6 tips to communicate more smoothly in an unfamiliar situation, environment, culture
You have probably faced situations in which communicating with other people did not make sense to you.
When you are in an unfamiliar environment, a different country maybe or trying to interact with people from different cultures, it may not all be plain sailing.
You do not have to go far. It may be for instance a new colleague coming from a different country.
We all have different expectations and different rules when we communicate and when the people interacting follow different rules, they will not understand each other and may put wrong meanings on one another’s message.
Having lived in various countries and always worked in very international environments, I have seen this happening often. It also happened to me many times before I took on board what mattered.
Here, I am going to give you 6 pieces of advice that you can follow to increase your chances of communicating successfully in an unfamiliar situation.
1 – Be yourself
When you communicate, it is always very important to be authentic. So, my first advice in this blog post is to be yourself whatever circumstance whatever the situation.
You are not a professional actor playing a role. Don’t try to pretend to be somebody or something you are not. If you do that people will notice; you will appear fake and you won’t build relationships and trust with the people you are communicating with.
So, my advice here is don’t try to be completely different from your natural self. For instance if you’re coming from a culture where it is completely OK to talk at the same time, interrupt each other, you will have hard time to begin with if you move to a culture where actually the norm is not to interrupt people and even sometimes to allow for a pause before you begin to talk yourself.
Of course, it is something you can learn, and I’ll write more about that in my third advice in this post. But the most important is that you are natural and authentic in how you behave, in what you say, and in how you say it. People will be grateful for you to be honest and transparent with them to be your own true self
2 – Observe
My second advice here is about observing what is going on around you if you don’t know for sure how to behave, how to communicate with others in an unfamiliar situation and if you can of course. Just observe what is going on, how others behave, what they say and how they say it.
Learn from it and then see what seems to be appropriate for that situation, environment or culture.
It doesn’t have to be a very long observation. Just notice what is happening, become aware of it and then use this knew knowledge to learn how to communicate and behave in a more appropriate manner in that particular situation.
Most misunderstandings and miscommunications happen because people are not aware about what is going on when they are communicating. They don’t look at what is happening.
They don’t look at other people’s reactions and then they do not take that on board to make the communication more efficient.
This is because people most of the time just don’t take time to consciously observe what is happening. I think this is actually quite an important advice because communicating is not just about talking and doing things but if you want to do it right you need to know what others expect and so you need to observe to understand their expectations.
3 – Adapt your style
This tip might seem a bit counter intuitive after telling you to be yourself in my first advice, but they are not mutually exclusive. Yes, it is right that you will have natural preferences about how you communicate, and this is being yourself.
But in many circumstances, you already adapt your style to the person you are communicating with. Are you really saying things in the same way to your boss and to your kids for instance?
No of course, you already know how to use a formal style or not, when to be more direct or indirect for instance. It is something you are already doing all the time.
The difference is that now you are probably doing it with people you know. Here it is a matter of observing as in my second tip and then to adapt your style when you are in an unfamiliar situation or culture. It is about using what you are already doing but doing it more systematically and maybe stretching your comfort zone a bit to do in in these unfamiliar circumstances.
4 – If in doubt, ask questions
Do not leave any dark area of misunderstanding if you can when you communicate. If you do not understand something, whether it is something people say or how they say it, or a behaviour ask about it.
Ask in a genuinely curious way. Ask in a way you want to learn about what it means. It is very important to clarify anything you don’t understand as soon as it arises. Then you can ask the question, wait for the answer, reply to that answer and you can explain why it felt unfamiliar or surprising to you.
People will appreciate that you asked for the meaning of what they just said or did instead of trying to put your own meaning on that. In a lot of cases when it is really unfamiliar situation, environment or culture, your meaning will probably be wrong anyway. Most people will have put a different meaning from yours on their own behaviours or words.
This is why it is really, really important to ask what it means if you are not sure and of course don’t assume that you are sure and that you know the meaning.
5 – Accept you will make mistakes
This advice is about not beating you up. You will make mistakes when you communicate with people. We all do. And not just in unfamiliar or awkward situations; we probably do it almost every day. They can be little mistakes, but we do it regularly, even the best and most experienced communicators will make mistakes.
This is especially true if you are in a place, in a situation you don’t really know what to expect. There will be some misunderstanding because you make mistakes and if other people have very different expectations from yours, they will make mistakes too.
The best thing to do here is to acknowledge that a mistake has been done and discuss it openly and find out why this mistake was done, learn from it for the next time not to make that same mistake.
6 – Don’t interpret too much
My last tip is about not interpreting too much on your own what is going on. We want to put meaning on everything, so it is a very natural instinct to put meanings on what we see, what we hear what we feel.
However, the meaning we put on things is our own meaning coming from our own way of seeing the world. In a lot of cases especially if we talk about people from different cultures, the actual meaning of what they said or did will be very different from the meaning you put on these exactly same words or behaviours.
It probably already happened many times to you to think “oh that person said that or did that because because because”. That “because” is what you think of it, not what the person herself or himself thought of it.
And then went you begin to think in terms of feelings. Then you begin to put feelings on it and whatever the feeling; you might be getting upset, angry, disappointed, ashamed. These feelings will take over and prevent you from looking at the situation from a different point of view and particularly from the other persons point of view.
In conclusion for that tip is that if you want to communicate efficiently in an unfamiliar environment you need to stop interpreting things. You need to understand them as they are not as you see them.