5 Tips for Improving Your Intercultural Communication Skills

Modern societies are made up of people from different cultural backgrounds. Out of the 4.96 million people currently living in Melbourne, 33.2% of the population was not born in Australia (World Population Review, 2020). A culturally diverse demographic is evident around the neighborhoods, schools, and a variety of workplaces, repeatedly reminding us of the significance of cultural inclusivity and intercultural communications.

Intercultural communication skills may not come naturally, and oftentimes people need to find ways to improve on it. True intercultural communications cannot realize without recognizing the diversity and making intentional steps to be inclusive to people of varying backgrounds.

intercultural communication skills

Here are five tips to improve your intercultural communication skills:

Participate in intercultural group interactions

One way to improve intercultural communication skills is to actively participate in intercultural group interactions. These can be structured interactions, for example, pair-up work for the school or group projects at work. It has been proven that cross-cultural group work provides a number of benefits to students, such as developing key graduate employability skills and improving students’ academic and social adjustments (Mittelmeier et al., 2017). Working in a small group with students from different cultural backgrounds could also lead to more diversified and supportive social networks within a large environment, which would positively impact the overall students’ experience (Maunder et al., 2013).

Meanwhile, it is worth mentioning that simply placing yourself into cross-cultural groups does not immediately lead to productive communication and collaboration (Moore and Hampton, 2015). Scholars have noticed the social tensions between diverse group members which may be due to a lack of understanding about each other’s backgrounds and stories. Holland Page (2020) suggests a “think-pair-share” task in small groups in school, which will help students get to know the diverse backgrounds of their classmates by listening and sharing stories. Similarly, a conscious sharing and learning process within cross-cultural groups will help gain a wider perspective about cultural diversity and effectively improve your intercultural communication skills.

Improve cultural sensitivity and awareness

Cultural awareness is a crucial key to improving relationships with people from different backgrounds. When we communicate with people of varying cultural backgrounds, we should be aware that there are certain topics or assumptions that may be perceived to be insensitive. There might also be different cultural implications of what we say or different communication styles as communication may be more subtle in some cultures. It is essential that you operate with the awareness that cultural differences exist between yourself and the people around you, and you want to demonstrate respect and appreciation for different cultures.

Cory Anderson (2017) highlights one aspect of awareness as having accurate historical context for a better understanding of each other’s experiences. Certainly, it is not easy to learn and understand everything that is happening around you in a multicultural setting. It is more about your willingness to seek understanding and show empathy instead of sticking to stereotypes and making judgments. The most reliable tools are always your level of sensitivity and observation. It could also be beneficial for you to be more self-aware about your actions, thoughts, or emotions, making sure you are heading towards the right direction of improving your intercultural communication skills.

Be open-minded and receive feedback

In the study of Hays (et al., 2009), learners participate in a cultural-learning game in which they receive explicit feedback from the system to reflect on the appropriateness of their study process. The game was found to be an effective education tool on learning intercultural communication skills in the sense that the scores and feedback from the system directly reflect the learner’s intercultural skills and help them improve efficiency.

Feedback is important for people to reflect upon and figure out what they can improve on. Receiving feedback is helpful to know what is done right or wrong, especially when people are doing something they feel uncertain about. There will always be countless “first times” in life, which is also true for intercultural communication. People may not be aware of the skills needed for intercultural communication, even something as simple as what to say and what not to say.

Meanwhile, one needs to keep in mind that open-mindedness is the key in the process as it allows people to be accepting and willing to hear from others. Remember, feedback is only effective if you are willing to accept it and take action to make a change.

Learn from classes and training

Classes and training are helpful when you know ahead of time that you will be collaborating or interacting with a group of culturally diverse people. Examples could be when you are going to work with a group of foreign interns at the same company or a new exchange student are joining the class this coming semester, courses and training could help improve the intercultural communication skills of individuals or among the whole organizations.

It should be noted that education from a young age is more efficacious. It is not atypical to have a culturally diverse demographic in the neighborhood, but there is a higher chance for students to interact with other cultures in a school setting.

Learning Lands combines lesson plans, educational games, and activities for students to gain intercultural and interpersonal skills needed for a culturally diverse society. One major feature is the Intercultural Citizenship Ambassador Program (ICAP). ICAP puts heavy emphasis on areas such as “Critical and Creative Thinking, Personal and Social Capability, and Ethical Understanding”. Aside from training to become leaders of the future, students can acquire intercultural communication skills through understanding the concept of cultural diversity, as well as to be aware of what facilitates and blocks cultural inclusivity. By attending classes and training, students will also develop the habit of being open-minded and improve their level of cultural awareness.

Go travel! Physically or virtually

Travelling has been made more popular and affordable over the years. It is one of the most direct ways to improve one’s intercultural communication skills as you are completely submerged into a foreign culture. When entering a foreign country, you observe and follow local customs and habits. You need to communicate with local people when entering a restaurant, shopping at local markets, or visiting the famous spots. Aside from traveling for leisure purposes, overseas studying programs or job opportunities such as a working holiday or expatriation could also drastically improve one’s intercultural communication skills.

With the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19, governments across the globe have promoted social distancing to tackle the issue. It is almost impossible for us to leave home to experience and appreciate the beauty of another culture physically. However, learning does not stop here.

Students can always go on Joko’s World to discover the cultures of the world with Joko, the blue nightingale. Without physical limitations, students could boost their knowledge of the world from Albania to Zimbabwe, engage with diverse cultures, and improve their intercultural understanding through interactive learning.