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6 Ways To Flex Your Style When Working Cross-Culturally (Part 1)

The rise of global teams is showing no signs of slowing down, and for good reason, global virtual teams have a hidden advantage - it allows companies to hire less-expensive labor, but more importantly it uses a "follow the sun" approach where work is being completed 24 hours a day because you're working with people from every corner of the globe. 

The need and desire to be able to work and communicate effectively across cultures has never been more important. 

In this 2-part article, I’m going to share with you some ways that you can prepare yourself for global work by flexing your style when it comes to working cross-culturally. 

#1 - Use Appropriate Language

Using appropriate language is one of the most important aspects of communicating clearly across cultures. A lot of your colleagues and perhaps yourself included might use English as a second language. If that’s the case, you must be conscious of the pace of your speech, as well as the type of language and vocabulary you are using when communicating. 

Start by slowing your pace of speaking down. If someone’s mother tongue isn’t English, it will take slightly longer for them to translate what it is you have said and for them to think up a response. Remember to be mindful of other people’s native language and their level of language and always adjust your pace of speaking accordingly. 

Use language that is understandable. Instead of using long, complex, and overly formal words, stick to shorter, simpler words that you know the listener will more likely understand. 

Finally, do your best to avoid jokes, jargon, and idioms. The reasons for this are as follows: jokes and idioms do not always translate the way you intend them to. An idiomatic phrase in one language can mean something entirely different in another language. A joke that might be harmful in your culture can potentially cause great offense in another. 

#2 - Personal Space

You can tell a lot about someone’s cultural profile when observing how they manage their personal space. The Independent wrote a great article about how personal space boundaries differ from country to country. You can read the full article here.

Start by paying attention to how other cultures manage their personal space. Are they very touchy-feely or are they quite reserved? How do they feel about acts of public affection? Where do they prefer to sit when speaking to others? 

In Germany and the UK for example, it’s common for people to sit across the table from one another so they can maintain direct eye contact and distance, whereas in Brazil and Argentina, it’s completely normal for people to sit side by side when having a conversation; sitting far away from someone signifies coldness and a lack of trust in a lot of Latin American countries. 

By observing how other cultures manage their personal space, you are more prepared for potential invasions of personal space or lack thereof. You will have a greater understanding of what personal space means to your clients and colleagues and what they are more comfortable with. 

#3 - Expressions And Gestures

Finally, let’s talk about expressions and hand gestures across cultures. There are some cultures that use lots of expressions and gestures to communicate, while others use fewer expressions and gestures and focus more on the actual words spoken. 

The main issue with expressions and gestures is similar to the point I made earlier about jokes and idioms. An expression or hand gesture in one country might translate to something very different in another. 

In the UK, holding up two fingers to signify “2” would be very offensive; take this into consideration and avoid using any hand gestures when communicating cross-culturally unless you are 100% sure that the gestures you use, won’t be offensive. 


In short, the 3 things you need to bear in mind when it comes to working and collaborating across cultures, are:

  • Appropriateness of language

  • Management of personal space

  • Use of expressions and gestures

Next week, we will explore an additional 3 important ways that you can flex your style when working as part of a global team. 

If you are someone who works with other cultures and nationalities and struggles to do so, you can book a free 20-minute discovery call with me here. During this 20-minute call, I will give you advice and tips on ways you can overcome your communication challenges while working with international clients and colleagues.