In today’s society, diversity in the workplace is a fact of life. The probability of organization members coming from diverse cultural backgrounds, as well as customers and clients coming from diverse cultural backgrounds is very high. That said, the way in which organizations communicate, both internally and externally, must reflect this changing demographic, because communication is greatly affected by culture.
Becoming an effective intercultural communicator does not just happen by chance. To the contrary, in order to become an effective intercultural communicator, one must be motivated, and take the necessary steps to do so. These steps include becoming transcultured, asking oneself what preconceived notions about the other person’s culture may hinder the communication process, letting go of any ethnocentrism, and simplifying the meaning of culture to understand the communicator for who they are as a person. While following these steps can help one increase their effectiveness as an intercultural communicator, it is imperative to remember that just as communication is an ongoing process, becoming an effective intercultural communicator is also an ongoing process that takes work.
In order for effective intercultural communication to be achieved, there has to be a shift in consciousness and the identity of the self on the part of the communicator-a hybridization of consciousness and identity, meaning that the communicator must make a conscious effort to open one’s self up to understanding, which may actually alter the communicator’s identity.
Becoming an effective intercultural communicator also involves making a conscious effort to avoid communication dissonance. Prior to interacting with a person from another culture, or during the communication exchange, one should ask oneself the following questions to ensure that no preconceived notions or biases exists that may hinder the communication process:
* What preconceived notions do I have about this person based on social identity characteristics (whether we seem different or similar)?
* Are those notions positive, negative, or neutral?
* What’s the source of those preconceptions?
* Will my preconceptions facilitate or impede communication?
* Am I open to learning about this person and myself during this interaction? Why or why not?
* Am I willing to be changed as a result of this interaction or experience?
* What communication tools can I use to try to create genuine communication
The next step to increased effective intercultural communication is to attempt to let go of any ethnocentric feelings you may have. While many of us may feel as though we do not have any ethnocentric feelings or ideas, that is, esteeming one’s nationality, culture, or ethnicity above another’s, taking a moment to truly examine one’s way of thinking could reveal otherwise. In a multicultural setting, simply assuming that one’s own culturally-accepted gestures or style of communication is appropriate to use amongst others is a form of ethnocentrism. Therefore, one must strive to be aware of the accepted verbal and nonverbal communication for various cultures, and not esteem verbal and nonverbal communication in one’s owns culture over others. This is similar to cultural relativism, in which all social practices are equally good. However, unlike cultural relativism, the goal of effective intercultural communication is not to state that all cultural practices are good, but to strive to develop an intercultural consciousness and understand others in order to enhance communication to increase understanding amongst all communicators.
Another way to improve intercultural communication, both internally and externally, is to simplify the situation. Culture is a very complex topic, but viewing culture as simply a community of practice, histories of community of practice, a way of doing things, and as a community in general can help organization members find ways to communicate in a more effective manner with diverse organization members and customers and clients. The key is to understand the individuals’ communities and to communicate with them in a way that would be acceptable or appreciated in their community. To understand what is culturally acceptable in another’s community, one must make it his or her responsibility to become aware of what the social norms are in the other person’s culture. This could include minor research or casual observation. However, jumping to conclusions could be detrimental and result in communication dissonance. To avoid jumping to conclusions, one should take cues from the other people he or she is communicating with, or if the relationship is close enough as in a co-worker-to-co-worker relationship, sometimes it is OK to simply ask what styles or methods of communication are preferred or appropriate in various situations.