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