Tips for Managing Cultural Differences

Many of the tools we teach in our workshop, Managing Confrontation and Conflict can help you improve your communication skills. The tools are discussed in detail in the book Difficult Conversations: How To Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen.

Some tips from the book are:


  • Listening well is one of the most powerful skills you can bring to a difficult conversation. It helps you understand the other person. And, it helps them understand you
  • Listening to others helps them listen to you: listen for feelings and acknowledge those feelings
  • Shift your internal stance from “I understand” to “help me understand”


  • Inquire to learn
    • Ask questions to learn
    • What information might you have that I don't?
    • Can you say a little more about how you see things?
    • Say more about why this is important to you.
  • Make it safe for others not to answer


  • Check your understanding
  • Show that you’ve heard: when people feel they've been heard, they are more likely to listen to you


  • Acknowledge the others' feelings
  • Acknowledge before problem solving
    • It sounds like you're really upset about this
    • This seems really important to you
  • Acknowledging is not agreeing

The book Bridging Cultural Barriers for Corporate Success: How to Manage the Multicultural Work Force by Sondra Thiederman, PhD provides an in-depth look at improving relationships in the workplace. For those wanting more information on this topic, this book is worth reading. Thiederman provides many useful suggestions:

  • Avoid using jokes and sarcasm. The specifics of what makes things funny vary from culture to culture. Sarcasm is a form of humour not found in every culture so is prone to misunderstandings
  • Avoid interrupting. Many cultures see this as extremely rude. Plus, if you're interrupting, you're not actively listening, you're thinking about what you want to say next
  • Silences and pauses are usually not a sign something is wrong. Many cultures use a pause to collect their thoughts
  • Be organized
  • Recap and check for understanding frequently
  • Pay close attention to body language. Nonverbal signals tell us far more about the emotions of the speaker than do their words

Article written by Helen Latimer

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.