As the world is becoming more multi-cultural, traditions and cultures are becoming more noticeable and celebrated. And with diversity and multi-culturalism thought to enrich societies and broaden horizons, it's important now more than ever to recognise and value the characteristics that make us unique. And with the likelihood of us working and/or living with people from all over the world increasing, the time is right to embrace diversity and learn about other cultures, so that we can refrain from unfairly stereotyping.
But, as our connections are often formed around common interests or shared history, it can be all too easy to stay within our comfort zones, rather than try to meet people who may appear different.
So, what is intercultural communication?
As the world is becoming smaller, it is becoming increasingly important to be able to communicate across cultures. Intercultural communication refers to the interaction between people from different cultural backgrounds. It involves understanding different norms, beliefs, perceptions and mentalities. It goes without saying then that Intercultural communication promotes multi-culturalism.
Armed with the knowledge of how to communicate effectively, you can learn from people from other cultures and share yours with them.
Creating a Conversation of Culture
Without interacting outside our comfort zone, it is easy to fall victim to stereotypical thoughts and misconceptions, particularly when meeting people from other cultures. Often, the first thing most of us do when meeting people from a new culture is to focus on differences. But solely focusing on differences can have its downsides. For instance, there's a fair chance we could be wrong and find ourselves heading for a social faux pas. But, if we don't focus on differences, what can we do to be more effective in communicating across cultures?
In our experience, an equally credible and practical alternative is to focus on similarities. This thoughtful change in outlook can have some pretty powerful effects. You wouldn't approach a person thinking about all the ways you could be different; instead, you typically drift to similarities and discovering what you might have in common.
Read on to explore how culture and diversity influence interaction and how to initiate cultural conversations confidently and naturally to #keeptheconversationflowing.
Getting the Cultural Conversations Flowing
One of the reasons why intercultural communication is so challenging is the differences in the way people approach others. To understand the differences, social scientist Kurt Lewin developed a theory (later popularised by Dutch theorist Fons Trompenaars) that placed people into cultural categories.
Lewin believed that people belonging to 'peach' cultures tend to be more immediately friendly and familiar ('soft') with new acquaintances. They frequently smile at strangers, move to the first-name usage more quickly and ask personal questions of those they hardly know. But after a little friendly interaction with a 'peach', you may suddenly get to that shell where the peach protects its real self.
People belonging to 'coconut' cultures, on the other hand, are initially more closed off from those they do not have friendships with. They rarely smile at strangers or ask personal questions. But over time, they become warmer and friendlier. And while relationships are built up slowly, they tend to last longer.
So, how do we approach the intercultural conversation respectfully and genuinely? An excellent way to prepare is to ask yourself whether the new culture is a 'peach' or a 'coconut'.
Here are some intercultural conversational starter tips to help you out:
- Share a little about you and your personal story: Who you are and where you're from. Use this as a way to start the conversation to find a connection.
- Ask open-ended questions that prompt a dialogue: Questions that are open-ended facilitate discussion. For example, where did you grow up, and what was most memorable about it? Such questions give the other person a chance to express themselves in a non-threatening manner which leads to positive communication.
- Compliment freely: Compliment people about something that you noticed and appreciated. Then tie it to a question. Using the approach of positivity, you can change a person's mindset from closed to more open about sharing their background.
The Importance of Culture in Conversation
Our cultures help to paint a picture of our lives, and so it's no wonder they can often be a popular topic of conversation. However, when we're learning about others, it's important to be considerate of their boundaries. Sharing and learning about our different cultures is an insightful and incredible experience, and certainly not something that should be shied away from.
How do you feel about culture in conversation? We would love to hear your thoughts on the experiences you have had. Leave a comment below or sign up to our newsletter for more interesting topics on lifestyle and culture.