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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Account for Culture in Communication

Updated: Mar 27, 2023


Eric Weiner, in The Geography of Bliss, describes culture this way:

“Culture is the sea we swim in – so pervasive, so all-consuming, that we fail to notice its existence until we step out of it.”

Have you ever experienced stepping outside your comfortable cultural environment and feeling like a “fish out of water”?

Effective communication accounts for culture

Effective communication accounts for culture – yours as well as the culture of the audience. Consider all of the cultures we are comprised of: our age group and generation, gender, nationality, socioeconomic group, education, and more – how does each culture influence our identities, worldview, thought patterns, and preferences?

Communicating effectively with an unfamiliar culture is a learned skill. This tip series is based on Chapter 13 in Communicating Nutrition, which is titled “Effective Nutrition Communication Is Tailored for the Target Culture” and was authored by Roberta Duyff, MS, RDN, FAND.

5 Tips for Creating Culturally-Focused Communication:

Learn these 5 important principles for effectively communicating with audiences of different cultures. Download your free tip sheet.

Tip #1 Begin by seeking to understand

How, what, where, why, and with whom we eat is largely influenced by culture. Understanding an audience’s culture informs and equips nutrition communicators to target messages that respect and account for diverse cultural beliefs and behaviors.

Designing culturally-focused communication begins with an appreciation for cultural diversity and a desire to understand.

Tip #2 Look for what is hidden

Only accounting for the more obvious aspects of culture can lead to thinking that simple translations, depicting common foods, and recognizing holidays make you culturally competent.

However, culturally-focused communication requires an understanding of the more hidden dimensions of culture: values, roles and relationships, communication styles, and more.

Tip #3 Become culturally competent

Cultural competence, also known as cultural humility, encompasses so much more than knowing about a culture. It requires self-awareness, a strong desire to learn, recognition of the biases and stereotypes that influence beliefs and decisions, and an understanding of cultural differences.

It enhances the ability to communicate effectively and respectfully with those in cultures other than your own.

Tip #4 Connect and collaborate

Learning how to communicate with another culture is best accomplished via cultural immersion. Spend time engaging with members of the culture in day-to-day activities.

Observe, listen, be curious, and ask questions to learn. Reserve judgment. Authentically share your own culture, too. Build trust. Identify cultural informants to assist in gaining a deeper understanding.

Tip #5 Create culturally-focused communication

Work with the audience to assess needs, determine desired outcomes, select appropriate communication channels and strategies, and craft messages that are meaningful and relevant to the target culture.

Be acutely aware of common causes of cross-cultural miscommunication. Triple-check word choice, illustrations and examples, and non-verbal messages with cultural informants.

Bonus tip: Enlist a sensitivity reader

An additional tool for creating culturally-focused communication is to enlist the services of a sensitivity reader, a valued cultural informant. This is something the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics did prior to publishing Communicating Nutrition. As stated in Chapter 13,

“A sensitivity review (sometimes called diversity reading) can help prevent you from accidentally introducing potentially offensive material due to unconscious bias, overgeneralizing, lack of knowledge, or even the misguided application of good intent. When communicating about a culture that isn’t your own, especially an often marginalized demographic, a sensitivity review is as important as your nutrition content review.”

“Cultural differences should not separate us from each other, but rather cultural diversity brings a collective strength that can benefit all of humanity.” ~ Robert Alan

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