With the globalization of the world economy, the average employee is more likely than ever to encounter a coworker or business associate from a different culture. In his New York Times op-ed piece, David Brooks observes that “while global economies are converging, cultures are diverging” (Brooks, 2005). In the face of globalization and apparent backlash of anti-multiculturalism, it is the responsibility of every professional to communicate effectively without stepping on any cultural toes.
The American Heritage Dictionary (1994) defines culture as “the behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and though, especially as expressed in a particular community” (p. 209). This is an extremely wordy way of describing the similarities shared by groups of people. Culture is generally meant to describe people from similar geographic backgrounds, but it can also refer to other shared traits, such as age (the “youth culture”) or gender. As Lesikar, Flatley, and Rentz (2008) point out; the slippery slope in dealing with an audience of another culture is to avoid using insensitive words that are part of the communicator’s own culture (p. 37).
When writing in the workplace, it’s important to choose words that do not discriminate against another culture. In 1776, Abigail Adams pleaded with her husband, John Adams, to be favorable to women during the Second Continental Congress (O’ Connor, 2005). Half the population is of the opposite gender making this group the most likely to suffer from discrimination by word choice. Since this kind of poor word selection is often used without harmful intent, such as using the masculine pronoun as generic, great care should be taken when writing for any audience. In addition to this large group, Lesikar et al. (2008) advise that care must also be taken when selecting words that might discriminate based on race, nationality, age, and sexual orientation. Finally, words that stereotype individuals with disabilities should also be avoided (pp. 40-41).
Everyone in the workplace is a part of a myriad of cultural backgrounds. The effective communicator must take care to avoid discriminating against any group. Since it is virtually impossible to know the full cultural composition of the audience, no amount of discriminatory word choice can be concerned acceptable. With this in mind, anyone can communicate effectively knowing his or her message will be well received.
The American heritage dictionary (3rd ed.). (1994). New York: Houghton Mifflin.
Brooks, D. (2005). All cultures are not equal. The New York Times. Retrieved June 2, 2008.
Lesikar, R., Flatley, M., & Rentz, K. (2008). Business communication: Making connections in a digital world [Electrionic Version]. New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.
O’Connor, K. (2005). Gender. In The Oxford companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. Retrieved June 2, 2008.