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Intercultural Communication and Inclusive Leadership Coaching | Numinos Coaching


15 March 2023
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Top 6 Mistakes in Intercultural Communication and How to Overcome Them

Intercultural communication is something that has become increasingly important in recent years, with globalization bringing cultures from all over the world together. Despite this, there are still numerous barriers that can prevent effective intercultural communication – many of which don’t even seem obvious at first. While there are fewer barriers to cross-cultural understanding thanks to technological advances, there is still a great need for us to understand how to build meaningful relationships between different cultures.


To help break down these barriers and foster successful intercultural conversations, it’s important to understand the most common mistakes people make in intercultural communication and how to avoid them. The following article will break down the top six mistakes when communicating across cultures, and how to overcome them.


1. Assuming everyone has the same values and beliefs


One of the biggest pitfalls of intercultural communication is assuming everyone has the same values and beliefs. Cultural differences have a significant influence on attitudes towards hierarchy, deadlines, hard work, and other aspects of business. Making assumptions about someone's background may result in misunderstandings or conflict. To avoid this type of mistake, take the time to get to understand your counterpart by learning more about his culture especially if you are the one in the foreign country.


It is also beneficial to understand your own values. You can learn more about how to develop cultural intelligence through understanding your own cultural values reading this blog post. 


2. Being unprepared for cultural differences


When communicating with someone from another culture, it’s essential to do your research beforehand and be prepared for cross-cultural differences. Be aware of language nuances as well as customs and expectations, you can save yourself a lot of time (and potentially embarrassment!) when engaging in a conversation.


Becoming familiar with stereotypes associated with a particular culture can also be beneficial when attempting to bridge a cultural gap. For example, a common stereotypes of Asian cultures are that all Asians are good at math or science or that they are all quiet and submissive. It's important to note that stereotypes are generalizations that do not accurately represent the diversity of Asian cultures. 


Lastly, pay attention to the subtle cues that reveal whether or not you’ve made an offensive remark so you can apologize and correct your behaviour if necessary.


I great book to learn more about cultural differences is Erin Meyer's book The Culture Map. If you choose to use this link to buy the book, I may earn a commission.


Books in library to improve intercultural communication


3. Focusing too much on negotiations and neglecting power dynamics


When negotiating with someone from another culture, avoid aiming to win every point as this can alieniate your counterpart. Seek to understand where they are coming from and pay attention to the nonverbal messages as well. In other words, take a more collaborative approach: listen actively, try build bridges and adapt your communication style.


Power dynamics shape cross-cultural communication, so be mindful of hierarchies. Make sure that everyone has equal opportunity at finding solutions through collaborative decision making. Listen attentively, while respecting different opinions. Hear them out! Through effective listening, you can unlock a path to a win-win outcome by digging deep into someone else's perspective, while reducing communication errors.


You can learn 5 tips to elevate your listening skills reading the blog post ''How to Master the Art of Listening''. 


4. Speaking too quickly or skipping important information


People from different cultures may not understand what you’re saying if you’re speaking too quickly or using jargon they don’t know. It also shows respect for other cultures if you keep pauses in your sentences for listeners to process all the nonverbal cues, especially if you are having a language barriers.


Also, don't go into an intercultural conversation overly eager to impress people – no matter how well prepared you might think you are! It's important not only to come across as respectful but also sincere; by focusing too heavily on being impressive rather than simply being yourself, you risk coming off as disingenuous instead of authentic - which could lead others to distrust whatever it is that you're trying communicate.



5. Not acknowledging cultural prejudices


Cultural prejudice can have a significant impact on intercultural communication by creating barriers and hindering effective communication between people from different cultures. When you hold negative connotations, beliefs or attitudes towards other cultures, you are less likely to engage in open and respectful dialogue, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts.


Prejudice can also lead to assumptions and stereotypes, which can prevent you from truly understanding and appreciating the unique perspectives and values of other cultures. As a result, cultural prejudice can hinder the development of positive relationships and partnerships, both personally and professionally.

To promote effective intercultural communication, it is important to recognize and address cultural prejudices and work towards understanding and appreciating the diversity of different cultures.


6. Forgetting body language differences


Body language and nonverbal communication play an incredibly large role in how people receive messages when communicating across cultures, so it’s important  to take nonverbal cues into account when deciding how best to communicate with someone who is culturally unfamiliar with you.

For instance, whereas smiling and nodding are traditionally seen as signs of agreement in many countries like Canada or Japan, other countries interpret this differently; Indonesians use these gestures only signifying understanding—not approval.


Or have you ever noticed that people from different cultures might approach eye contact differently? In many Eastern countries, eye contact is perceived differently than in Western cultures. While in the West direct eye contact is often seen as a sign of honesty and respect, in some Eastern cultures it can be considered impolite or aggressive.


For example, in some parts of Asia, looking someone of higher status in the eyes for too long can be seen as disrespectful. Similarly, in some cultures, prolonged eye contact between men and women may be considered inappropriate or flirtatious. So, it's important to be aware of these cultural differences and adjust our behavior and non-verbal communication accordingly when communicating with people from different cultural backgrounds.



In conclusion, intercultural communication failures can be avoided if we just take the time to get to know each other's cultures and be aware of our own language and cultural differences. It is important to understand that different cultures communicate differently, so ensure that you are taking the necessary steps in order to avoid these mistakes. With practice, patience and an open mind, effective intercultural communication skills can be developed and nurtured. Finally, remember that good relationships are built on mutual understanding!


Do you want to learn how to avoid the most common intercultural communication mistakes? Book a meeting and let's discuss how I can help!




Tanja is a Certified Intercultural Communication Coach and an expert on Work Style Analysis (WSA). With a Master's Degree in Business Administration, specializing in Leadership and People Management, she helps companies and assists leaders in comprehending cultural dimensions and leveraging existing cultural differences to create powerful organizational strengths.

About the Author

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