Why Intercultural Understanding Is Key To Effective Global Communication – OpEd


The development of communicative technology has launched the new phenomenon of immediate globalism throughout the world. This instant communication is not only a luxury, but a power that we can use to enhance our political, entrepreneurial, and interpersonal communication. Though the tools are right at our fingertips, using them effectively is imperative to communicative success.

While most of the results of such technology are positive, they present us with challenges. Barriers to communication can include language and culture differences. These challenges are not necessarily negative, but give us the opportunity to grow in our understanding of other people and other cultures. It is important to always continue developing skills in intercultural understanding to achieve effective global communication.

International Diplomacy

Learning to navigate through intercultural differences is necessary for obtaining and maintaining international relations. This is especially important when it comes to diplomacy, as handling a situation incorrectly can lead to serious consequences — potentially including war. For this reason, cultural awareness is necessary for handling international issues and maintaining important relationships, country to country.

When done effectively, cultural diplomacy is a source of international unity. Tariq Khan, Chairman at PINPOINT institute, says, “Cultural diplomacy is an effective instrument that plays a central role in developing relations among states in contemporary international relations. It is a channel to enhance the exchange of ideas, culture among nations in difficult times for mutual understanding.”

However, it is not a simple task. According to an article by Norwich University on international diplomacy, making this happen is an analytical, careful process:

The first step in any diplomatic negotiation is to identify the obstacle(s) between the parties, and that can only be accomplished with a thorough understanding of what the opposing party wants from the relationship; more often than not, these desires are directly correlated to pressing sociocultural and economic issues impacting these nations on a local and national scale. It is only through a keen understanding of these issues that each party may determine how to best serve both their own interests, and each other’s.

The article goes on to explain that countries have extensive protocols and resources when it comes to handling global communication:

The Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State offers diplomats a variety of resources designed to help understand host cultures. These resources can include individuals and institutions such as the ambassador’s secretary, the Community Liaison Officer, Foreign Service Nationals (FSNs), Host Country Nationals (HCNs) and the Transition Center’s Overseas Briefing Center; published material on cultural nuances may also supplement diplomats’ research. Understanding and respecting nations’ cultural customs is a crucial part of establishing a sterling reputation while representing the United States.

These resources are vital to the success of global diplomacy, but, of course, sometimes, there is more to these policies than verbal communication. Sri Lanka, for example, uses arts and culture as a means of cultural healing in response to politics and tragedy; on March 6, 2012, a concert for unity was held, and an orchestra played a variety of Eastern and Western instruments to conduct the message “unity in diversity.”

International Businesses

Businesses also need to be careful of cultural differences. Today, it is easier than ever for even small companies to function internationally. With remote working as a growing option in the business world, it is important for these companies to recognize and prepare for cultural differences.

One way to do this is by conducting cross-cultural training programs for all employees. These programs can help employees understand each other better, which can help them work together. Cross-cultural training programs should include:

  • Cultural difference education
  • Body language and nonverbal cue reading
  • Relationship building lessons and activities
  • Hands-on exercises that put lessons to practice

Business practices can vary greatly in different cultures, especially when it comes to nonverbal communication. According to Business Insider, business etiquette around the world can vary and is important to understand. Most countries, for example, have a firm handshake, but in France, handshakes are more relaxed. In most countries, business attire is formal, but in a handful of them, it can be more casual. Even seemingly harmless or insignificant interactions can provoke unintended insult and endanger business relations, so it’s vital to understand cultural differences.

Culturally Competent Healthcare

Domestically, it is also important to create a culturally competent population — especially for those in medical and social fields. According to a report on cultural competency in nursing, about 59 million immigrants have come to the United States in the last 50 years from Latin America and Asia, 14 percent of the current population is foreign-born, and there will be no racial majority by 2055.

The report goes on to list five requirements for cultural competency: manage the dynamics of difference, value diversity, adapt to diversity and the cultural contexts of individuals and communities served, self-assessment, and acquire and institutionalize cultural knowledge. According to the report, this helps nurses take better care of their patients through data collection and a reduction in disparities.

There are also other benefits involved. Cultural competency was found to increase trust, respect and understanding between individuals and organizations, create community inclusion, increase community participation of health issues, and assist families and patients in care.

Cultural competency can also better help with the understanding of social issues. For example,  family separations at the U.S. border with Mexico may have been a political tactic to discourage illegal immigration, but evidence shows that family-child separations have long-term effects on the child. This is an example of a culturally incompetent and ineffectual political situation. Fortunately, the law has been reversed, but the children may remain separated from their families for weeks

Though it is important to develop cultural incompetency in diplomacy, business, and healthcare, it is just as important to do so at an individual level. Cultural awareness does not only belong in the workplace, but in all areas of human interaction. It is only by trying to understand others and accepting everyone’s differences that we can truly move forward in unity.

*Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @a_taylorian with any questions or suggestions.

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