How to Develop Intercultural Communication Skills

Home » Productive Work » Personal Development » How to Develop Intercultural Communication Skills

To know what intercultural communications are all about, there’s a need to define them. Take a look at the intercultural communication definition below.

The sending and receiving of messages between two or more people who are from different cultural and social backgrounds are called Intercultural Communication. Now let’s go on a journey to understanding what effective intercultural communication entails.

What are Intercultural Communication Skills?

Intercultural communication skills are those abilities that are necessary for interacting or sharing information with people of various cultural backgrounds and social affiliations. You have to develop the skills regularly, especially if you’re a businessperson. See an example below.

Example: If you’re able to speak in the other party’s language, then you would be easily understood. In fact, the flow of communication would be great. Also, if you understand the cultural background of the person, then the flow would even be better.

Importance of Intercultural Communication Skills

The importance of these skills can’t be overemphasized. A few of them have been discussed below.

  • You’ll be able to package messages in the right way, so that they can be well-understood.
  • In a study, it was discovered that organizations that consist of heterogeneous settings make almost 20% more revenue. Therefore, it’s essential to have the skills needed to ensure effective communication in such an organization. For example, HR departments need to have personnel who possess such skills because they interact with employees on a daily basis.

Required Knowledge for Intercultural Communication

To improve intercultural communication skills, individuals and organizations should keep the following core areas in mind:

  1. Adequate insight
  2. Sensitivity in interactions
  3. The power of cultural influence
  4. Conventions and societal roles
  5. Historical significance

1. Adequate Insight

When you have enough knowledge about other cultures, social groups, institutions, and so on; such information can be used for personal benefit when relating with foreigners. You would know the best medium or channel to use for communicating with the target audience. For example: Choosing whether to interact via phone call, targeted emailing, social platforms, etc.

2. Sensitivity in Interactions

You shouldn’t only be sensitive about your cultural and social background, but also those of others. Ensure that the basic differences between cultures are known, and try not to focus on the similarities at the start of a conversation. Understand that the other person is human, and assume that they’re sensitive about their background. Keep in mind that he or she may be naive about yours.

3. The Power of Cultural Influence

The role of culture cannot be underestimated in a communication process. It can affect the way a message is interpreted. For example: Waving at someone is a positive gesture in some cultures, while it’s seen as an impolite act in others.

4. Conventions and Societal Roles

If you understand the norms and customs of other cultures, then you’ll be able to approach the other person in a better way—while taking care not to be offensive. Don’t antagonize their views. Try to understand them. Gender and status roles specific to certain cultural and social backgrounds should be learnt, understood, and respected even if you don’t subscribe to them.

5. Historical Significance

History is as important as the present. Even if a culture has evolved, its past shouldn’t be ignored. It can be costly to be ignorant of the past interactions between cultures in terms of conflicts, alliances, territory, migration, etc. For example: There are deep-seated grudges among ethnic groups and countries that have lasted for hundreds of years—if not thousands.

Once you’ve been able to gain the above knowledge adequately, you can start applying your understanding to communication processes. Do so in the following ways:

  • Learn the basics of your audience’s language—a few conversational phrases such as greetings or common nonverbal cues would go a long way.
  • Ask for advice from others who have been to the target location or who have interacted with people of that particular culture.
  • Be adaptive even when the other party isn’t. Your goal is to ensure that there’s effective communication no matter the obstacles.
  • Gauge your understanding of the foreign culture regularly, as well as how much the other party understands yours.
  • Render an apology if you’re causing any problems in the flow of the interaction.
  • Do your research on the norms and behavioral issues associated with people of the culture in question.

Ignorance shouldn’t always be the excuse. One should be more aware of other cultures for future benefit. You may have to compromise for the sake of a smooth communication flow. Your views about cross-cultural relations should be that individuals are bound by culture. Rather, they’re influenced by it.

How to Develop Intercultural Communication Skills

There are various ways you can do this, but it depends on the circumstances and aspect of culture. Check the tips below.

  1. Research before meeting
  2. Clarify and verify
  3. Learn from errors
  4. Observe nonverbal cues and listen attentively
  5. Use clear words and nonverbal cues

1. Research before Meeting

If you know your target audience or location, then you should get all the relevant information about them. This will include learning about their culture and best ways to communicate with people of that culture. Always be prepared.

2. Clarify and Verify

Ask questions when you don’t know or when in doubt. It may be awkward for both of you, but showing the willingness to learn may make you find favor with the other party. Never make assumptions or base your message on stereotypes.

3. Learn from Errors

If you err in any way that may be considered offensive, ensure that an apology is made. Once you do that, find out what you should’ve done instead and learn from the error. It’s possible for mistakes to happen, but you can transform them to opportunities for emergency learning.

4. Observe Nonverbal Cues and Listen Attentively

Listening skills are needed here. You’ll learn from what you notice, and it will add to the knowledge you have. Ultimately, it will improve your communication skills. Pay attention to how people of the same culture interact with one another. This will give you an insight into the best way to communicate with them.

5. Use Clear Words and Nonverbal Cues

Communicating with clarity and confidence is key for a good communication flow. It will be hard to make mistakes or to cause confusion this way. Try to speak in a slow manner for the benefit of the other party. Most importantly, think before you talk.

Other notable points include the following:

  • Avoid using words or phrases that are not formal when in a business meeting. Apart from that, avoid using words or phrases that are not commonly applied in everyday conversations. Steer clear of idiomatic expressions too. You shouldn’t expect the other party to be familiar with them.
  • Don’t make jokes because they may not be understood, or they may be misinterpreted.
  • Politely confirm the exact meaning of a confusing statement which the other party made.
  • Avoid asking “yes or no” questions.
  • Be calm at all times, so that the other party will be at ease. Have a pleasant attitude too, so that the atmosphere will be endearing to the other party.

Watch this YouTube video to learn more:

Best Ways to Learn Intercultural Communication Skills

Description: This course is about building strong relationships in a heterogeneous workplace.

Description: This course is about the dimensions of intercultural communications that worsen conflict.

Description: This course is about analyzing cross-cultural communication processes.

Related Articles:


1. What are the Elements of Intercultural Communication?

Your knowledge for intercultural communication should also include its elements. The 3 most important ones are knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

2. What are some Examples of Intercultural Communication?

You’ll understand international communications better with the examples below.

  • A Muslim having a conversation with a Roman Catholic.
  • A male worker receiving orders from his female boss.
  • An Asian and Australian getting acquainted with each other.
  • The US president in a diplomatic meeting with the German Chancellor.

3. What are the Two Characteristics of Intercultural Communication?

Effective intercultural communication is characterized by the following:

  • Knowledge of other cultures and societies
  • Attitudes (patience, empathy, open-mindedness, and tolerance)

4. What are the Challenges of Intercultural Communication?

Knowledge for intercultural communication should also include its challenges. They are listed below.

  • Anxiety
  • Prejudice
  • Stereotypes
  • Ethnocentrism
  • Language difference
  • Misinterpretation of non-verbal messages
  • Assumption of cultural similarities while being ignorant of the differences


To improve intercultural communication skills, you need to gain more knowledge as time passes. Hopefully, the Coursera courses stated earlier get you all the information you need. Now we can end our journey with these final words: Never stop learning new things about various cultures!

Photo of author

Kalpataru Biswas

Kalpataru Biswas is a writer with a focus on business and career-related subjects. He has been writing for various websites since 2018 and has more than ten years of experience in driving revenue through data-driven Sales & Marketing.