28 Overview and Intention


The chapters in this module include:

  • Communication and Diversity in Canadian Workplaces
  • Your Interpersonal Communication Preferences
  • Cross-Cultural Communication
  • Conflict Resolution

Module Summary

In general, interpersonal communication is about how we respond to others in our environment. It is a core element of how we function in the workplace and in life. It is also about what others rightly or wrongly conclude about us or about what we say and do. The ability to communicate well in the workplace with people who are different is a core competency.

Interpersonal communication is a process that people use collectively to regulate and control social interactions. In these interactions, people with different communication experiences may see things in different ways. Our ability to consider these differences is vital to establishing a meaningful and productive communication exchange. This exchange requires having good interpersonal communication skills.

According to some experts and theorists, interpersonal communication can differ by its approach. A situational approach, for example, is one where communication focuses on, and is defined by, external quantitative factors such as the number of people involved in the process and their physical proximity. Another approach is developmental, which is based on qualitative factors. This approach views interpersonal communication affected by participant traits such as culture, sociological factors, and one’s own psychological attributes.This developmental approach is the main focus of this module.

Interpersonal communication happens continually throughout life and takes on many forms. Each of these forms affect our personal communication style. The following are some examples:

  • What we say with words and how we say them: the words we use to convey thoughts and meaning to others, along with utterances that impart this meaning.
  • What we say without words: physical behaviours, expressions, body language, and movements that take the place of words.
  • Where we communicate: the physical location—such as at home, on the street, at work, in social gatherings, and online.
  • Context: the condition or situation that influences our communication, such as meetings, work groups, classrooms, parties, sad or traumatic events, happy and disappointing events.
  • With whom we communicate: friends, family, authority figures, people who may be different in ethnicity, culture, race, nationality, or ability.

This module addresses several of these key forms of interpersonal communication to help prepare you for the working conditions of a modern, multicultural, and diverse workplace.

Diversity in the workplace in many ways mirrors Canada’s diversity. The demographic of today’s workforce in both the public and private sector is diverse in culture, religion, gender, ability, and generation.

The key to working in such diverse settings is to understand the idea of inclusion and how to adapt your communication style to it. In the chapter “Communication and Diversity in Canadian Workplaces,” you will learn about some of the most important concepts related to diversity and inclusion, such as discrimination, stereotyping, and bias. You will discover how these concepts affect your perception and the way you choose to view others. Understanding the import of these concepts will help you recognize how they affect interpersonal communication and how you can avoid the pitfalls associated with them.

In the chapter “Your Interpersonal Communication Preferences” you will learn how self-perception and interpersonal awareness influence the behaviours you exhibit in communicating with others. This includes the ability to notice, interpret, and anticipate the concerns and feelings of others and to communicate this awareness empathetically.

Identifying your personal communication preferences is about understanding what comes naturally to you, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of different communication styles. Communication styles may also be affected by cultural attributes. For example, some cultures rely more on non-verbal than on verbal cues when communicating. Facial expressions, body language, and gestures also play an important part in interpersonal communication.

In today’s workplace you will almost certainly work as a member of a team. So, you will learn about teamwork and collaboration and, in particular, how personal communication style affects group dynamics, roles, and decision making within a diverse and multicultural working group.

In the chapter “Cross-Cultural Communication” you will learn about the iceberg model of culture, which shows that what is easily visible of culture is usually just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface are many unseen but important elements, such as thought patterns, values, and assumptions. The chapter focuses on uncovering these hidden elements by examining theories that focus on cultural dimensions, explaining what happens during culture shock, and how to move from a monocultural to an intercultural mindset.

Because how we communicate is inherently influenced by our culture, the material in this chapter provides a foundation for a sought-after and somewhat rare communication skill set. The multicultural workplace can often become the lens through which we view culture and our situations within it. Appreciating multiculturalism and its imprint on the modern workplace is critical to creating positive and successful professional experiences.

