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Communication Competencies in Cross Cultural Settings

The implication of globalization means that individuals who come from different cultures and possess different levels of language competence will require specific strategies that can help them achieve effective communication. The core competency in a call centre, is communication, but here just good language command is not enough but an awareness of major cultural differences between agents and call recipients, is essential to make interaction easy.

Call centre communication is a dynamic two-way, multiple-influenced translation process. The process is complex and various in that industries send and receive messages via multiple language and cultures in different business and social environments. These critical skills enable the agent to be open to differences for interaction to achieve positive outcomes in cross cultural business transactions. A Call centre agent has two dimensions in her ability to communicate, that is interpersonal dimension and an intercultural dimension.

This paper is based on the premise that all those present here are familiar with the basic precepts of communication. Where communication is the interaction between the self (staff and organization) and the partner (call recipient) in a formal business setting. Here in the call centre, communication is a structured situation as opposed to say a visitor on a foreign shore. Whatever the difference, nevertheless it is also true that people everywhere are more often than not captivated by human characteristics rather than simply captured through database technologies.


There are several (more than 500) definitions of culture but the most exhaustive is “Culture is the sum of learned values, beliefs, perceptions, attitudes, practices, traditions, customs, of a group, usually passed from one generation to another.” These are shared symbiotic ideas and meanings that a community uses to interpret and give meaning to their experience.

Another simplistic view of ‘Culture is communication’ means what we do and what we say is a reflection of our culture and us. Thus even when the language is same the chances of error are high. ‘Usages’ and contextual inferences may be completely different between cultures.

So even though the speaker has learnt the vocabulary of others language, selecting the most appropriate word and the correct intonation will define communication competence in a cross-cultural setting.

Coming to the core communication precepts, there are four important ones in a call center communication model.

1. Self-awareness: Simply put it means ‘Knowledge of self and self-capabilities. We’re influenced by our culture to form certain beliefs and values. This dictates how we judge and react to events around us. Also as individuals we have skills such as advising, persuading, instructing, interviewing, exchanging information, public speaking, delegating, problem solving, listening, etc. This performance ability to handle and cope helps us achieve personal, group and organizational goals.

2. Culture awareness: Or Knowledge of others culture. Being ethnocentric, we logically believe that own culture is the only superior culture. But here as a cross cultural communicator we need to be not only aware of being influenced by own culture, but also realize and recognize that there are people from other cultures who’ve also been influenced by their own culture. This is also called emotional competence, or openness to dissimilarity. Only with this attitude we can adapt, accept appreciate the other culture. By embracing the other culture we can avoid ridicule, and be serious about others viewpoints. Thus during interaction we can monitor and regulate own and others emotions for a productive communication. What it means is when we react and this is very important, we need to be non-judgmental. As an outbound calling agent we initiate contact and thus we have to be aware of various reactions to our contact.

For example, if we perceive others to be patronizing or rude, rather than judging harshly we can overcome our negative attitudes by our emotional competence, which is an acquired trait. Thus an. agent is able to empathize and provide a culture-appropriate response. Without this knowledge other parties may deduce lack of integrity on agent’s part. Being able to view the cultural distance as a positive aspect or as an opportunity is more welcoming.


3. Communication skills: Whereby we prove our ability to communicate with influence. Command over language, reflective listening, overcoming objections, negotiating, paraphrasing, when to repeat and when not to repeat, clarity of speech, diction, enunciation, ability to reflect cheerfulness through intonation and cadences, language simplicity, voice control, attitude, sincerity and so on and so forth. An important part of it would be conflict management skills. Because communication in a cross-cultural context will always result in conflict, and our ability to understand what’s happening around us can reduce the pain. We use tools like tact, diplomacy, knowledge, maturity, and a passive aggressive stance, to create a win-win situation.

4. Organizational Knowledge. This is business process knowledge, and product knowledge, system skills, strategic knowledge of company, its capacity, the hierarchical structure within, protocols and internal procedures. Who are we?

And how different we are from others, and where we stand in relation to them. What are our goals, missions, and visions? How do we go about doing our business? Our personal status within the hierarchy etc. When we study the 4 precepts it is easy to see that apart from self-awareness, (which has been a part of us since we began to know ourselves), all the other core competencies are acquired. Communication skills are generic and common to most industries and easily gained through the market.

Organizational knowledge is specific to the company and it’s the responsibility of the center to provide adequate training to the agent, though again it is common to all employees of an organization. Whereas cultural awareness has to be an acquired knowledge, specific to the particular culture the agent will be dealing with. It may not be part of agents existing skill sets and would definitely need to be addressed. It is not enough for a call center agent to neutralize his accent and hide the non-verbal signals to effect competent communication. But before we begin to understand how an agent can acquire or refresh his cultural awareness, we should look at some of the differences in the two cultures.

Disclaimer: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are purely those of the contributing writer.

Continued Here : Cultural Norms And Value Differences Between Australian & Indian Cultures

Contributing Writer:  Lalita Bhalerao I've a Masters in Communication and have worked in customer facing roles more than a decade in Australia. November 2007  [email protected]

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