Though the coronavirus has more and more companies pausing international and domestic travel, today’s business landscape still presents a constant need for intercultural interactions – leading many to resort to technology to host virtual meetings. However, this type of communication can create problems for employees not well equipped to engage across cultures. Here are three tips you should keep in mind when joining virtual meetings, especially with geographically or culturally diverse participants.
Be empathetic and adjust your communication style accordingly
For example: an individual in a culture that is more hierarchal – like many East Asian cultures – may be hesitant to actively participate in a virtual conversation without a direct question from a leader, unlike the tendency in the U.S. to “jump in” and share ideas openly. If you hope to hear ideas from an individual who has yet to share, ask them for their thoughts directly.
Choose your medium wisely
High context cultures, like many Arab cultures, depend on all the elements surrounding a conversation, with the actual words sending only a small part of the message. For these cultures, a video conferencing option, like Zoom or Skype, may be better than a simple conference call or email.
Keep time zones and time management cultural differences in mind
You may need to be flexible to adapt your behavior and calendar when planning digital meetings. Online tools like this meeting planner are useful in finding the best times across multiple locations. Additionally, know that different culture perceive time differently: a culture with a monochronic structure like the U.S. is deadline-oriented, while cultures with a polychronic structure, like India, view deadlines as a “target” and place more value in the output and maintaining positive relationships. Communicate and confirm that your team’s priorities and timelines align with your business goals.
Of course, these skills in diverse communication apply during standard business operation. However, they prove to be even more important as employees make a transition from an in-office to a remote setting, creating a less-than ideal “social distance.”
Peter Kirkwood is an expert in diplomacy and etiquette and serves as Protocol Officer at The International Center. Learn more intercultural communication tips from Peter at The International Center’s Engaging Across Cultures workshop on August 21.