I would not be telling you the truth if I said that all my clients are immediately enthusiastic about improving their intercultural communication skills. There are many resistances to learning something new. One of the biggest is that we wait for someone else to take the lead. Some of my clients ask me in a challenging tone, “Why should I make the extra effort to adapt my way of communicating? Why don’t others make that effort for me?”
In the most ideal of worlds, meeting each other half way would be the norm. However, if you work within an intercultural business context, you know that it is usually not the norm. That is not always because people resist changing but more typically it is because they do not know how to change. I frequently point out that you cannot change what you cannot see. Since most people cannot see how they communicate, they do not know what to do differently or how.
Regardless of why it happens, what does all this waiting around for others to change first result in? I have seen repeatedly that it results not only in a lot of wasted time and effort but also creates negative emotions and lack of trust, due to delays and misunderstandings. So not only can waiting around mean missed deadlines and lost business opportunities, it can also result in you feeling frustrated, which undermines your motivation.
While I do not claim that adapting how we communicate will solve all the challenges of working interculturally, I do claim that communication is more significant than most of us realize. We all need to be willing to educate ourselves about how to improve our listening and speaking skills for intercultural business contexts.
So why not be the one to take the lead?