Skip links
Published on: Intercultural

Mastering Multicultural Communication

Mastering Multicultural Communication

The Three Levels of Listening

« Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. » Stephen R. Covey, The 7 habits of Highly Effective People

In today’s entrepreneurial world, characterized by an ever-increasing interconnectivity and diversity, effective communication is not only based on the clarity of the transmitted message but also on the excellence of active listening. This is crucial for successfully navigating the complex landscape of global commerce, particularly in a cross-cultural context where differences can lead to misunderstandings.

One of my clients, a European leader, once complained about the lack of assertiveness of one of his managers towards his Mexican team. He gave me as an example a significant mistake that had been made by this team, and the following message delivered by the manager:

« If it’s not too much trouble, could you please review the inspection processes we have in place? Perhaps a small modification or a reminder of the importance of accuracy would be beneficial for everyone. I have every confidence in your ability to guide your team in this area and I am convinced that together we can ensure that all our products continue to be of the highest quality. »

My client explained to me that despite listening carefully to his manager, he couldn’t understand how such an important message could be delivered with so little energy and clarity. He judged it confusing, vague, and imprecise, and began to doubt whether his manager was serious, effective, or capable of steering his team.

The 3 levels of listening

We will describe below the 3 levels of listening, the first level of which is well illustrated by the above example. We will see how each of these levels is essential to improve understanding and effectiveness in intercultural communication.

1st Level : Internal listening.

At this level of listening, we are tied to our own thoughts and feelings, often colored by our experiences and personal prejudices. This internal listening can shape our understanding of received messages, especially when influenced by our own biases, whether cultural or not.

In the example above, my client was judging his manager’s behavior by comparing it with the way he himself would have acted. His listening was oriented towards himself.

2nd level: focused listening.

Now suppose that my client had shown curiosity and sought to understand the cultural nuances that influence the way messages are delivered and received in Mexico. He would then probably have realized that in this culture, a message that was too direct could have been perceived as aggressive and would have been counterproductive.

This 2nd level of listening, called focused, pushes us to concentrate fully on our interlocutor, to put aside our internal concerns and to be curious. It is essential to grasp cultural nuances and avoid erroneous interpretations due to overly direct communication or differences in communication styles.

3rd level: global listening.

This higher level of listening goes beyond words to include body language, vocal nuances, the general context, and even silences. This level of listening allows us to understand not only what is communicated, the words and language, but also the dynamics at play, including the voices heard and those that are marginalized. It is particularly relevant in managing multicultural teams, where group dynamics can reveal implicit hierarchies and cultural expectations.

Another client successfully managed a multicultural team composed of Brazilians, Indians, and French. She had noticed that the French often dominated discussions, while the others were more discreet or even self-effacing. Indeed, culturally, Indians and Brazilians tend to place high value on hierarchy and respectful communication, whereas French culture often encourages openness and assertiveness in meetings.

By applying global listening, my client was able to discern not only explicit communication differences, but also implicit cultural expectations that influence team interactions. She implemented several strategic actions to improve communication and participation within her multicultural team, including establishing consensual work agreements.

In conclusion

A sharpened awareness of our own cultural filters helps us adjust our communication to make it more inclusive and sensitive to cultural differences. Focused listening builds trust and facilitates connection beyond cultural boundaries. Finally, global listening promotes more nuanced and strategic communication, incorporating multiple perspectives and relational dynamics.

By cultivating these three levels of listening, we can develop an approach to communication that not only respects but values and integrates the richness of cultural diversity.”

Find out more about our services

Click here to find out more about our approach to coaching, and here for information about our services.

Here are just a few examples: