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Approaches to Intercultural Communication

There are two main approaches to intercultural communication:

  1. The Culture-General Approach: In this approach the focus is on building a general understanding about the importance of culture to human existence and in examining ways to either neutralize the impact of culture so that it does not get in the way of communication or to communicate within culturally diverse groups without stereotyping or discriminating. This approach is often used in diversity training.
  2. The Culture-Specific Approach: In this approach, individuals usually try to learn as much as possible about a particular culture or group of cultures often by comparing them to their own cultural background or a particular nation's predominant culture so that they can avoid communication challenges. This approach is often used in international business.

Combining these two approaches prepares individuals to approach intercultural encounters with a set of practical principles and behaviours so intercultural encounters become skill-building opportunities. When conversing with someone from another culture we can misinterpret or be misinterpreted on a number of pre-verbal, verbal, non-verbal and post-verbal cues including directness, pre-formalities, oculesics (use of the eyes), facial expression, proxemics (placement of the body in the available space). haptics (touching behaviour), gestures, intonation, volume and emotional valence.

These materials will provide opportunities for you to become aware of these areas, become familiar with some of the main cultural variations, and to develop skills in monitoring personal behaviour and responding non-judgementally to the unexpected behaviours encountered in diverse educational and workplace situations.

By balancing culture-specific information with the practice of intercultural communication via case study scenarios, the materials prepare individuals to approach their next intercultural encounter with an attitude of opportunity and growth. The hope is you will develop a template to apply to your many encounters.

Materials weave the following opportunities for reflection into their content:

  1. the ways in which we are all cultural beings guided in our reactions by our upbringings
  2. diversity as an opportunity for self-examination and growth
  3. communication challenges when two cultures present differing communication cues
  4. finding common ground in a diverse pairing or group
  5. providing a response when you are challenged to understand needs/expectations

This is an introduction to a growing area. These materials will help build your cultural sensitivity and cultural competence. A newer area "cultural safety" that looks at the issue of power imbalance in intercultural communication is worthy of investigation. See resources such as Aboriginal Culture Safety (new website).

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