Cross-Cultural Sensitivity or Political Correctness?

I wanted to share with you an off the blog dialog on an important question raised by an engineer in Australia. Here is his comment and my answer.

Reader Comment

Read your essay on “Ten Basics of Cross-Cultural Communication” and sometimes we can be too culturally sensitive which can adversely affect the main point of the message we are trying to communicate.

(In an intervening e-mail he provided more context where he gave examples of how ‘political correctness’ got in the way of truthful communication). Here is my response.

I think I understand your perspective more clearly now. However you may be confusing political correctness with cross-cultural communication skill/sensitivity.
A good communicator does not sacrifice truth or fact in an attempt to pander/adapt to an audience.
Truth telling and cultural sensitivity are not mutually exclusive.
The research on effective communication informs us that the words of the message, in and of themselves, are only a small portion of what the audience hears. Body language, cultural sensitivity, and other non-verbal aspects of communication have the greater impact.
Now as an engineer most of your communication is in terms of hard data and that may be neutral to culture. But as soon as the data has political, corporate, and cultural implications then people are listening to more than your words/data.
Anyway, thanks for your comment. This is an important subject.
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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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