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disability employment and advocacy services

communicating in a
culturally appropriate way

Effective communication is important What is ‘culturally

in any job ... appropriate’
In theory, ‘effective communication’ is a simple process.
Communicating in a culturally
Someone sends a message, another person receives it, appropriate way means finding a
way to communicate effectively
understands it, and perhaps sends back a response. But
that also respects and accepts
communication is not always simple or effective. cultural differences.
Communication is a two-way
Consider your own experiences at home. Even people in the same family, who process, so all parties need to
speak the same language and share the same background, do not always work together to achieve culturally
communicate effectively with each other. This is due to the impact of factors appropriate communication. It’s
such as context, environment, personalities, etc. about discovering, recognising,
So imagine the impact of ‘culture’. Picture yourself at work, communicating with a understanding and working
person who has a different background, different values and perhaps a different effectively within the influences of
language to your own. This could be a challenging situation for both of you. each other’s culture.

What is culture?
‘Culture’ is a way of identifying
groups of people who share common
characteristics such as language,
social practices, attitudes and
values. We are all part of a culture.
It’s our language or ethnic group,
or our community, or even our
workplaces (you’ve probably heard
of ‘workplace culture’).
Many people aren’t even aware of
their ‘culture’ until they meet someone
from a different culture. Then it’s easy Take the initiative and talk to people. Find out about their
to point out the differences – the
language, hand gestures, way of values and beliefs, and share yours. Discuss differences and
dressing, way of behaving, etc. focus on the similarities. Starting this dialogue will lay a solid
Being aware of your own culture opens
foundation for effective communication that is sensitive to the
you to understanding and being more
sensitive to the cultures of others. influences of culture.
Some important points Case study
On the first day I started
Be aware of the impact of culture Speak clearly and concisely
working with Yoshi, he nodded
For example, if someone avoids eye Speaking clearly doesn’t mean his head and said ‘yes’ to
contact with you when speaking, speaking slowly (which can seem everything I said. I thought
perhaps that’s the impact of culture patronising). Use your natural pace
he’d understood me. But I
– not that they are rude, shy or but sound words out properly.
noticed he was always asking
uninterested. Acknowledge it, Also, break down information
other employees to show
understand it, and ask about it. You into manageable chunks and, if
him what to do. It didn’t take
will need to learn and adjust to each required, use supplementary non-
other to ensure communication is verbal information such as maps me long to work out he was
effective and appropriate. and drawings. too embarrassed to ask me
questions because he saw me
You are communicating Check for understanding as a figure of authority. And in
with individuals If you’re having difficulty his culture you really need to
Beware of assumptions. Culture understanding a message, ask save face, particularly with older
gives useful clues but don’t assume the person to repeat or clarify it. people.
all people from a certain cultural Similarly, if you don’t think your
At the end of that first day
background share the same beliefs message has been understood,
we sat down together and
and ways of behaving. People are check for understanding.
discussed the similarities and
individuals and need to be treated
as such. Start a conversation and
Be aware of non-verbal differences between Japan and
find out what the person values communication Australia. Things didn’t change
and believes. Up to two-thirds of the meaning overnight but they’re now much
of a message can come from better. I found talking about
All cultures are equal non-verbal communication such it opened the way to better
The culture you were raised in is as facial expressions, gestures, communication between us.
probably the one you feel most posture, tone of voice, etc. Carlos, supervisor
comfortable with – you understand Always be sensitive to non-verbal
the ‘rules’. This does not mean it’s communication and how it’s
‘the best’ or ‘the only’ way people interpreted by other cultures.
should behave. A ‘different’ culture
does not mean a ‘lesser’ one.

We’re all influenced by culture. It shapes

how we see the world, what we value, what
we believe in, and how we communicate.