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Cross-Cultural Communication: 3 Best Practices

Educational advancement, for many institutions, has gone global. As student recruitment, alumni engagement and philanthropy increasingly transcend borders, what should change?

To explore that question, CASE’s president and vice president for global engagement headed to Twitter. Sue Cunningham, president of CASE, and Tricia King, vice president of global engagement, hosted a special edition of CASE’s twice monthly #casesmc Twitter chats on Aug. 8 to explore cross-cultural communication.

“[CASE] members are building communities in many corners of the globe,” tweeted Cunningham to kick off the hour-long chat. “[This] requires us to think more about how messages may be received.”

Here are three ideas from chat participants on how to build cultural understanding.

Be intentional with your word choice, spelling and language decisions.

Much of the discussion focused on how to be culturally aware in written communications. Be intentional with spelling and word choices to make sure language resonates with different audiences, advised King. For instance, spellings (organization versus organisation, program versus programme) can indicate geographic bias, Cunningham pointed out.

Be aware of non-formal language structures (such as using contractions) that can be confusing.

“[Be aware of] even simple things, such as understanding varied date/name conventions when sending out invitations,” tweeted Sarah Wagoner, senior associate director of global engagement at Northwestern University.

Finally, several chat participants stressed, make webpages available in multiple languages. Beyond that, “present more images and empowering stories that represent your global audience,” tweeted Joan Ogwumike, founding principal of Jstrategies.

Understand cultural communication preferences.

Learn about cultural traditions, values and norms. Or, as Cunningham put it: “Do your homework. Everything from a handshake to how you eat can affect the relationship and can build a bridge… or burn it.” A few dos and don’ts:

• Do understand naming conventions (about first names and last names, titles, etc.) in other cultures, advised Cunningham.

• “Do be culturally sensitive about setting deadlines and sending communications. Friday is a holy day in many regions around the world,” tweeted Wagoner.

• Don’t give an ill-advised gift. Understand the types of gifts that may be inappropriate. For instance, a clock, Cunningham pointed out, is an inappropriate gift in China.

• Do examine cultural design preferences (colors, fonts, etc.) for publications. “Strive to understand and learn more about cultural design styles and trends in part of the world when producing visuals,” tweeted Beth Elzer, formerly of Imperial College in London, England.

If you don’t know, ask and explore.

Chat participants shared that, when in doubt about a cultural practice, respectfully ask.

“In my experience people enjoy sharing if you show genuine interest,” echoed Cunningham. Ask for clarification and seek input from diverse constituencies, suggested several chat participants. Don’t assume, advised King. “Watch, listen and read carefully! You soon pick up how to fit in with greetings, eating, drinking [and] writing,” she tweeted.

Finally, beyond asking for information, build in-person cultural experiences and interactions.

“Make the effort to immerse yourself in international/global experiences,” tweeted Keith Marnoch, director of media & community relations at Western University in Ontario, Canada. “Offering international experiences for both students and staff helps grow a culture of diversity, connection and acceptance.”

This article is from the August 2017 BriefCASE issue of BriefCASE.