As people, our culture greatly impacts who we are and how we communicate, even on the job. Culture encompasses nationality and ethnicity, and can also be influenced by one's occupation, sexual orientation and religion. That said, people take their culture with them wherever they go, including the workplace. Organizational members of all levels consistently come in contact with a diverse group of people, internally, as well as externally. It is critical to communicate in an open, non-judgmental manner with diverse organization members, clientele, and customers in order to complete tasks in a timely manner and meet customer needs in a satisfactory manner. However, communicating with members from diverse cultural backgrounds can present challenges and cause breakdowns in communication when misunderstandings occur. Therefore, it is imperative that organizations properly train personnel about the importance of understanding what intercultural communication is, and how to communicate effectively with intercultural groups.

What Is Intercultural Communication?

Intercultural communication takes place whenever two or more people of different cultures interact. Culture affects every aspect of our lives, including communication. Therefore, in order to communicate effectively, one must have an understanding of how others' cultures impact the way in which they communicate, as well as how one's culture influences one's own communication. Effective communicators are motivated to understand themselves, as well those who they are communicating with in order to enhance the communication process. Therefore, effective interpersonal communication is a person's ability to interact and adjust to others from various backgrounds.

Understanding Breakdowns in Intercultural Communication

In order to become an effective intercultural communicator, you must first understand why communication is sometimes hindered between people from different cultures. When people come from the same or similar cultural backgrounds, the way in which they communicate is often very similar, which means they often interpret similar meanings and have similar perceptions of when and how it is appropriate to use certain types and styles of communication. However, when speakers have different cultural assumptions, the possibility of communication breakdown significantly increases. This breakdown in communication that is caused by misinterpretation and misunderstanding is called communication dissonance. Dissonance can occur both intentionally and unintentionally, and intra-culturally and interculturally, however, for the purpose of this discussion, I will focus on unintentional intercultural communication dissonance. Despite the good intentions of the communicator, unintentional intercultural communication dissonance can result in a wide array of results, including unpleasant feelings on the parts of the sender and the receiver. Dissonance can occur for multiple reasons, but essentially comes down to the inability to understand what is meant by what is said. Other factors that may contribute to communication dissonance are as follows:

• Ethnocentrism
• A sense of privilege
• Stereotyping
• Prejudice

These factors are introduced to balance the ignorance of others' cultures and how that might impact workplace interactions. For example, one organization member may not understand why another organization member uses his lunch break to pray rather than to eat with other coworkers. Rather than trying to understand the other organization member's culture, the other organization member may simply begin to stereotype the worker for choosing to pray, making overgeneralizations about "those types of people," which can then further develop into prejudice. However, simply changing the way we think can help increase the effectiveness of our communication across cultures. Rather than rushing to judgment when another person's culture is misunderstood, one should seek understanding. In the aforementioned scenario, the coworker that misunderstood why the other coworker missed an opportunity to eat and socialize with other organization members could simply politely inquire about the coworker's culture to gain understanding, which could then enhance communication and build and strong relationship between the two people.

Author's Bio: 

J. Mariah Brown is the owner and editor-in-chief of Writings by Design, LLC. To learn more about how Writings by Design can help your business flourish, please visit us at, email your question to or call 866-937-2361.