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How to boost your intercultural communication for impact

Complex global negotiations like COP26 are an example and an opportunity to study intercultural communication, improve our skills and deliver greater impact.

9 min read


How to boost your intercultural communication for impact

A session from day 3 of COP26, Nov. 2, 2021 (Photo via UNclimatechange/Flickr)

These past two weeks have given us plenty of insight into the impact of intercultural communication and collaboration, with 190 world leaders and thousands of representatives from various governments and businesses convening at the United Nations Climate Conference, known as COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland. 

This massive international undertaking demonstrates the importance of being able to communicate effectively with diverse intercultural audiences to arrive at an enriched spectrum of perspectives and solutions that meet the needs of today’s world. 

So, just how are we to “upgrade” our communication on an international scale? What are the ways we can optimize content for a wide array of global audiences? The success of meeting our global goals comes down to the way we bridge communication within the international community. 

Imagine speeding away from the Earth and being able to recognize the general communication patterns of all the countries across the world. Feel this instant global consciousness coming into focus, much like astronauts experience what is called the overview effect

Some say that an astronaut’s perspective may be the key to sustainability and world peace. Similarly, we have to shift to a global mindset in order to create an expanded and productive network of global interaction. 

Just think of the intercultural communication aboard the International Space Station, where human interactions are tested in diverse groups. This model demonstrates again that being able to tap into communication patterns becomes a key skill as we continue to evolve toward a global community. 

By approaching intercultural communication with a mindfulness to how we all process information, we can build better communication in our exchanges, both in person and across intercultural teams. 

We’re professors at New York University and language and communications specialists at the UN, working with many global professionals over the years within communication skills trainings and intercultural contexts. These experiences have led us to train others in global teams to not only communicate but connect more deeply with others via preferred communication styles. 

To enhance your intercultural communication skill set with a global mindset, follow these three actionable tips, whether you are communicating in regional, national or international markets. 

Above all, whether engaging with global professionals via email, Zoom or public speaking, we must always recognize the individual within the culture, as well as that individual preferences and occupational preferences regarding communication may vary: 

1. Applying culturally powerful “blueprints” for reaching mixed audiences

The solution to communicating effectively across cultures resides in integrating “blueprints” we can then actively work from — connecting perception to specific behavioral skills

By doing so, we ultimately expand our ability to operate across cultural settings and enter the future transactions of global business, international relationships and worldwide innovation. For example, get comfortable with two broad cultural patterns of communication style preferences noted by intercultural researcher Edward T. Hall:

  • Implicit messaging, which tends to be a style preference of high-context cultures (commonly attuned to be Eastern cultures, including East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, parts of Eastern Europe, most of Latin America, the Mediterranean, the Iberian Peninsula and the majority of sub-Saharan Africa) 
  • And the explicit nature of low-context cultures (which tend to be Western societies, such as the US, parts of Canada, Northwestern and North Central Europe, Scandinavia, and Australia/New Zealand). 

Actionable takeaway: Ground yourself in every communication moment, with the ability to respond to new situations, and distinguish being responsive from simply being reactive. For instance, when negotiating interculturally, become versatile in your cultural communication style.

Use a direct communication style when communicating with low-context cultures, and be more task-oriented to demonstrate the value of truthfulness and efficiency in negotiations. Then, use an indirect communication style when communicating with high-context cultures and be more relationship-oriented to demonstrate the value of tact and respect in negotiations.

2. Exploring ways of forging an open “intercultural mindfulness”

At the most fundamental level, intercultural communication is about much more than increasing our earning potential, economic opportunities and productivity. Ultimately, being a global communicator is about an authentic dedication to human relationships. 

For example, when networking, focus on becoming a cultural ambivert who is adaptable to the directness of Western personalities and the indirectness of Eastern personalities. Try to see, hear and speak intently with others for more effective and meaningful intercultural interactions. After all, we all want to broaden global prospects, expand our worldviews and collaborate on unique solutions to shared challenges. 

To truly integrate world cultures, we professional and global leaders alike must integrate a vigilant commitment to an understanding of those cultures and their many attributes, psychologies, values and traditions. With understanding comes connection, and with the dedication to relationships comes the true connection of trust with which to build influence. 

