Have you ever had a misunderstanding when speaking with someone from a different culture? Sometimes it can be difficult to know how to respond, engage and connect with someone who holds different beliefs and worldviews. In these situations it can be easy to say the wrong thing, or for someone to misinterpret your meaning.
Emma (our founder), recently spoke with one of our incredible English Coaches, Dani, about navigating cross-cultural conversations – something we do everyday inside our vibrant, diverse community! We wanted to share some of the gems that Emma and Dani gave us, so that you can take these tips into your everyday conversations.
In this article, you will learn 5 practical ways to help you make new friends around the world, learn about their customs and culture, and feel comfortable to share your own experiences and opinions. You will also learn some useful expressions to help you accept different opinions and ideas, even when you disagree So grab a cup of tea or coffee, get comfy, and let’s learn to embrace and celebrate our differences, together!
1. Always set the tone at the start of the conversation
So, what can you do at the start of a conversation to make people feel included, empowered and listened to, right from the get go?
Dani shared her experience: “When there are multiple women in a meeting, I find that greeting everyone by name as they come into a conversation makes them feel seen, recognised and not just a number on a screen.”
“One trick I discovered early on is asking some of the women to write their names on Zoom, followed by their countries. And then I encourage everyone to just sit back and look at who is online with them. It sets the tone – the enormity. The whole world has congregated in this little (online) classroom. It’s a big moment where the ladies feel recognised and empowered because it gives us a moment to appreciate this incredible opportunity we have to meet women all over the world.
I also start my meetings with new women by saying that we are going to get to know each other through conversation. We are not only going to figure out what makes us similar, but also what makes us different. I encourage everyone to embrace it.”
“It’s all about creating an atmosphere of interest and curiosity around diversity, rather than resistance to differences.”
2. Shift your mindset before entering the conversation
Emma often encourages the women in our community to approach every conversation with the question, “What new or interesting thing am I going to learn today?”
When you are feeling nervous or overwhelmed about whether you’re going to agree with others, this should always be your question! It’s such a beautiful, open way to enter the space. After all, judgment fuels judgment. But support and encouragement generates support and encouragement. And we have such a strong atmosphere of support and encouragement in our community, one that is noticeably different from the noise of social media and news media.
“It’s a conscious mindset shift”, says Emma. “Where judgment begins to creep in, and you disagree with someone else’s opinion or experience, it’s all about moving into a space of curiosity and openly saying 'I’ve never experienced it in that way, so I can’t comment on it…but I want to know more'. It’s a conscious shift of moving from judgment to interest…and it gets easier to make this shift, the more you show up!”
One of our community members, Miryam, shared her experience with this inside our community:
“Often at the start of a conversation I felt that I had nothing in common with other women, but I made the decision to be curious. The change in mindset made such a big difference to how I engaged in discussions moving forward.”
Another member, Jana, explains: "It’s so easy to judge from our own perspective, but sometimes it’s really challenging to respect others’ ideas by just listening to them. It’s important to switch your mindset to be compassionate, respectful, and to try to understand why they are expressing it the way they are – there’s always a reason.”
3. Ask questions before stating your own opinions
When you start approaching a conversation with curiosity, you begin to ask questions to get to know someone more, rather than always jumping in to get your own thoughts and opinions across. And this is where the magic happens! Connecting with someone is all about being genuinely interested in the other person.
So, instead of saying “this is the way it is, there’s no question about it”, you can ask “why” questions to delve deeper and then share your own perspective on the topic.
Emma explains, “To be open to the experience of others is really important. Think of it as your experience, rather than your opinion. You’re allowed to express and share your experiences, but be careful when it comes across as a strong, resolute opinion.”
It’s amazing to watch how naturally conversations flow when people are genuinely interested in hearing about each other, and it’s only through asking questions and listening properly, that we can truly engage and grow friendships. Would you agree?
4. Acknowledge discomfort as it arises
So, what should you do in the event that you disagree with someone? What if someone shares a statement or opinion or belief that you really don’t agree with? Is it right to express our opinion, or should we just agree?
Well… Dani has some fantastic pointers on this topic!
“Sometimes, when emotions start flying and everyone gets a little passionate, things can begin to derail. Comments can become offensive, even if you didn’t mean them to be.
If your conversation has taken a turn and it’s no longer feeling loving and compassionate, you can always (in a calm way) say that you’re not comfortable with this conversation and ask the person if they mind moving on to another topic. Another way you could say this in English is “we see things differently, and that’s ok. Let’s agree to disagree and maybe talk about something else.”
Acknowledging the discomfort is key. Especially as women, often our tendency is to not say anything so that we don’t offend or upset someone. But all that does is trap that negative energy inside you, and you take that with you when you leave the conversation. So, for you and for the other person, it’s important to acknowledge that you don’t feel comfortable. It’s always okay to say “I don’t want to offend anyone, but I don’t feel comfortable talking about this.”
5. Keep showing up - it’s a practice!
It’s all about building your awareness of cross-cultural dynamics. Of course, being English coaches in a global online community, Emma and Dani have lots of experience and knowledge about what is normal in different cultures.
But for other ladies, perhaps ladies who are new to our community, this is something that has to be learnt! It can take time to build awareness and sensitivity, and that’s okay!
Emma describes it like learning a dance.
“You have to go back and forth. You have to train for it. You have to mess up the steps a few times before you get it right. And that’s not something to be afraid of – it’s something to embrace!"
"Becoming accepting of differences is like any sort of practice. Hearing differences and taking an accepting mindset is what happens when we are constantly showing up in these cross-cultural conversations. It doesn’t happen overnight!
If you can’t help but feel a little bit judgmental sometimes, it’s all about going back to the practice. The more you are truly present in these conversations, the more accepting you’ll become. So if you sense yourself being judgmental… Don’t stop… Keep going! Try to understand the other perspective.
The new experiences, new cultures, new beliefs that you learn about will become less different. And you will start to love learning something new, everyday!"
Hopefully, you can take these tips and apply them in your everyday conversations – whether cross-cultural or not!
At the end of the day, none of us get it right every time. It’s okay to make mistakes – what’s important is that you acknowledge them when they happen, be honest about when you feel uncomfortable in conversation, and keep showing up.
After all, there’s no right or wrong – there’s only different! And that’s the beauty of our global online community. It’s a place where we learn about other cultures and experiences. A place to celebrate our differences, rather than let them separate us.
So ladies, we encourage you to stay open, stay aware and enter every conversation with a readiness to expand your knowledge and understanding. Once you begin to approach discussions with this mindset, you’ll find magic at every turn! Happy chatting!