Bridging Cultural Differences
by Marlene Bylenga, SCSBC International Education Coordinator ◊
Effective communication is a challenge in almost all forms of interpersonal relationships, however communication in a multicultural situation involves an additional layer of complexity. When we are involved in a situation where there is a problem to be solved, the cultural framework we are accustomed to will affect the way in which the difficulty is conceptualized and resolved. What are some strategies we can put into place to enable us to build bridges in situations where the culture gap seems very wide?
One of the essential tools to building effective bridges is for one to understand their own culture and the culture they are interacting with. Understanding culture will enable individuals to recognize their own stereotypes, biases and assumptions about the differences in the cultures they interact with. Recognizing biases will enable individuals not to fall into the trap of making assumptions which can interfere with the problem solving process. An example of a faulty assumption is the belief that the thinking patterns of cultures are the same. Some cultures are very linear in their thinking and reasoning while others may be quite integrative in their thinking patterns. It takes patience and understanding on each individual’s part to resolve issues when each person has a different way of reasoning. The healthy approach is to find a way to come to a consensus which integrates both ways of reasoning.
Another pitfall to healthy communication is that one individual is out to fix the other to fit into their cultural perspective. Instead, individuals need to explore ways to expand each others awareness and then combine elements of each cultural style into a comfortable way of interacting.
Additionally, differing language abilities and past experiences affect our communication. As we deal with others we need to be aware of the differing levels of ability in language. Using jargon, acronyms and words which have two meanings can hinder effective communication. Differences in social, economic, academic and personal backgrounds can also have a profound effect on the way we communicate.
Cultural fluency means recognizing that there are differing cultural starting points but it does not mean that we need to give up our own core identities. Remaining open-minded and flexible will allow us to experience the richness and diversity with which the Lord has created humankind.