Intercultural communication in or out of the workplace requires more than language skills. Adapting to intercultural working environments requires the development of attitudes appropriate to working with new cultures and expanding one’s knowledge of the cultural profiles of people from specific countries and backgrounds.

In the chapters “Conflict Resolution” and “Interpersonal Communication Strategies” the focus is on addressing interpersonal conflicts occurring between two or more individuals. This is a common reality in today’s diverse workplace. You will learn about conflict management styles such as the competing style, which emphasizes personal goals at the expense of relational goals with others; avoiding style, which avoids conflict as much as possible; accommodating style, which attempts to smooth over disagreements; compromising style, which tries to moderate concern for both personal and relational goals; and collaborating style, which finds ways to resolve conflict so that all sides feel they have achieved something positive.

Coping with conflicts in the workplace requires applying a variety of strategies, including informal conflict styles, as well as more formal negotiation techniques. Learning how to negotiate with superiors, colleagues, and subordinates to better cope with conflict situations is challenging and requires knowledge of your own response to conflict.

Relevance to Practice

Many businesses today have become global in an effort to reach new markets and remain competitive. In this process the human dimension of the modern workplace has changed both domestically and internationally. Where once a workplace consisted of people with similar backgrounds and characteristics, today workers in a company represent many different geographic regions and cultures. Your ability to adapt to this ever-changing environment is of paramount importance to employers.

Effective interpersonal communication within the context of human diversity and multiculturalism is a key skill for workers. More often than not, companies look for this skill when hiring and want to see it exhibited on the job.

Communicating is not just about language. Getting along well in the workplace is not only about having things in common. To succeed in the modern workplace, you will need to understand and accept the notion of inclusion. Doing so means putting the concept and practice of diversity into action where the richness of ideas, backgrounds, and perspectives are harnessed to create business value. Workers’ interpersonal communication skills need to align well with this transition from diversity to inclusion.

Modern technologies allow workers to reach out and connect with colleagues in different regions of the world. These colleagues can be from varying backgrounds and cultures. In both local and global working environments, cross-cultural communication is quickly becoming the new working norm and brings new communication challenges to the workplace.

Learning Goals

An overarching theme in this eText is on recognizing how personal traits and attitudes build confidence and that successful delivery of a presentation is the result of clear and deliberate planning. Learning goals based on this theme will guide the development of a planning strategy while learning outcomes serve as evidence of achievement. Key developmental attributes related to the learning goals are also listed here.

The learning goals for this module are that upon completing the readings and activities presented in this module, you should be able to do the following:

  • competently communicate in both a personally effective and socially appropriate manner within culturally diverse workplace settings, and
  • value interpersonal communication as integral to creating and fostering relationships.

Developmental Attributes

Upon successfully completing this module, you should:

  • Understand the following:That building effective communication skills is an ongoing process
  • That people with different communication practices express themselves in different ways
  • That we are often controlled by what we create through communication
  • That cultural values, beliefs, and customs affect the communication process
  • That communication can become complex as individuals from diverse cultures are added to the process

Know the following:

  • How to translate knowledge of the communication process to actual interpersonal communication behaviours
  • How to apply characteristics of cross-cultural relations such as acceptance, openness, and sensitivity
  • Conflict resolution techniques that are particular to interpersonal communication in a culturally diverse workplace

Be able to do the following:

  • Interpret conditions surrounding a cross-cultural communication interaction
  • Present a desired self-image to influence reactions and impressions of others
  • Recognize and decipher verbal and non-verbal coding in intercultural message exchanges
  • Mediate conflict situations using empathy, appreciating disparate views, and forming rational arguments

Learning Outcomes for this Module

Upon successfully completing this module, you should be able to:

  • explain the benefits and challenges of diversity in Canadian workplaces;
  • apply cross-cultural communication best practices for a given context, and;
  • describe how characteristics of your conflict resolution style impact interpersonal communication within a diverse workplace.


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