Experts from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) share their perspectives on the increasing importance of intercultural communication in the workplace in the post pandemic world in the recently published book The IABC Guide for Practical Business Communication: A Global Standard Primer. Here’s an excerpt:
What should we bear in mind about intercultural communication in the post COVID-19 world where more and more interactions are being conducted over video conferences in work-from-borne scenarios rather than at client locations or overseas offices?
COVID-19 has forced the world to do business virtually. One of the outcomes of this shift is that more and more companies have taken the advantage of remote working to hiring talent from all over the world. This has highlighted the importance of intercultural communication in global teams. Nicole Barile, founder of NB Intercultural, an intercultural consultant and trainer who helps companies improve business communications across cultures, thinks that most organizations are ill prepared to handle it. “Intercultural communication training is crucial to building strong global teams, helping to create trust and strengthen relationships,” she stresses.
Author and well-known internal communications expert Aniisu Verghese, Ph.D. thinks intercultural communication is not quite dependent on engaging virtually or face to face. “It is more to do with respecting, valuing, and seeking to integrate better irrespective of the culture or region. With COVID-19 and the online interactions, it puts more onus on the individual to reach out, be responsive, be available and care for others. Trust-building measures must be practiced more actively than before. Perceptions are formed much faster when you can only see people remotely and therefore your actions must align with your words."
Nonverbal communication such as facial expressions are something to be careful about in video conferences says Doug Downs, SCMP, M.D. at JGR Communications Canada and host of the podcast Stories and Strategies, as our brains are responding differently to these virtual "face-to-face" meetings. He points out that a specific part of the brain called the fusiform gyrus, which is specifically dedicated to reading facial expressions, is getting activated.
"It basically means your brain is receiving more stimuli in a video conference and it's more likely it will whir to life eager to learn," explains Downs, adding: "A few things I've noticed in videoconferences that connect to intercultural communications is how people visually or audibly express support or criticism for a point being made. I tend to click the thumbs-up icon to show support, but others will hum or gesture. I've also seen individuals from some cultures who are less likely to speak first and sometimes not at all."
Staying connected even outside of office networks, such as following each other on social networks such as Linkedln, Twitter or Facebook can also help us learn about the cultures of our colleagues and contacts in other countries. "I think connecting on social media humanizes the experience to a great extent, and we should be mindful of vulnerabilities and drawbacks as we interact online and focus on building positive shared meanings through the process, says Ranjini Rao.
One quality that communicators need to imbibe and nurture is empathy, which really stood out head and shoulders above anything else during the COVID-19 crisis. "We all are going through a common fear, a common uncertainty. We all need to have compassion and wisdom in the right proportion to be able to navigate through such times of crisis," says Sushmita Bandopadhyay, who leads communications for India and South Asia at BD, the global medical technology company. She adds that every hard-working communicator also needs to "have a bit of self-com passion and stop criticizing yourself for what you could have done differently or better."
During difficult times in this vulnerable and uncertain world, we need to "listen more, and speak less. Be compassionate that family and work responsibilities in times of crisis know no boundaries," says, David Jensen, ABC and veteran communications executive who led multicultural communication teams at Honeywell, Boeing, GE, Genpact, and Raytheon. He adds that we also need to "laugh a little" even as we continue to show adequate respect for all cultures.
(This is part of the Chapter on Intercultural Communication authored by Subhamoy Das, IABC India President, published in The IABC Guide for Practical Business Communication: A Global Standard Primer (2021), edited by Tamara Gillis with a foreword by Peter Finn, Executive Director, IABC)