Communication Technology and Culture


How does culture impact the effectiveness of communication platforms and apps?
One our Cultural Synergies staff members shared with me a recent article in BRW that reviewed a new app called BLRT. Her interest was piqued since it is an app that has been created with one of the key design requirements being the ability to convey messages, verbally and visually, just as you would in person but without the need to be in the same time zone or location. The app captures voice and gestures and is specifically designed for communicating across different time zones and improving collaboration. As she was describing the app I began to think about how innovative we continue to be in terms of designing and creating new ways of working and communicating across cultures, and also some of the traps that it can inadvertently lead to.
While apps and telecommunication software such as BLRT, Skype, Face Time etc. are all welcome additions to our lives and useful tools for communicating with each other; arguably they still don’t necessarily help us to improve our culturally intelligence. In fact there is the possibility that sometimes they could lead us toward a false sense of our true cultural understandings and knowledge. Accessibility to these platforms is cheap, easy to use and allows us to have cross border conversations at anytime.  Here is my point – even with our constantly evolving telecommunication options, the chances of cultural misunderstandings i.e. missing subtle cues, such as the reason for a seemingly one-way conversation, body language, how our messages were really understood etc continues to persist. While there are clear benefits to working and communicating with these constantly evolving and improved forms of technology, I contend that it doesn’t necessarily translate that we are becoming more culturally aware.
Some useful factors to keep in mind when you are communicating via these technologies are:

  • Be conscious of the speed at which you are speaking. Voice modulation, pronunciation, accents, use of colloquial language etc. all influence how your messages are being received
  • Pay attention to the quieter participants and invite them to speak
  • Summarise what is being said regularly
  • Demonstrate your understandings by paraphrasing the important points to ensure that you have understood the message
  • Spend some time making ‘small talk’. This is invaluable for really getting to know and understand others and in building trust and improving relationships
  • Pay attention to body language, it will help you to understand what is not being said
  • Spend a moment after your conversations and reflect on the success or difficulties that you encountered and seek to understand why they may have occurred and learn from them.

As working across time zones continues to increase we need to regularly remind ourselves that culture will always be a feature that needs to be given the appropriate attention that it demands – this will never change.