7 Tips for Listening Across Language Barriers

Posted by nancymueller on Monday, August 19th, 2013
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Listening Across Language Barriers

Listening for mutual understanding challenges all of us at one time or another. Now add a layer of language or cultural difference between the speaker and listener. What began as a simple conversation has just evolved into a recipe in frustration, misunderstanding and potential disaster.

So what’s a listener to do to bridge the communication gap? Here are 7 easy tips to help you become a better audience when the speaker speaks a different language than you do:

1) Don’t stop listening when you hear an unfamiliar accent. But listen differently. Pay attention even more to non-verbal cues than you already do when you speak each other’s language.

2) Be present. Remove distractions. Avoid multitasking. As one client shared, when it comes to laptops, lids down, heads up.

3) Get comfortable with silence. Give the speaker enough time to finish talking before responding. Avoid interrupting. Ask yourself: am I listening or am I just waiting to talk?

4) Become an active listener. Encourage the speaker with your verbal and non-verbal behaviors.

5) Do not assume “Yes” signals agreement. Listen for the “No.”

6) Ask questions to clarify your understanding.

7) Consider the intent as well as content of the speaker‘s message. Empathize with the speaker’s challenge of communicating in a second language. Keep an open mind.

Listening across language and cultural differences can challenge even the most accomplished communicators. But remembering these 7 easy tips will help result in mutual understanding and stronger cross-cultural relationships.

What tips do you have for becoming a better listener across language barriers?

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