Strategies for Communicating Across Cultures

Communicating across cultures, also referred to as intercultural communication, is a field of study that looks at how people from differing cultural backgrounds communicate, in both similar and different ways among themselves, and across cultures. There are several practices you can implement to increase the strategies for cross-cultural communication in your department, such as:

  • Demonstrate a value for diversity.
  • Communicate respect and show empathy.
  • Do not judge.
  • Recognize your own assumptions.
  • Explore you own unconscious biases.
  • Demonstrate flexibility and tolerate ambiguity.
  • Be conscious that humor may be misunderstood.

Some tips for additional practices include:

  • Provide an open and safe environment: Be aware of situations and settings that are uncomfortable. Reduce power dynamics.
  • Focus on understanding: Be nonjudgmental and check tone, style, and delivery of voice.
  • Seek first to understand; then be understood. When interacting with others in a diverse community, it is likely that you will encounter new and/or controversial ideas.

Demonstrate a clear understanding of these ideas by actively listening before formulating arguments for or against them. Back up your claims with intelligent arguments. Also, critique ideas rather than individuals.

  • Explore the possibility that what is presented may not be the main issue: Listen to others and give them time to tell their story in their own way and words; trust must develop before others share their vulnerability; trust is earned and developed over time; Identify root or underlying issues, which may prevent you from developing a relationship.
  • Acknowledge differences and different experiences: Avoid saying “I know how you feel” as it is always untrue.

Most cultural minorities are more skilled in coping in the majority culture than members of the majority culture. Most majority culture members are less skilled in coping within a minorities’ culture.

  • Be aware of differences in nonverbal communication patterns: eye contact and facial expressions.
  • Treat all people with dignity and respect regardless of diversity issues: Keep an open mind; keep it simple; speak to the person in a polite manner; avoid making judgments and assumptions; avoid ethnic, racial and gender jokes.
  • Respect all people as adults who have the right to make decisions freely: Avoid dictating and giving orders; avoid giving commands.