Communication and Culture

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Communication is an intricate mosaic composed of parts that are distinct yet interrelated. All of the parts work together to create the whole of communication. It is therefore essential, in an age of globalization and with the increasing economic, political and cultural integration and interdependence of diverse cultures, that we pay attention to diversity. We must recognize and value differences such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, religion, education, marital status, sexual orientation and income. The need has been created for us to become multiculturalists – persons respectful of and engaged with people from distinctly different cultures.

Effective communication and the ability to understand cultural differences are skills that are important to success in the workplace. How we formulate and interpret messages depends on our culture. Cultural diversity influences the meanings we attribute to communication. Cultural differences exist not only between persons who speak different languages but also between persons who speak the same language. Every cultural group has its own rules or preferences for interaction. When these are ignored or unknown, we are likely to misinterpret the meaning of messages received and miscalculate the impact of messages sent.

There is a positive relationship between the ability to communicate and career success. Culturally competent employees know how to make communication work. The ability to speak so that others listen, listen when others speak, critically evaluate what you read and hear, adapt to differences in intercultural perspectives, handle conflict, solve problems and make sound decisions is important to career advancement.

Tips for Building Cultural Communication Skills

  • Become more conscious of your communication.
  • Become aware of the messages you send and receive, both verbal and nonverbal.
  • Become more aware of others' communication.
  • Use empathy—knowing where someone else is coming from, or walking in his or her shoes.
  • Improve your observation skills to build better intercultural relationships.
  • Expand your intercultural communication repertoire.
  • Step outside your communication comfort zone and look at things in a different light.
  • Question ideas and assumptions you have held or have not thought about.
  • Become more flexible in your communication.
  • Refrain from formulating expectations based solely on your own culture.
  • Improve relations among people by forming coalitions and being an advocate for others.
  • Identify the ways in which your workplace is diverse. Are there differences in race, ethnicity, gender, age and physical ability? Are there different values and communication styles that accompany this diversity?
  • Identify the different cultural values in your workplace. What are the dominant values that are expressed? Are these similar to those values with which you were reared? Are they in conflict with your own values or the values of other employees?
  • Identify the communication style differences in the workplace.
  • Be flexible; try to see other people’s point of view. Practice being patient – a diverse workplace requires more empathy and understanding and takes time to achieve.
  • Be an advocate for people who are not being treated fairly in the workplace to ensure that the legal standards for EEO laws are being met.


Appiah, K. S. (2006) Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in A World of Strangers. New York: Norton.

Howell, W. S. (1981) The Empathic Communicator. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Hutcheson, R. (2006) A nation of immigrants, with mixed feeling. Philadelphia Inquirer. p. A01.

Johannesen, R. L. (2002) Ethics in Human Communication Prospect Heights, Il: Waveland Press.

Roediger, D. R. (1999) The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. New York: Verso

Stratosta, W. J., & Chen, G.M. (2005) Intercultural Listening: Collected Reflections, Collated Refractions. National Communication Association.

Webster, Y. O. (1992) The Racialization of America. New York: St Martin’s Press.

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