Cultural Intelligence, Interpersonal Communication, Our Blog

A Blueprint for Cross-cultural Communication

By Tasha M. Troy

In 2001, I made one of the biggest, most impactful changes of my life; I moved to South Korea and stayed there for just over eight years.

While in Korea, I grew in so many ways:

  • I discovered my niche student population.
  • I learned how to connect with my students, drawing out the quiet ones and reining in the overly talkative ones.
  • I developed key strategies for interacting with my Korean students, managers, and friends as well as my remarkably diverse language faculty colleagues.
  • I broadened my experience and deepened my understanding of different countries and their cultures.


I achieved a modest level of professional success, and I became very confident in my skills.


New Adventure

In 2009, I made another of the biggest, most impactful decisions; I moved back to the US.

I came back to the US feeling that I was now an expert with unique skills.  While this was true to an extent, I still had some hard lessons to learn.  While the basic demographics of my students were largely the same as my last few years in Korea, my classes were now quite culturally diverse, with no more than two students from the same country and no more than four speaking the same language.

Furthermore, the students used a communication style that I had become unaccustomed to.


A Communication Blueprint

You see, what I didn’t realize was that there are three general cultural communication styles, according to Susan Steinbach, who uses three sports metaphors to describe these styles:

  • Rugby – a loud style that involves a lot of “talking over” each other and frequently interrupting each other. It is very physically demonstrative and seems chaotic to an outside observer.  This style is used in South America, the Middle East, the Mediterranean nations, and most of Africa.
  • Bowling – a quiet style that involves each speaking clearly getting their own turns to speak with little or no interruption. It seems very reserved and orderly to an outside observer.  This style is used primarily in East Asia and Northern Europe.
  • Basketball – a moderately loud and somewhat fast-paced style that includes limited interruptions. It seems lively and relatively (though not perfectly) ordered to an outside observer.  This style is used in the US and Central and Western Europe.


The bowling style of Korea suited my personality, which helps explain why I was so comfortable living in S. Korea.  However, I now had several students from the Middle East and Africa, and my classroom gave me culture shock; I felt like someone had taken me off a bowling alley and thrown me onto a rugby pitch!


Moving Forward

It was my openness to learning, adapting, and growing that enabled me to come through those first years back in the US stronger and better able to connect with students from all communication style backgrounds.

Today, I know that many people face cross-cultural communication situations regularly, if not daily, and I know that there are many miscommunications that create tension and conflict.

  • Is it possible that you are misreading someone in your personal circle, whether at work or at home?
  • Are you misinterpreting intentions?
  • Are you giving the wrong impression?


If you want to connect with those around you, especially if they are hard to connect with, it is time to do a little self-examination and recalibrate your perceptions.


Take It Deeper

Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start.  If you would like to go deeper on this topic, I hold free exploratory coaching sessions each week.  You can register online at Troy Communications or email me to schedule an appointment at TMTroy@TroyCommunications.Net

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