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How to Reduce Cultural Barriers

Updated February 21, 2017

Interacting with people from other cultures requires you to maintain an open mind and a flexible demeanour. Each culture has rules of appropriate conduct that members are taught growing up. Even before they are adults, most people automatically abide by the rules of proper conduct within their cultures. When you are interacting with a member of another culture, however, suddenly social conduct isn't automatic. What is proper in one culture may be considered quite rude in the other, and vice versa. To reduce cultural barriers, people from different cultures should be willing to forgive faux pas and work together to create a social space that is tolerant of differences and respectful of everyone.

Familiarise yourself with the rules of formality in the culture you are interacting with. In American culture, people are extremely informal, but in Japanese culture, for example, formality and ritual signs of respect are more highly valued.

Adapt to different rules of distance, eye contact and other physical factors of social communication in the cultures you encounter. Some cultures stand very close to each other while speaking, while others maintain a few feet of distance. What is attentive, respectful eye contact in one culture may be considered staring in others.

Study appropriate emotional constraints in the cultures around you. According to the International Online Training Program On Intractable Conflict, different cultures have different rules about expressing emotions. In some cultures, it may be completely appropriate to yell, cry, laugh and use other visible ways to display your emotions during a discussion or debate. In other cultures, you are expected to hide your emotions rather than show them.

Interact with each person as an individual rather than as a member of a cultural group. If a particular Japanese man has a warm, informal demeanour when interacting with you, for example, don't feel the need to put distance between you just because, in general, Japanese culture is more formal than American culture. Similarly, don't refer to people by racial, ethnic or gender labels except when it is necessary. Don't say "this Muslim friend of mine," say "this friend of mine."

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About the Author

Isaiah David is a freelance writer and musician living in Portland, Ore. He has over five years experience as a professional writer and has been published on various online outlets. He holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Michigan.