Gina McDillon – Kitakis
Professor Jean Johnson
December 1, 2010
Social workers, psychologists and educators alike, have a responsibility to develop cultural competencies. This implies a commitment to creating an environment of mutual understanding. “Cultural competence refers to the process by which individuals and systems respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, languages, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, religions, and other diversity factors in a manner that recognizes, affirms, and values the worth of individuals, families, and communities and protects and preserves the dignity of each” (NASW, 2000b, p. 61). Therapists focus on interactions with diverse clients and new situations everyday. Developing cultural competencies is essential towards meaningful communication. Research on person perception has suggested that the information we glean from others can be affected by factors such as appearance, stereotypes, and culture (Wang, 2009). The competency statements for review focus upon communication style (verbal and nonverbal) and how communication can influence others perceptions. In addition, a competency statement regarding high-and low-context communication from different cultural socializations is discussed. Most models of counseling assume that the spoken word is understood. However, when working with cross cultural clients, a host of deficits linger, which may lead to distance, vulnerability and misinterpretations. Verbal communication is important but can be easily misinterpreted across cultures. Words are powerful, but often forgotten. How one perceives the words is most often remembered. Words and what they mean in a cross cultural setting have a major role in a therapeutic setting. To fully understand a culture, it is necessary to understand the
use of the cultures metaphors. Metaphors have their own historical origins and are culture specific (Laungani, 2004). The understanding of intrapersonal process of communication is essential and fundamentally important when working with ethnic clients. The therapist needs a clear understanding of the client’s subjective experiences, personal goals, daily behaviors and other significant areas to ensure communication value (Laungani, 2004). When verbal messages are unclear, we tend to look at nonverbal cues (LeBaron, 2003). During a therapeutic encounter between therapist and clients of different cultural backgrounds, it is imperative for all concerned to be vigilant and sensitive enough to read correctly the different verbal, non-verbal, and other physical cues the client knowingly or unknowingly may display to the therapist (Laungani, 2004, p. 196). Nonverbal communication is especially important in intercultural counseling situations because of language barriers (metaphors), set mannerisms, and cultural unfamiliarity. Research has agreed that nonverbal messages convey more than half of the affective meaning of each message (Launganie, 2004, Edmonds, 2010, Wang, 2010). Many emotions are similar across cultures, how they are expressed and interpreted is culture-specific. For example, a person of Japanese decent may smile as she relates details of a death in her family. For a Westerner, who understands a smile to mean happiness, this expression may seem cold and unfeeling. Based upon cultural beliefs in Japan, it is not appropriate to inflict the pain of grief on others (LeBaron, 2003). The understanding of high-and low-context communications from different cultures is significant because it plays an integral part in understanding and developing a relationship.
“Direct and indirect styles of communication correspond to the concept of high-and low-context cultures. The United States is considered a low-context culture because of the linear and direct style of communication. On the other hand, China, Mexico, and Egypt...