Intercultural Communication in the Information and Digital Age

Information and technology overload is making us less informed.

Virtually any question we have is a few mouse clicks and a Google search away from an answer. Our social media newsfeeds hand-pick and deliver us headlines and analyses of events from around the world and even beyond it (Dear Parker Solar Probe: don’t forget to bring your strongest sunscreen…and take a selfie when you’re there!)

In the working world, technology from e-mail to digital messengers to WebEx to video conferencing connects us to our bosses, colleagues and customers on every continent. No passport or generous travel budget necessary, just a speedy internet connection.

Technology is great…except when it isn’t.

And yet, those answers we Google-search are often supplied by murky and dubious sources, social media newsfeeds are carefully controlled by algorithms that calculate our information preferences and select our headlines accordingly, and 24-hour news networks are often corporately owned and have their own intransparent news selection process. And that great digital technology for the office? I make a living hearing from clients about virtual messages that come across as too blunt, too wordy, too superficial, too „rude“, too friendly. Who knew a series of 0s, 1s and lots of wires could pack such an emotional punch?

At this point, we’ve all seen photos circulating of people sitting side by side, paying no attention to each other because they are engrossed in their Smart Phone universes. These along with laptops, tablets and ear buds have opened us up to a strange existence of keeping each other company in ignoring each other.

For sure the information age and the technology that brings it to us have their usefulness and benefits, so I’m not here to knock it. I’ve been a consumer of digital and social media long enough to see its bright and dark sides (and I am—ahem—still old enough to remember a life when none of it existed, at least not on a widespread scale).

While I genuinely enjoy the virtual conversations I can have at any time with folks from around the world, the convenience of not having to wrestle with awkward-sized newspapers and not having to wait for the news to come to me, I have also come to realize that so, so much is being lost in digital translation.

Folks who could discuss opposing viewpoints over a cup of coffee (or covfefe) and come out of the discussion with mutual respect and insight, if not agreement, are instead getting sucked down the black hole of comment threads, hurling expletives and other sentiments of ill will at each other. This stuff gets really personal and nasty. And the 24-hour information at your fingertips innovation makes face-to-face human interaction superfluous. You walked to your community library to do research? How cute!

So, consumption of infinite amounts of information alone does not make someone informed. In fact, it can swallow perspective and understanding. Even well-intended efforts to connect digitally often fail to capture nuance and para-language cues that are so essential to meaningful communiation. As a result, damage can be done to real-life relationships.

Which brings me to why I do what I do, the way I do it.

Training and facilitating intercultual communication seminars scratches two itches at once (I don’t do anti-itch creams): it allows me to put together and deliver information essential for the good folks of Germany to be aware of cultural norms in the USA in order to develop a better understanding of their American business connections. Part of this also includes raising their awareness of German cultural norms that could be misinterpreted negatively—especially when communiction takes place digitally rather than face-to-face.

Secondly, the seminars are a vehicle for us all to listen and learn, through in-person, lively and nuanced discussion. I get to hear, see and feel how my participants interpret situations, as well experience the differing perceptions amongst Germans themselves (plus, there aren’t only Germans in the seminars). We all grow through this give and take, and no two trainings are ever the same. Except that we always laugh. A lot.

Intercultural trainings are a great way to learn not only the basics of cultural norms, but also to connect with the subtilties of human interaction and how culture exerts its subconcious influence. A successful seminar leaves you with the ability to see your American / German business partners from a different vantage point as well as equips you with ready-to-use strategies for how to undo—or at least loosen—communication knots that hinder smooth business relationships. It points you to how to maximize the advantages of your virtual global connections by keeping your human touch in the foreground. A day in a seminar ideally leaves you more knowledgeable, open-minded, understanding and understood, receptive and energized for your next global encounter. What are you waiting for?

Do not let unnecessary cultural misunderstandings–so often compounded by virtual communication limitations and information-overload-driven misperceptions–derail business success. If a German-American partnership is on your horizon–or is already in place but in need of some smoothing over–book an intercultural training now!

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