Removing the Barriers to Effective Multicultural Communication: Part 1

August 29, 2008


In my last two posts, I introduced the 3 Barriers to Effective Multicultural Communication.  These barriers, which include stereotyping, a lack of understanding and judgmental attitudes, have the potential to cause significant communication problems in culturally diverse settings.  Fortunately, there are 3 steps that each of us can take to help remove these barriers.  These include enhancing your self-awareness, increasing your empathy and suspending judgment.  I’ll discuss the first step here and the other two in subsequent posts:

Enhance Your Self-Awareness.  To reduce the impact that stereotyping has on your interactions, you must increase your understanding of the biases and stereotypes you have.  You must also understand the impact they have on your communication with others, especially those who are culturally different.   Remember, stereotyping is a subtle, often unconscious process that can negatively impact the quality of your communication.  The best way to increase your understanding of your stereotypes (and the impact of your behavior on others) is to ask for both positive and constructive feedback from people you trust and respect.  You should include individuals that have had an opportunity to interact with you over a period of time such as a supervisor, mentor or coach.  They can provide you with useful information regarding your behavior and performance in a variety of situations.  Most importantly, they may see something in your behavior that you will not discover on your own. 

NEXT POST – September 2, 2008

Removing the Barriers to Effective Multicultural Communication: Part 2

The 3 Barriers to Effective Multicultural Communication: Part 2

August 25, 2008


Greetings – in my last post, I introduced the 3 barriers and discussed the first, stereotyping, in detail.  In this post, I describe the other two barriers to effective multicultural communication:

A Lack of Understanding.  The second major barrier to effective multicultural interaction is the lack of understanding that is frequently present between people from different backgrounds.  Because people may have differences in values, beliefs, methods of reasoning, communication styles, work styles, and personality types, communication difficulties will often occur.  In order to communicate effectively, each party must have a clear and accurate understanding of the thoughts, feelings, ideas, values, styles, desires and goals of the other person.  But because of the differences between communication partners, this understanding is not always gained.  This is compounded by the fact that many of us are not very effective at getting to understand the ways in which others may differ.  Empathy, which is the ability to understand the world from another person’s point of view, is an important multicultural communication skill.  Unfortunately, in our fast-paced, technologically-focused world, we don’t often take the time needed to truly understand where our colleagues are coming from.

Judgmental Attitudes.  The final major barrier to effective cross-cultural communication includes the judgmental attitudes many of us have when it comes to interacting with people who are different.  Most of us would like to believe we are open-minded and accepting.  But in reality, a great many of us find discomfort with those who are different in terms of values, beliefs and behaviors.  We may then evaluate those values, beliefs and behaviors in a negative light.  This is the essence of ethnocentrism, where we evaluate good and bad, right and wrong relative to how closely the values, behaviors and ideas of others mirror our own.  Put simply, to effectively interact with people who are different from us, we must suspend judgment about their ways, and try to understand them from their perspective.  But for most of us, this is much easier said than done.

NEXT POST – August 29, 2008:

Removing the Barriers to Effective Multicultural Communication: Part 1

The 3 Barriers to Effective Multicultural Communication: Part 1

August 15, 2008


Communication problems can occur in any type of organizational setting.  People misunderstand each other for a wide variety of reasons, and these misunderstandings can occur between people who are culturally similar as well as those who are different.  However, there are some unique issues to consider whenever people from different cultural backgrounds come together.  Specifically, there are three problems that commonly occur.  I refer to these as the Barriers to Effective Multicultural Communication and they include stereotyping, a lack of understanding and judgmental attitudes.   I will discuss stereotyping here and the other two in my next post.  I will then follow-up with steps we can take to overcome these barriers.

Stereotyping.  The most significant barrier to effective cross-cultural communication is the tendency of human beings to stereotype, or more specifically, to categorize and make assumptions about others based on identified characteristics such as gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, socioeconomic status or nationality.   Whether we realize it or not (and we often do not), we all stereotype and make assumptions about others at one time or another. Most of us do so on a regular basis.  Some of the more blatant and destructive examples of these assumptions include job interviewers who reject certain candidates based on racial or gender stereotypes, teachers who assume that certain students are less likely to succeed because of where they come from, or store owners who harass people from particular racial or ethnic groups.  However, not all stereotyping is so blatant.  More subtle examples include shying away from people who are culturally different (which is one of the reasons people from similar racial and cultural backgrounds tend to group together), or assuming people will behave a certain way based on their race, gender, place of origin or position within an organization.  The key point to remember is that no matter were they occur, stereotypes and the assumptions we make based on them, greatly diminish communication effectiveness. 

