If you are to work effectively with people who are culturally different, you need to become aware of your own culture and how that impacts on others. As one textbook on professional communication puts it:
‘... we need to become more aware of the cultural basis of our own behaviours, perceptions, beliefs, and values. This enables us to see an interaction from a cultural perspective. It is not just the other person who is displaying culture-specific attitudes and behaviours; we are also doing just that’ (Peter Putnis & Roslyn Petelin, ‘Professional Communication – principles and applications’, Prentice Hall, Sydney, 1996, p.76).
Understanding your own values may not be easy, however. You have probably taken your cultural identity for granted, as you have grown up with it. You have never had to soul search or ask yourself about that identity. Your personal values may, in fact, constitute a barrier to cross-cultural communication. Consider this list of common attitudes that may affect your ability to communicate. Two of the key elements from the list – prejudice and ethnocentrism – are discussed below.
Prejudice arises from the ‘pre-judging’ of someone’s characteristics simply because they have been categorised as belonging to a particular group. It is usually associated with negative attitudes to that group. Prejudice often has ethnic or racial overtones. Jan Elliott, a retired US school teacher, has developed an interesting approach to challenging such prejudice, with her ‘blue-eyes/brown-eyes’ simulation game. In this game, children learn to experience the impact of prejudice and thus begin to understand the nature of racism.
Ethnocentrism is the assumption that the culture of one’s own group is moral, right and rational, and that other cultures are inferior. When confronted with a different culture, individuals judge it with reference to their own...