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Saturday, 2nd December 2023


Cross-cultural communication: 3 main skills for effective interpersonal communication

King Houndekpinkou from Paris gives some valuable suggestions 


London is a world capital that is often portrayed as a sanctuary for a blend of cultures. The first time I visited London it felt as if I was touring the world, except that no visa or passport was required when wandering from one borough to the other.  Such a cosmopolitan city makes it much easier for different cultures to meet and learn from each other. One of London’s advantages is that most of its inhabitants and tourists are English speakers, which facilitates interpersonal interactions.

 As human beings, we are gifted with the ability to communicate with each other to exchange ideas, emotions, or teach. However, when it comes to communicating across-cultures, there are barriers and this can lead to a tedious communication process that requires specific interpersonal skills, tact and sensibility.

 This advisory piece goes through the 3 main interpersonal skills and attitudes that I feel could be helpful when communicating across cultures at an interpersonal level.

 Patience: It is important to understand that the notion of time varies from one culture to the other. For instance, when scheduling a meeting, whether it is for business purposes or not, tell yourself that your contact may not turn up at the same time you had both previously agreed. He or she may turn up before or after you. Though being late is sometimes due to unexpected events, it can also be a linked to a cultural behaviour that is accepted in some countries.

Your patience skills can also be useful when holding a conversation with someone who uses English as a second language. Indeed, that person may sometimes struggle to find the right words to express their thoughts. It is often frustrating for a foreigner to speak in a non-native language, so be gentle and helpful. If, for instance, he or she does not find the right words, listen carefully and provide your help if necessary.


Cultural curiosity: To be inquisitive about someone else’s culture can make a conversation more pleasant for you and the person you are conversing with. On the first hand, doing so can extend your cultural knowledge and on the other hand, your friends will value your effort of trying to understand their cultural background. That should put your interlocutor at ease during a conversation. For instance, ask to teach you some greeting expressions in their mother tongue. Even better, you could greet your friend in their own language if you know how to. This gesture is always well appreciated and shows your cultural curiosity and sensitivity.


Cultural empathy: Being culturally empathetic consists of putting yourself in a foreigners’ shoes to understand the different factors that may have an impact on their behaviour when interacting with you. This could range from cultural dissonance with the host country, family issues, to legal, financial or social issues. It is true that we all have problems, but bear in mind that it is not always easy for someone to leave their country and start a new life, or just visiting a new city as a tourist. Always try to be sensitive and thoughtful, as well as a good listener.


Such universal guidance could be useful to anyone, anywhere in the world. Indeed, it applies to tourists, people moving to a new country, interacting with others that are not from the same culture. Fortunately, these pointers will help you understand that many factors influence interpersonal communication and people’s behaviour.

Article added on 19th December 2011 at 3:38pm