Risk, high-concern, and crisis communicators must always consider culture when communicating.

Culture is the web of meaning shared by members of a society or group. Culture consists of shared elements such as beliefs, values, customs, assumptions, attitudes, behaviors, possessions, expectations, and symbols.

Culture is reflected in behaviors such as communication style, relationships, habits, language, reward systems, teamwork, work, recruitment, appearance, and gestures.

Conscious or unconscious cultural bias and discrimination occur when behavioral elements of culture are negatively labeled and when these labels are applied in a broad-brush fashion to entire groups.

The term culture applies to more than nationalities and ethnic groups. It also applies to organizations and groups.

Cultural Factors That Affect Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication

Several of the most important cultural factors affecting risk, high-concern, and crisis communication are described below, and more detailed information can be found in the course Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication.

Different communication styles.

The way people communicate the same message varies widely between and within cultures. Words and phrases are frequently used in different ways. For example, the meaning and interpretation of the English word yes varies greatly from culture to culture, depending on context, intonation, and where it is positioned in a sentence.

Different attitudes and approaches toward conflict.

In many cultures, open conflict and disagreements are viewed as embarrassing and demeaning. Messages with the potential to cause open disagreement or conflict are avoided. Differences are worked out quietly behind the scenes.

Different nonverbal communication.

Nonverbal communication includes eyes, facial expressions, posture, hand gestures, body gestures, personal distance, dress, jewelry, general appearance, and vocal characteristics (loudness or speed of delivery).

Different attitudes and approaches to decision-making.

The roles individuals play in decision-making vary widely from culture to culture. For example, in some cultures, decision-making responsibilities are shared, while in other cultures a strong value is placed on reserving decision-making power solely to those in positions of power.

Different attitudes and approaches toward information disclosure.

In some cultures, transparency and the sharing of emotional or personal information is encouraged, while in other cultures such transparency and sharing is considered inappropriate and is discouraged.

Different attitudes and approaches to knowing.

Significant differences occur between cultures in the way people come to “know” things. For example, some cultures place a high value on information acquired through objective means (such as counting and measuring), while other cultures appreciate less tangible ways of knowing, such as intuition.

Different attitudes and approaches toward conversation and discourse.

Cultures vary in the assumptions and rules governing conversations and discourse. These assumptions and rules cover such diverse areas as opening or closing a conversation, interrupting and taking turns during a conversation, using silence, and other areas discussed in the course Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication.

Communicating Effectively When Feelings, Fears, and Facts Collide

Pathway to Risk,High-Concern, and Crisis Communication introduces communicators to the tools and techniques for communicating effectively—while providing greater insight into why audiences react the way they do during times of stress.

The course comprises nine video lectures and accompanying text modules, plus supplemental materials for putting valuable lessons into practice.

More information, including group rates and partnering opportunities, can be found by emailing info@pathwaycommunication.com.

Dr. Vincent Covello

Dr. Vincent Covello, director of the Center for Risk Communication, is one of the world’s leading experts and practitioners on risk, high-concern, and crisis communication. He is the author of more than 150 articles in scientific journals and the author/editor of more than 20 books. Dr. Covello is a consultant, writer, speaker, and teacher. He is a frequent keynote speaker and has conducted communication skills training for thousands.