By Cora Palumbo

In an increasingly globalized world, combined with the COVID-19 pandemic, an organization’s online presence is more accessible than ever across the globe. For communications professionals, this means shaping messages that are both inclusive and culturally considerate. Your organization’s geographical location does not determine the cultural context of communication, but rather the diversity of stakeholders. There is no right answer to cultural competency as it is an ongoing, collaborative process towards the production and interpretation of shared meaning. 

What follows are three tips to create effective cross-cultural communications strategies and tactics. 

Think of the red and blue pieces as the exchange between you as a communicator and a diverse group. Collaboration is key to create a shared understanding and develop meaningful communication tactics.
  1. Practice active listening 

Active listening is about focusing on the speaker—in this case, your organization’s primary audience—with full attention. This involves understanding the message and reflecting on the information thoughtfully. For cultural competency, active listening is extremely valuable for the building and maintaining of relationships with diverse groups as it establishes effort and trust on the organization’s behalf. 

In person, this may involve a conversation or an interview, whereas online, this can include an environmental scan or looking at what the audience says on the two-way channels available to them. Active listening in the online platform involves the feedback that diverse groups provide to your organization, other organizations or about the topic in general. For example, when speaking of a culture, ethnicity or group of people, the name should be capitalized, like the B for Black people. Lowercase black is simply a colour. By actively listening to what is said online by diverse voices and applying the lessons learned, an organization can maintain its relationship with diverse groups.

  1. Use receiver-focused communications 

Implement communication strategies and tactics that are receiver-centric. Consider performing an audit to understand your audience and examine their level of involvement and engagement. For example, you can understand your followers’ thoughts just by briefly reading their comments on your social media. Schedule time in your calendar to review comments; it provides insights on your audience and can help you craft your next post. 

Your organization may not always be able to track its audiences, but it’s important that the message can be easily understood. Consider the “noise” or interference involved in the delivery and reception of the message. Is it clear and accessible? Will the receiver be able to interpret the message as the sender intended?

  1. Consider a dialogical approach 

Invite members of diverse backgrounds to share opinions and thoughts on your communication ideas and tactics to receive feedback and guidance. A dialogical approach involves sincerity and a competent attempt at mutual understanding. As described by this peer-reviewed article, it plays a central role of construction of useful knowledge, focusing on relationship building.

By incorporating a dialogue between your organization and diverse groups, you can facilitate meaningful consensus building, overcoming barriers between the organization and its publics. The dialogical approach is also effective for conflict resolution as it can incorporate the public’s feedback to adapt and learn for next time. For example, listening and following up when your organization receives a bad review or comment to understand the disconnect. On social media, opening up direct messaging is an easy way to receive feedback and begin a dialogue. 

Using these three tips should set you and your organization on a successful path towards cultural competency. It is an ongoing, collaborative process that requires research, active listening and conversation. By navigating organizational strategies with openness and empathy for diverse groups, we can begin working towards a more inclusive approach to online communications.

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