of behaviors that enhance communication interculturally. Behaviors that are good practice for anyone working with cross-cultural teams or moving to live in a different land. To me, listening is a first step in the Intercultural Way. If you can listen interculturally, you can listen anywhere, anytime. Listening across cultures is the penultimate skill.
Below are a few of the skills needed to listen across cultures:
- Listen in context. Listening in context means paying attention to all of the details of the communication. Pay attention to not only what the person is saying, but also what they may not be saying, but implying. Pay attention to body language, facial expression, voice tone, and word placement. That is pay attention to ALL the non-verbals communication.
- Be familiar with the variables. The variables are the different cultural dimensions such as individualism vs. collectivism or universalism vs. paticularism. Every culture has a general dimension which may effect the connotation and expectation of meaning. Awareness of what dimensions you are talking to will influence how you listen to what is said.
- Don’t be afraid to clarify. When in doubt, ask. That is the number one rule. When you are talking across cultures, ask clarifying questions like, “When you say management, what do you mean? What are typical behaviors of managers.” You can follow up by explaining that you are just checking to see if it is the same in their culture as yours. Everyone understands and appreciates clarifying questions. Don’t be afraid that they make you look bad. In fact, they highlight your desire to listen well.