How to improve cross-cultural communication in the workplace

It’s no secret that effective communication is central to the success of any organization, regardless of industry. But in order to truly understand what it takes to communicate effectively, you must first understand the different cultural factors that influence the way people interact with one another.

Our world is more interconnected than ever before, a fact that has given rise to many changes in the ways that businesses and organizations operate. Workplaces are more diverse, remote teams are scattered across the country or around the world, and businesses that once sold products to a single demographic might now sell to a global market. All of these factors have converged to make cross-cultural communication a vital part of organizational success.

Here’s a look at why cross-cultural communication is important in the workplace, and the steps you can take to overcome cultural barriers and improve communication within your organization.

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How can Cultural Audits influence the Information Age?

As we forge into this Information Age and World of Robotics, the concept of Human Literacy has been introduced to the stage. What is Human Literacy? Northeastern University President Aoun has proposed Human Literacy to mean our unique abilities to adapt, collaborate, and offer empathy in comparison to computational literacy generated through artificial intelligence. This new use of the term human literacy is an example of a cultural linguistic adjustment in professional studies within higher education. This is where the idea of a cultural audit takes footing. So, what is a cultural audit?

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Recognizing Cultural Variations in Social Media & Intercultural Education

I was pleased to stand along with colleagues from 42 different cultures presenting their research at this year’s International Association for Intercultural Communication (IAICS) conference. It was my honor to present my research paper, Exploring Organizational Use of Social Media Marketing: A Global Perspective.  I appreciate the support from Dr. Carl Zangerl and the Northeastern University Alumni Relations Office  project. The data from my study was collected from 17 different cultures.

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Networking: The cross-cultural communication side

This seems to be the ‘Era of Networking.’ Whether the purpose is job hunting, recruiting, or exploring shared interests, networking is often the key to to finding a good connection. Over the past couple of years, I have been placing more focus on my network. Not just adding names, but developing relationships with those whom I add to my network. With the launching of our new Cross-Cultural Communication concentration and graduate certificate, I have also become more aware of the influence cross-cultural communication has in networking.

In a previous posting, I noted the importance of participating in conferences for self-development and networking. Upon reflection, I would like to also share how employing cross-cultural communication can generate amazing networking opportunities. First, what do I mean by the term ‘cross-cultural communication’? Being open to conversations with people who might be different from oneself, and being genuinely curious about other’s cultures. The following three examples highlight the benefits of building a global network.

In 2014, while I was participating at the International Transformational Learning Conference at Columbia University, there was a partnering activity during the opening session. I happened to be sitting in the back row with one other person, whom I’ll refer to as KL. Despite our cultural differences, we had a wonderful conversation about our current career and research paths. Since KL lives in Hong Kong, and I reside in Greater Boston, we didn’t think our paths would cross, but we decided to stay in touch anyway. As it turned out, I had the opportunity to teach in a Northeastern program in Vietnam in 2015 and was able to visit KL in Hong Kong. The outcome of our cross-cultural networking was an intergenerational research project in collaboration with a business owner in Vietnam — a project we jointly presented at the International Transformational Learning Conference in 2016.

This pattern repeated itself at a conference last year. While attending the June 2016 International Communication Association in Japan, I engaged in conversation with another attendee, ABR, who happened to be sitting alone during a lunch break. I learned that ABR was working on an academic integrity project with her university in Australia — a topic I’m also interested in. As newcomers to Japan, we enjoyed investigating the local sights and discussing shared research interests. As fate would have it, I visited Australia in September and ended up connecting with ABR in her hometown. As a result, we’re considering several areas for future collaboration.

Over time, I’ve become more intentional in the networking process. For example, while participating in a June 2017 Global Studies Conference in Singapore, I listened to a global mobility presentation by MC. After her presentation, I introduced myself and found that we had much in common. When I mentioned that I’d be traveling to India in August, MC invited me to be a guest lecturer at her university while visiting her in Jodhpur. Another connection, another cross-cultural relationship, another opportunity to collaborate.

In closing, I recognize that my personality is open to adventure. Yet, I will disclose that I am an introvert by nature and pseudo-extrovert by practice.  Hence, I would suggest that the examples I provided are more about an interest in communicating with others through a cross-cultural lens, rather than a function of personality. The strategy I employed was one being open to sharing with people from very different cultural backgrounds. There can be a risk in this kind of networking; not all conversations will end up with a strong connection. But remember the old adage: Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Posted by Patty Goodman, Ed.D., Faculty

 

Strengthening our program — underscoring the value of your degree

We’re kicking off 2017 with several initiatives. The first involves adding more concentrations to our master’s program to meet the needs of our students – we’ll soon have eight concentrations! And the second is designed to create additional pathways to a graduate education by offering transfer credit for demonstrated competencies.

New Concentrations
We are introducing two new concentrations. The first is essentially a ‘management track’ for communication professionals who have at least 5 years of experience and are managing a communication team or aspire to. The concentration has a rather long-winded title – Leading Communication Strategy and Talent Development. It will be an interdisciplinary program with three new courses that will be based on research that Zorana Mihic, a current student in our program, and I are conducting. We plan to share our research findings with you in the coming weeks.

The second new concentration, Cross-Cultural Communication, is being designed by my colleague Patty Goodman. It too is interdisciplinary and drills much deeper into the skills and knowledge required to communicate effectively to diverse audiences. A unique feature with this concentration is an option of selecting an international path or social justice path. Both paths include two new courses focused on cultural awareness employing a Cultural Intelligence (CQ) assessment and developing strategic action plans.

Multiple Pathways to a Graduate Education at Northeastern
Northeastern is actively promoting ways to recognize the competencies potential students have demonstrated by granting advanced standing transfer credit where these competencies map to specific course learning outcomes in our program. The accreditation examinations of several professional associations have met that standard of academic rigor. We therefore will grant transfer credit (representing a tuition discount of from 7% to 20%) for the following certifications: PRSA’s Accreditation in Public Relations, the Society of Human Resource Management’s SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP certifications, and IABC’s Communication Management Professional certification. If you have colleagues or friends with these certifications, please encourage them to consider an accelerated graduate degree in our program!

Posted by Carl Zangerl, Ph.D., Faculty