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What Is Cross-Cultural Communication? (+ Its Importance to PR)

April 12, 2019

Studying abroad in college doesn’t necessarily make you a master of cross-cultural communications.

Sure, it may help you grow aware of cultural differences, but in order to become fluent in cross-cultural communication, you must dedicate time and have patience.

To fully understand cross-cultural communication (or intercultural communication), you should probably know what culture is. Culture is the social behavior and norms throughout societies, consisting of the values, beliefs, systems of language and communication. Used to define a collective group of people, culture is especially important for people learning how to communicate most effectively.

Often referred to as intercultural communication, cross-cultural communication is the study of how individuals from differing backgrounds communicate across cultures.

As you can see, the definition is very straightforward, but learning how to implement cross-cultural communication into your career is not as black and white.

Communication is the core of public relations. Publishing statements to broad audiences, monitoring all communication coming from clients, and preparing stakeholders for the worst are all duties of a PR professional.

With the globalization of businesses, PR professionals, in particular, must learn about cross-cultural communication and its impact on the PR industry, so they don't make the mistake of misusing a cultural in the form of cultural appropriation.

If you already know what cross-cultural communication is and want to skip ahead to its connection to PR, feel free to use the links below.

What is cross cultural-communication?

The importance of cross-cultural communication in PR

How PR professionals can become culturally aware

What is cross-cultural communication?

It is important to note before diving into the details of cross-cultural communication that there are cultural generalizations that do not account for specific individuals in a culture. For example, in Ireland, there is a culture of teasing those close to you, but you can’t assume that every Irish individual enjoys or partakes in the teasing generalization.

Since cross-cultural communication is how people belonging to different cultures communicate with each other, there are bound to be clashes between different cultures. One tactic to reduce these clashes is prioritizing diversity when hiring. When people from differing cultures work toward a common goal, the risk of offensive misunderstandings decrease and the quality of work increases.

an example of cross-cultural communication at an airportCourtesy of Pearson

The importance of cross-cultural communication in PR

There are many instances in a PR professional’s life where he or she needs to successfully communicate cross-culturally. As there is more diversity in public relations, there will be more instances when cross-cultural communication will be used. The most obvious one is when people of different cultures interact with your client’s brand. An example of this would be McDonald’s advertisements and press releases being displayed internationally for a wide audience.

When evaluating a piece of client work before release, be sure to take a mental note of your own biases. Then, consider the process in which the work was made, any stereotypes or misconceptions that could be formed, and how people from different cultures could view the work. When in doubt, say something. You can always ask more people or make tweaks so that you are effectively and appropriately communicating cross-culturally.

The second most common example of PR intersecting with cross-cultural communication is when a PR professional is presenting to an international audience. This could be a presentation to stakeholders, or simply co-workers in a different country. With the speed at which information travels, understanding cross-cultural communication is more critical than ever in forming meaningful interactions and avoiding PR disasters.

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How PR professionals can become culturally aware

Effective cross-cultural communication can be the difference between success and failure for a business. People have a high brand affinity for inclusive companies who make people from all cultures feel seen. With the rise of technology, people have an opportunity to put anything a company says or does under a microscope and then share their opinions with the world. Your public relations strategy should never leave people feeling misunderstood or insulted.

Follow the below steps so you can effectively communicate with people whose backgrounds differ from yours.

Reflect on your own culture

The first and most commonly forgotten step in becoming culturally aware is to reflect on your own culture. In order to learn about others, you must first know about yourself. Perform a self-evaluation and consider the culture with which you identify, what aspects of that particular culture pertain to you, and what style of communication your culture has lended you.

Reflecting upon your own culture will help you identify differences between others. When surrounded by like-minded people, it’s easy to forget that what you do and how you act are not the universal norm. That’s why looking at yourself critically will improve your cultural awareness.

Research other cultures

After reflecting, it’s time you gather all the information you can on new cultures. This takes lots of time and will not happen overnight. Focus first on cultures with which you interact or target through marketing. That way, you can begin implementing your newfound awareness into your public relations strategy.

Here are cultural attributes that you can take into account when researching:

  • Dress
  • Greetings
  • Language(s) spoken
  • Body language
  • Eye contact
  • Gestures
  • Work ethic and norms
  • Attitudes toward drugs
  • Gender roles
  • Personal space
  • Food and entertaining traditions
  • Attitudes toward rules and authority  
  • Family life

As previously mentioned, don’t over-generalize and always empathize. It’s OK if you don’t know every aspect of all cultures – that would be impossible to learn in a lifetime. It matters that you are consciously making an effort to increase your awareness and fuel your career with this knowledge.

Ask questions

People are unique. Someone could come from a certain culture and not identify with any of the beliefs or traits of that particular culture.

In today’s society, there’s a line between cultural awareness and cultural assimilation or stereotyping. So instead of assuming information, ask more than one person from that particular culture about it.

People tend to be more sympathetic and receptive to questions than they are to assumptions. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing, but there is a fault in not wanting to know.

So, be curious and ask the right questions. These questions will be easier to ask once you self-reflect and research cultures other than your own.

Avoid getting lost in translation

Learning about cross-cultural communications will further your PR career because being awareness makes you better at strategizing, evaluating, and monitoring your brand. Don’t let your communications get lost in translation and thrown into a PR nightmare, avoid it by knowing your stuff.

Want more information about cross-cultural communications? Check out tips from PR professionals about cultural awareness

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