Diversity and Effective Communications

What is cultural diversity?

Generally, "cultural diversity" refers to the differences in the social background and culture of origin that may exist within any group of unrelated individuals. In contemporary terminology, cultural diversity also includes differences based on race, religion, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

Why is an appreciation of diversity important in communication?

Individuals from different backgrounds typically have very different perceptions and beliefs about social concepts and societal issues. Many times, these differences in perspective cause individuals from different backgrounds to react very differently to events and circumstances. Whereas some of these differences are somewhat obvious, many others may be much more subtle. In any collaborative environment, it is important to recognize and appreciate diversity among group members because failure to do so can often lead to misunderstanding or conflict that occur unintentionally mainly by virtue of ignorance with respect to diversity issues within the group.

In principle, appreciation of diversity is a prerequisite to establishing communications that are appropriately respectful and sensitive to different perspectives. In that regard, I have witnessed situations where one group member said something highly offensive to others without any intention to do so or awareness of the fact that it even happened.

How would you describe your cultural background?

My cultural background is that of a 36-year-old African-American male raised with Southern Baptist religious beliefs and values. I make an effort not to make unfounded assumptions about others based on their cultural backgrounds.

How do your values affect the way you communicate with others and the way they communicate with you?

In general, I do not communicate with others differently based on our respective values. I have learned that there is no way of knowing what strangers' values are without interacting with them unless they have purposely adopted a specific manner of dress or of conducting themselves that communicates their values overtly. Even in those cases, the cues that we normally associate with indications of values may not be particularly accurate. In other cases, certain purposeful cues can be indicative of their values and attitudes. I have had experiences where I expected certain attitudes with respect to me from white males because of the way they seemed to fit various superficial molds only to find that they harbored no such attitudes toward me at all. Conversely, I have experienced prejudice from those whose appearance would have suggested that they were much more enlightened.

Once I have communicated enough with strangers to have some basis for concluding what their values are, I consider myself to have three options: (1) If their values are consistent with mine or at least respectable from a basic moral and humanistic perspective, I expect to be able to establish a positive rapport and mutual respect without making any specific effort based on what I know about their values; (2) If their values are incompatible with mine and offensive to me, I try to minimize any interaction with them in order to preserve my own integrity; (3) If their values are incompatible with mine and offensive to me but I have no choice but to collaborate with them (such as in the work environment), I try to minimize any communications that could highlight the differences in our respective values and to the extent I have no choice but to work with them, I suppose I patronize them by choosing communications content that is as benign as possible so as not to provoke unnecessary conflict or antagonism. I assume that others tend to tailor their communications content with me similarly from their…