NEXT POST – August 25, 2008:

The 3 Barriers to Effective Multicultural Communication: Part 2

5 Ways to Improve Organizational Communication

August 11, 2008


Welcome!  In my previous post, I described “10 Things We Know About Communication”.  Clearly, there is a significant cost to the poor communication that is pervasive in many of our work groups, teams, and organizations.  Fortunately, there are several things we can do to improve the quality of individual and organizational communication:

1.  Use Multiple Channels for Organizational Communication – One of the most effective ways to ensure that people get your message is to send it across multiple channels.  Some of the more effective channels include meetings, face-to-face talks, e-mail, faxes, telephone conversations, bulletins, postings, and memos.  The key is to make sure you always employ multiple methods to disseminate your message, and never rely on a single channel.

2.  Make Important Messages Repetitive – In addition to using multiple channels, you can improve organizational communication by repeating important messages from time to time. 

3.  Focus on Listening – This is vital during individual (i.e., one-on-one) communication.  The biggest reason that most of us are poor listeners is that we don’t take the time to actively listen.  You can do this by utilizing reflective listening skills (paraphrasing what your speaking partner has said to confirm understanding), using good nonverbal behaviors and body posture (e.g., face your communication partner with an open stance), and focusing on your partner by making a conscious effort to listen first instead of trying to get your message across first.  Do this by saying to yourself, “for the next three minutes, I am only going to listen”. 

4.  Get Your Message Across – After you listen and fully understand your communication partner, you must make sure you can get your message across in the exact way it is intended.  To do this, speak openly and honestly, and be as straightforward as possible (i.e., no “beating around the bush”); speak inclusively and use terms that will be understood and respected by a diverse array of individuals; and check for understanding to make sure your message has been received accurately.

5.  Handle Communication Problems – Finally, we must become more effective at managing the communication problems that will inevitably arise during human interaction.  Such problems include conflict, difficulty in resolving problems, misunderstandings, dealing with difficult people and managing cultural differences.  I will address these issues in future posts.

NEXT POST – August 15, 2008:

The 3 Barriers to Effective Multicultural Communication: Part 1


The Impact of Communication on Performance

August 7, 2008


There is no activity that we engage in more often than communication.  Be it listening, talking, reading or writing, we spend more time communicating with others than practically every other activity combined.  This has significant implications for both individual and organizational effectiveness.  Since we spend so much time communicating, it behooves us to do so as efficiently and effectively as possible.  Unfortunately, most of us do not maximize our communication effectiveness and this exacts a significant organizational cost.  Specifically, there are ten things we know about communication:

1.  We spend 90% of our time communicating with others on a daily basis.  This includes listening, talking, reading & writing.

2.  Managers spend 80% of their time communicating orally with others on a daily basis.

3.  During communication, people spend more time listening than any other activity (e.g., reading, writing and speaking).  Unfortunately, most of us are not very effective listeners.

4.  The average listener retains only 50% of what is said immediately after hearing it.

5.  The average listener retains only 25% of what is said 48 hours later.

6.  The average listener retains less than 10% of what is said a week later.

7.  Research consistently shows that the single most important skill that people need to perform well on the job is the ability to communicate effectively with others.

8.  The two most important factors in helping graduating college students obtain employment are their speaking skills and listening skills.

9.  One study of top executives estimated that poor communication costs organizations between 25% and 40% of their budgets.

10.  Another study of top executives estimated that 14% of each 40 hour work week is wasted specifically due to poor communication between managers and their staffs.  Based on a 50 week year, this amounts to 35 wasted work days per employee!

NEXT POST – August 11, 2008:

5 Ways to Improve Organizational Communication



August 3, 2008


America is one of the most culturally diverse societies on earth.  Whether it is based on race, age, gender, religion, sexual orientation or physical ability, you are more likely than ever to find yourself in a culturally diverse organizational setting.  For example, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, African-Americans, Asian-Pacific Islanders and Hispanics currently make up one-third of the U.S. population.  By 2050, this number will exceed 50%.  In 2000, 12% of Americans were 65 or older.  By 2030, this number will exceed 20%.   There are over 380 different languages spoken in the U.S., and the fastest growing population groups in America consist of Asian-Pacific Americans and Hispanics over the age of 50.  Because of this increasing diversity, it is imperative that we develop skills that allow us to communicate, resolve conflict and solve problems in culturally diverse settings. 


Through this blog, I will provide you with specific tips, information, resources and tools that will allow you to function more effectively in culturally diverse settings.  I will be covering a wide variety of communication, conflict resolution and diversity topics including:

·    The Benefits of Diversity

·    The Effect of Communication on Performance

·    Reducing Bias

·    Creating a Climate for Diversity

·    Improving Team Communication

·    The Barriers to Effective Multicultural Communication

·    Getting Your Message Across in Culturally Diverse Settings

·    Becoming a More Effective Listener

·    The Barriers to Successful Conflict Resolution

·    And Much More!


NEXT POST: August 7, 2008