Anthropology Magazine
The Problems With Coming of Age
Unit 15

Intercultural Understanding

A bright multi-colored mural against a large wall depicts an older woman in a headscarf, while a man in business attire walks by.

In this unit (to accompany the SAPIENS podcast S6E8), students will learn how crucial intercultural understanding is to the globalized world. Knowing that culture impacts people’s speech, actions, and thoughts, students will evaluate how understanding these differences is the initial step to gaining intercultural competence. The class will explore challenges to intercultural understanding and learn how empathy, active listening, and dialogue play a role in effective intercultural communication.

Learning Objectives
  • Identify the challenges to intercultural understanding, such as stereotypes, ethnocentrism, and cultural misunderstandings.
  • Distinguish the role of empathy, active listening, and dialogue in bridging the gap between cultural insiders and outsiders.
  1. That which occurs in or amongst two or more cultural groups.

  1. A preconceived negative attitude held toward a group.

  1. A belief, often negative, held about a group of people based on a particular characteristic.

Professor Talking Points
  • Stereotyping is a cognitive association organizational process that involves making generalizations about people or groups based on a personal attribute or characteristic. Many stereotypes are negative and have long histories and can vary based on context. Discuss how stereotypes form.
  • When we have encounters with people from another culture, we may experience the anxiety that comes with uncertainty and newness. This type of anxiety is called intercultural communication apprehension. It comes from real or imagined cultural differences such as language, customs, or norms. It is often a fear of not knowing what to do or what to expect from a situation. Discuss intercultural communication apprehension, including what it is and how to manage it.
  • Ethnocentrism is the process of evaluating other cultures and peoples through the standards and practices of your own culture. This can lead to the assumption that one culture might be superior to another and confuse “different” with “right.”  Ethnocentricism is one barrier to intercultural understanding. Discuss this and other barriers to intercultural understanding.
  • While barriers can exist to intercultural understanding, some tools can help facilitate intercultural understanding and bridge the gap between people from different cultures. Active listening is a communication skill that helps facilitate mutual understanding. When employed between two parties from different cultures, active listening can help to expel fears and negate misunderstandings. Active listening can also help to create empathy between different cultures. Discuss tools that aid in intercultural understanding and communication.
Academic Articles
  1. Conklin, Alice and Mireille Rosello. “Declining the Stereotype: Ethnicity and Representation in French Cultures.” The Journal of Modern History 72, no. 2 (2000): 543-545.

  2. Tentori, Tullio. “Brainstorming on Intercultural Communication.” Current Anthropology 37, no. 5 (1996): 868.

Student Discussion Questions
  • What are two ways we can become other-oriented in terms of intercultural communication?
  • What is a worldview? Give an example of your worldview.
  • Describe two ways you can ethically adapt your communication style when immersed in a different one.
  • What are two barriers to effective intercultural communication?
  • What bias can exist when interacting with someone from another culture? How can tools like active listening and empathy help to overcome biases?
  • Many people in the United States use and prefer a direct communication style; verbal communication is emphasized over nonverbal. This is not the case in all cultures. In fact, directness can be considered rude or aggressive in some cultures. Create a scripted scenario in which a person interacts with someone from a culture that does not use and prefer direct communication. Include the clash and also how the situation may be worked out.
  • Create a toolbox for an anthropologist to help with intercultural communication. For each tool, include a description and how the tool facilitates communication and understanding.
Additional Resources
  1. Article: Stephen M. Croucher’s “Intercultural Communication: Where We’ve Been, Where We’re Going, Issues We Face

  2. Book: Stephen Bochner’s “Cultures in Contact: Studies in Cross-Cultural Interaction

  3. Video: Pellegrino Riccardi’s TedxTalks “Cross Cultural Communication

Unit By

Aimee L. Richards, Freedom Learning Group

Biological Anthropology
Unit 2

Nonhuman Primate Diversity

An illustration features a group of various nonhuman primates sitting and hanging in treebeds.