Although employers and recruitment managers look for a diverse set of skills in every young person wanting to join their company, one of the most demanded skills in the 21st century remains Communication. Not only for professional purposes, communication plays a very important role in our personal lives as well.
With that being said, the challenge that young people face concerning communication is the ability to communicate effectively in diverse environments, that’s why one of the defining elements of AIESEC’s leadership development model focuses on this exact point.
As any other skill, to develop your communication in such environments, practice is key. The challenge described above usually arises from misunderstandings between what you say and what other people understand, or vice-versa, but before moving on to how to improve your communication skills, the most important quality that you should focus on developing, to improve your communication and your life in general, is empathy, and it starts by practicing the art of listening.
As Stephen R. Covey said: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” and that’s the mistake that most of us tend to fall into. So as a start, in your next conversation try to start practicing your empathy and listening skills by doing 3 easy and effective active listening exercises:
- Ask open-ended questions to encourage the other person to talk more. (Why? What?…)
- Make a conscious effort to listen with understanding.
- Try to practice understanding beyond just words. (look at gestures, facial expressions… etc)
Although the previous points are almost applicable in every conversation, when you’re abroad or in a multicultural environment it can be more challenging, so here are 5 major points you should keep in mind to communicate effectively:
Observe and act:
In the words of Sherlock Holmes: “Don’t just see; observe.”
As communication experts have found out, words play only 7% of the communication between two persons, 55% is body language and 38% is the tone of voice. So whenever you’re talking to someone from a different culture or who are using a different language, try to not focus only on the words being said but also with the ways it’s being said. This way even if you don’t understand the words, you can at least get the context of the conversation to know where to lead it after.
Keep it simple:
Depending on your country and culture, sometimes you find yourself explaining something in a very complicated way. It works fine with people who live the same culture but when you’re dealing with people from different cultures and background, the most effective way is to try to transmit the message in its simplest possible form. Instead of using metaphors or cultural references, go directly to the point and make it easier for them to follow you.
Ensure that people understood:
One of the mistakes that most people make is to not check if the other person received and understood the right message. George Bernard Shaw said: The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
So try to develop the habit of taking pauses during conversations and asking people what they have understood so far so that you know if you can move on to the next point or re-explain the latter.
Respect cultural differences:
During conversations with others, no matter how strange you find something, try to use curiosity instead of judgment to know more about it. Judgments are what created barriers between countries, cultures, and religions, when you listen with curiosity and ask questions to know more about the topic instead of judging it, you’re giving people the chance to express themselves in their own way and nothing is more comfortable than doing that while knowing that the person you’re talking to, is genuinely interested in knowing more about you.
Enhance your vocabulary:
You have probably been in a conversation where someone misused a certain word because they didn’t know its real meaning.
Most of us learn foreign languages or develop their linguistic fluency through movies and songs and pop culture in general, that’s why we tend to use slang language in everyday conversations. When you’re talking to someone from a different country, even if you’re using the same language, your accents or understanding of words might be different, so as a rule of thumb, try to look for the meaning of every word you learn or you find yourself using, in the dictionary. This will help us you as well enrich your vocabulary with new words that allow you to express yourself in different ways.
Finally, as mentioned in the beginning of this article, practice is the only key to develop such important skills. Most importantly, practice in diverse multicultural environments is even better, that’s why AIESEC offers you today the opportunity to live a unique cross-cultural volunteering experience abroad which also helps you develop your communication skills in challenging spaces to become a better leader that you can be. Find out more about our opportunities here: http://aiesec.org
Did you go through any situation in your life where you found it challenging to communicate with another person? Share with us your story in the comments.