4. Discussing Culture

Multiculturalism is one of Canada’s cornerstones, and also a source of some concern; there can be a real fear of unintentionally offending someone. In this lesson we will consider “the elephant in the room”—the image Gurwinder Gill uses to refer to the struggle to openly discuss culture. And well see some examples of how culture can influence nonverbal communication.

The Elephant in the Room

(To read along click here.)

The idea of discussing culture—particularly with people from different cultural backgrounds—can cause anxiety. Adopting an attitude of curiosity can go a long way in having conversations—even difficult conversations—which help to build understanding.

In their book on cross-cultural diversity, Laroche and Yang offer guidelines for having sensitive, culture-related conversations1:

“Give people the benefit of the doubt.” Most people “do not want to discriminate, to be unfair or to be disrespectful. They simply do not have enough knowledge or experience of interacting with people from different cultures to . . . recognize a certain behaviour as cultural.”

“Make it safe to discuss cultural differences in a constructive way.” It is so easy to focus on “semantics or political correctness”. This “makes people even more uncomfortable . . . [it]t does not foster an environment where people are looking for constructive ways to work together.”

“Focus on what we can each do to bridge the gap.” Focusing on discrimination tends to leave people feeling powerless. Instead, “[l]et us empower ourselves and lead the change.”


1Lionel Laroche and Caroline Yang. Danger and Opportunity: Bridging Cultural Diversity for Competitive Advantage: Routledge; New York: 2014. pp.2-5

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