Once we begin to develop our intellectual and emotional understanding of world cultures, we open limitless opportunities for connection and expansion into new cultural spheres and global market spaces.

Actionable takeaway: When networking or negotiating with global professionals, be able to adjust your communication style between low-context and high-context cultures. Beyond introverts and extroverts, think of yourself as a cultural ambivert recognizing cultural cues by adapting between introvert and extrovert styles whether you’re gathering information, exposing opportunities or closing a deal. 

Doing so will also benefit you as a global networker! Seeing communication as a system of patterns helps us to nurture a deeper intercultural understanding. The goal of global communication is not a place, but a new way of understanding the world around us.

3. Tapping into your “mindset mojo” to communicate to diverse groups

In our daily lives, take a moment to become familiar with global patterns for approaching communication with cognitive flexibility. We can find ourselves in any number of locations — therefore, we need to be able to operate in any cultural environment we enter. 

Much of this is about understanding cultural thought processes. Let’s take presentation skills, for example. Communicating to a diverse or mixed audience would not only require specific linguistic skills for messaging but would also require a new adaptability to ever-evolving circumstances. 

Instead of seeing ourselves as the source of change, we as presenters must view ourselves as the catalyst for change. This simple shift in mindset allows us to make the audience the centerpiece of our presentation, so that we can create a space for deeper understanding, respect and empathy with audiences as we share ideas in service to others. 

Once we see the audience as the center of the presentation — not ourselves — we can then begin to cultivate the adaptability essential for effective intercultural communication to occur. 

Actionable takeaway: Approach international situations with the intention of working together to bridge gaps in communication. Doing so reveals the implicit commonalities we all share as human beings. 

Always think of your audience as the center of your communication. If you are telling a story in a public speaking context, see if you can think of a powerful decision-making moment in your life that you wish to inspire the audience for when they make a similar decision in their lives. Again, the audience is the hero of our presentation. 

Every society contains unique patterns of thinking, values and customs that also intersect at shared points of communication. The path forward is being able to recognize the intercultural communication patterns between us and evolve our attitudes toward viewing cultural counterparts as partners, not competitors, in the global marketplace

Through this path we can begin strengthening in-person working groups and virtual global teams as our world becomes more globalized and interconnected.  

As we watch in anticipation of how world leaders further their commitment to increase cooperation to manage global warming after this year’s COP26, we should also be noting the ways that global leaders are communicating with each other — just as we should recognize the intercultural communication patterns in our own exchanges. 

We have the opportunity to achieve even insurmountable goals when we bring ourselves to a level of understanding of intercultural communication styles. We all need to become global communicators to tackle issues facing our global community such as climate change and, ultimately, to relate more deeply with one another as members of our human society.  


Dan Bullock is a language and communications specialist/trainer at the United Nations Secretariat, training diplomats and global UN staff. Bullock is the co-author of “How to Communicate Effectively with Anyone, Anywhere” (Career Press, 2021).  He also serves as faculty teaching intercultural communications, linguistics, and public relations within the Division of Programs in Business at New York University’s School of Professional Studies. He previously served as the director of corporate communications at a leading NYC public relations firm. Bullock contributes to Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, Yahoo! and Fast Company, where he writes about the intersection of global business communication, intercultural communication, and professional development. Connect with Bullock on LinkedIn.

Raúl Sánchez is an award-winning clinical assistant professor and the corporate program coordinator at New York University’s School of Professional Studies. Sánchez is the co-author of “How to Communicate Effectively with Anyone, Anywhere” (Career Press, 2021). He has designed and delivered corporate trainings for Deloitte, Anheuser-Busch, and the United Nations, as well as been a writing consultant for Barnes & Noble Press and PBS. Sánchez was awarded the NYU School of Professional Studies Teaching Excellence Award and specializes in linguistics and business communication. He contributes to Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Quartz, Yahoo! News, Fast Company and openDemocracy, where he writes about the intersection of global business communication, leadership, and intercultural communication. Connect with Sánchez on LinkedIn.

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