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How do cultural differences affect communication?

Every interaction is affected to some degree by identity and we can often misread or miss some important identities of others across cultures
© Steve J. Kulich, Shanghai International Studies University

Too often, cultural differences make our communication complicated. This article highlights how awareness of differences and seeking shared identities can be helpful in facilitating meaningful communication.

Every interaction is affected to some degree by identity, even our expectations and communication styles. Though we can usually manage this process fairly well in our own cultures, we can often misread or miss some important identities of others across cultures.

Identity gaps

Not every communication encounter is equal. Especially across cultures, we often encounter great differences in status, economics, values, attitudes or other factors. These can threaten to block our communication, or potentially you can find polite ways to bridge the gap.

Our identity (self-view and how others perceive us) has a major effect on our communication. It influences the language and gestures we choose (Approach), the desires or hopes we have (Expectations), the way we conduct the interaction (Exchange) and the results (Outcome).

Every communicative encounter leaves us redefining our identity. Subconsciously, we are involved in Identity Management constantly in our communicative encounters. The good thing is that we can learn from our experience.

Communication is key

So even though we can observe much about a person, much remains hidden from us unless we relate.

Sharing more about ourselves and learning to ask others about what is important to them in culturally appropriate ways can enable us to relate and work together better.

Where do we start?

Here are suggestions for some helpful processes:

  • Think about what you expect from people. Much goodwill is created when we start to think about what others need, like or value and then try to adjust ourselves to those expectations.
  • Sometimes respecting our differences is the best way to build common ground.


Kulich, S. J. (2015). From shared identities to differences in interaction. The SISU Intercultural Institute “Intercultural Communication” FutureLearn course reading Retrieved from /courses/intercultural-communication?

© Steve J. Kulich, Shanghai International Studies University
This article is from the free online

Intercultural Communication: Dynamics of cultural identities in global interaction

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