cross cultural communication skills

With today’s increasing globalization in business, many leaders find themselves working with – and communicating with – multicultural teams. Having effective cross-cultural communication skills is paramount in creating and delivering a clear, persuasive message that is understood and acted upon by everyone who hears it.   A presentation that works brilliantly in the US, may not have the same impact in Asia unless you know how to adapt your message for a cross-cultural audience.

Have you ever listened to a leader deliver a presentation, and thought, ‘That’s not how I imagined them to speak at all!’

We all expect high profile, global leaders to fill their presentations with buzzwords and high level language that makes them sound smart.

I’ve been guilty of that too.  Right after I finished my MBA program, I used all the “intelligent” terminologies I had learned in my management class. I wanted to sound like a “MBA graduate” and a “top consultant”.

Many speakers make the same mistake I made, thinking that using high level language makes us look intelligent.

The truth is, when you are addressing a global audience, the opposite is true.  You need to simplify your language so that your message is clear and understood by everyone.  If you aren’t approaching people in a way they will understand and respond to you, you run the great risk of your audience misinterpreting what you have to say, or worse still your message not being understood at all!

As a Japanese non-native English speaker living in New York, I’ve learnt how to effectively manage multi-cultural expectations. Over the years, I’ve coached global leaders all over the world master specific logic and reasoning skills that enables them to connect with their audience so that they are heard and understood by a globally diverse audience.

I’m going to share my top three cross-cultural communication tips that will help you deliver an effective presentation to a culturally diverse audience:


  1. Develop Awareness

Developing a clear understanding and awareness of your audience is the first step to communicating cross-culturally and beyond differences. Be aware of who you are speaking to and their preferred style of communication – and don’t assume that everyone communicates in the same way.

The most reliable tools could be your level of sensitivity and your powers of observation.

Try to:

  • Listen without thinking ahead or considering what you will say next.
  • Ask questions to ensure that you fully understand the message and its meaning.
  • Don’t assume that you understand the meaning of someone else’s statement. And, don’t assume that what you mean to convey is understood by the listener. Repeat your understanding of something back to the speaker to gain mutual understanding.


  1. Choosing simple language over jargon

The more experienced you are as a leader in your industry, the more that jargon is likely to become your standard language.  Unless you are presenting to an exclusive group of people who share the exact same knowledge, it can be off-putting, and will throw up cultural barriers if English isn’t their first language.

Remember that your job both as a leader and as a speaker, is NOT to sound like the Shakespeare of your industry, but to get down to the audience’s eye level, and speak their language.

Keep your language simple at all times by asking yourself:

‘What do I really mean?’

‘Is there another way I could phase this that might make more sense?’

Ambiguity in your phrasing can cause misunderstandings, so stick to exact, precise words that have power and value.  This not only helps eliminate any misunderstanding, it also helps build your credibility and adds merit to what you are saying.


  1. Culture of inferences

Our communication styles are categorized into 2 types:

High context and low context.

In a high context cultures like India and Japan, they rely on context. It’s not necessary, or even inappropriate, to spell everything out too explicitly. The audience are inherently used to reading between the lines to understand the context of what’s being inferred.  However, in low context cultures like Germany, US and Sweden, verbal messages are received at the face value, leaving no room for inferences.

When delivering a presentation for audiences that use low-context messages, you will need to focus on verbal expressions, using clear, specific and precise words that convey exact meaning. On the other hand, while preparing speeches for audiences that use high-context messages, you can rely on non-verbal expressions and inference in order to get your message across.

Learning why and how to adapt your behaviour or leadership style to be effective when working with other cultures is fundamental in achieving global success as a leader.

If you want to learn how to effectively achieve positive and impactful interaction, influence, and communication with global audiences, enroll on my Master Course: The Art of Persuasive Speaking for Global Leaders.  This is a highly integrated online course for leaders who want to strengthen their persuasive communication skills to meet strategic goals and win the hearts and minds of people you want to influence.



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