Don Morris' office and the sustainable development minor program are based in STEPS. The minor will no longer be offered due to lack of funding, Morris said. (Anna Simoneau/B&W Staff)

Lehigh language specialist details intercultural communication

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Elena Reiss, a language specialist at Lehigh, presented “Not Lost in Translation: A Guide to Intercultural Interactions,” detailing the importance of intercultural competence and effective communication strategies for exchanges with people in different cultures on Wednesday, Oct. 31 in STEPS.

Reiss described intercultural competence as a range of skills that contributes to effective communication with those of other cultures. She employed a variety of means to convey her points.

To represent some of the differences in typical cultural communication patterns, Reiss utilized the metaphor of “Conversational Ballgames,” coined by Nancy Masterson Sakamoto, comparing communication styles and sports games.

Western styles of communication were compared to a tennis match: During a typical American conversation a point is brought up and is often hit back and forth between the two participants, each contributing to the conversation.

In contrast, the Japanese style of communication was compared to a game of bowling, in which one participant rolls the ball — or shares a conversation point — and the rest of the participants in the conversation wait politely for their turn to speak until the ball hits the pins. After which, each participant adds a more calculated response to the conversation.

Working closely with the international student population at Lehigh, Reiss said she often sees these communication patterns at work.

While culture is an aspect of communication, it does not dictate all.

While cultures can influence communication styles, Reiss said personalities will vary across a single culture and consequently, individuals cannot be judged strictly based on their cultures.

“The first step to developing intercultural competence is making sure you’re aware you communicate differently,” Reiss said.

To better equip students to overcome obstacles in intercultural communication and help them respond effectively, Reiss provided several strategies, including keeping a positive attitude and being clear when speaking to others.

“Going into the workplace, it’s a good skill to have to be able to communicate with different cultures,” said Cate Glackin, ’22, who attended the event. 

Prior hearing Reiss’ presentation, Glackin said she wasn’t aware of the different ways in which cultures communicate. Now, she believes she’s learned how to be more aware of how she communicates with those of other cultures.

“Lehigh’s diversity provides a great opportunity to develop intercultural competence,” Reiss said.

Reiss contextualized this by describing Lehigh’s sizable international community which continues to add diversity to the university.

After listening to the presentation, Madison Smith, ’22, believes the information presented is just as important as it is necessary to know how to interact with people in different cultures and avoid judgment along the way.

“I realize I cannot judge,” Smith said. “I should be open-minded to different groups of people.”

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