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Cultural awareness is the key to effective cross-cultural communication

In our fast globalizing world, it is important to learn foreign languages, as we meet people from different cultures in our social life, at university or workplace. However, besides proficiency in foreign languages, cultural awareness is necessary for effective cross-cultural communication. “You cannot talk to people from different cultures in the same way”, said Associate Professor David Emanuel Andersson of the College of Management at National Sun Yat-sen University.

To become more culturally aware, we need to learn something about the typical characteristics of a particular culture to know what to expect on average. “There is some individual variability but if you know something about the average, you will not get the same kind of culture shock”, said Andersson. “It’s very important to be aware of where people are from and how direct you can be. Some things are sensitive in Taiwan and not so sensitive in Europe and sometimes it’s the other way round“. For example, it is common to ask more direct personal questions in Taiwan. “People I don't really know, like my barber or taxi driver, asked me how much I earn, which is something that wouldn't happen in the West”. In different cultures, because of varying levels of directness, people interpret each other’s words differently. It is worth taking into account that in Taiwan, even slightly criticizing someone can be taken seriously, while “if you criticize someone slightly in the West, they think it's just slight”.

The working environment differs from culture to culture. Most Asian societies tend to be hierarchical and thus, “the level of a person in an organization is very important”. Power distance is greater in Taiwan than in the West. “If you are in a junior position, it's a very good idea to keep a low profile; when you get older and more senior, you can say much more”. He pointed out that Asian societies tend to be more group-oriented than individualistic. “Asians very often prefer to have group accountability rather than individual accountability, so making one person personally responsible for something is probably more difficult here than in the West but working together as a team might be easier”.

Living abroad is a good way to acquire cross-cultural communication skills! “It's always good to live in different countries to develop an open mind and not take so many things for granted. On the other hand, you see some similarities too and learn what is universal, and what is more cultural-specific”, said Andersson, who has spent more years abroad than in his native Sweden. He has lived abroad for 32 years, in a total of seven countries: Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Denmark, Austria, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Associate Professor Andersson joined the NSYSU faculty last year to teach the programs of International Business Master of Business Management and Global Human Resources Management at the College of Management. He specializes in a wide array of topics, including regional and urban development, housing markets, the geography of creativity, and entrepreneurship.
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