How to Address Cross Cultural Misunderstandings

by Christina Whitaker

The ability to work well with others is important for cultivating a harmonious environment and bringing success to a business or organization. Unfortunately, cross-cultural differences may create tense moments and an inability to reach a compromise if people and groups are unable to understand one another. Helping to resolve cross-cultural differences can have immediate and long-term benefits. To address such differences, it will be necessary to engage in open and honest communication.

Locate an individual that both groups can identify with. Groups may feel that someone that they cannot relate to may bring a particular bias to the situation.

Acknowledge that this is a misunderstanding. One group may feel personally attacked or deliberately disrespected by the other group. By understanding that the offense is the result of a misunderstanding, both groups can proceed to a more productive conversation.

Ask each group to express how they feel. Direct them not to resort to racial or ethnic stereotyping by using hot-button terms such as accusing others of "pulling the race card," for example. Give each group the opportunity to state what they heard and how they interpreted it.

Have the mediator help to "translate" what cultural misunderstandings are present in the situation. If a particular group's culture is more "to the point" than the other, this may cause misunderstandings with a more reserved culture. The mediator's ability to identify and address such roots will help the conversation move forward in a positive manner.

Address different values. Some cultures have different attitudes and expectations, which may be the source of another group thinking that the other believes they are "better." Likewise, one group may believe that the other has unreasonable expectations of them. Stress that these are not the intentions of one group, but the result of cultural differences.

Encourage group members to understand things from the perspective of other cultures, rather than upholding theirs as the "best" or "only way." Group members can also state what they have learned about the other's culture as a means of reinforcing this concept.

Have group members play "get-to-know-you" games. Members of different cultures may be able to reduce cultural conflicts later by erasing the idea that they are vastly different from one another. Play games that have group members get to know details about each other's lives and cultures. They may find that they have more in common than they think!

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About the Author

Christina Whitaker began her writing career in 2005 in newspaper journalism. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from UCLA and a law degree. Her legal experience includes work in Federal Court, and civil and criminal litigation. She also maintains a blog on social, pop-culture and cultural matters.

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