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When it comes to intercultural communication there are many subtleties. It is important to be observant and non-judgmental. If you know the cultural background of someone you are working alongside or are often in communication with, check out the SBS Cultural Atlas.
A persons’ behaviour and non-verbal cues they use are elements of indirect communication. The meaning, importance and frequency of these cues vary greatly within different cultures. Make sure you are aware of both your own behaviour as well as the person you’re communicating with. Observe their behaviour and adapt your own to suit the situation.
There are also a few things to keep in mind for direct communication, that is, when speaking with someone. This particularly relevant when they are not a native English speaker.
For some cultures maintaining eye contact during a conversation is expected and is a sign of interest, consideration and respect. However in other cultures direct eye contact can be considered rude or disrespectful, particularly if the person is an authority figure.
While personal space depends on the familiarity between people, it also varies considerably between cultures.
The use facial expressions varies significantly. For instance, some cultures may smile when they’ve made a mistake, to diffuse a situation or may even smile and nod despite not understanding or agreeing with you.
How familiar and how much contact is acceptable varies between cultures. For instance, a handshake between a man and women is highly inappropriate in some cultures, whereas not offering a handshake can be considered rude.
Some cultures use gestures more frequently than others. A gesture in one culture can also mean something very different in another.