Beyond Cultural Generalizations


It is often very difficult to describe differences between cultures.  And it is easy to fall into using generalizations. The problem is that generalizations can easily be used in context where they lead to more frustration and miscommunication.

What Culture Is Made Of

The reason for this is because cultures are complex.  Yes, we all have basic needs and characteristics as human beings.  But people who live in different places can be very different. The reason is culture.

All cultures are made up of different layers which are acquired by where we live and what we do. People within a common national culture can be quite different depending on:

  • Regional origin
  • Ethnic origin
  • Religion
  • Age or generation
  • Whether they are a man or a woman
  • Social class
  • Profession
  • Education background

These are most of the different cultural layers.

The Limits Of Generalizations

Generalizations on broad national traits can be a good place to begin to understand different cultures. In some cases, you can even come up with a generalization about one particular layer within a broad national trait. But does this really help you to improve your cross-cultural communication skills?

Make The Connection

Cross-cultural communication involves at least two very specific people.  And each of these two people has a culture made up of a unique mixture of layers. This is where you need to get beyond cultural generalizations.  You must bring your communication into the right context to connect with the person you are communicating with. You develop your cross-cultural communication skills through practice in creating connections with people from different cultures. Cultural generalizations may help some people, but you still need to learn to connect with people across all of their different cultural layers.

What do you think? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

Photos from Shutterstock.

  Filed under: Cross-Cultural Communication

Cindy King