We live in a multicultural society where school community embraces all individuals regardless of their cultural, ethnic or national origin.
Different social, professional and cultural contexts may affect relationships and the way people communicate due to a lack of understanding of one another’s background and culture. This could be through their race, religion, and ethnicity or where they come from. Each one of these can have similar or different ways to communicate and must be taken into consideration as differences may cause clashes between individuals.
For example, nodding head usually means “yes” in most countries; however, in some parts of Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey it also means “no”. Eye contact can be rude in most Asian and African countries, but not making eye contact here in England (or in any other European country) can be seen as a sign of dishonesty. Therefore, if someone avoids eye contact when speaking, perhaps that’s just because of the impact of culture and not that they are being rude, shy, uninterested or dishonest. There are some behaviours that may be perceived differently by people. For example, the way a person dresses may be accepted by one culture but not by another. This can offend them and increase the chance of a breakdown of relationship. If a problem occurs due to social, cultural and linguistic differences, those involved have to be treated with respect and offered an alternative solution. Nevertheless, being Italian and a foreigner living in England myself, I firmly believe immigrants must learn and positively embrace the cultural norms of the host country if they want to fit in and live there for a long time.
When communicating with others we need to consider the context in which we are working as we would need to adapt the way we communicate in different situations.
The recognition of human relationships as a resource on creating change and development is fundamental to social work. In fact, the success of most organisations largely depends on the quality of the social connections they nurture in the workplace. We spend most of our time at work and thus focusing on the essential factors for happiness and enjoyment will impact productivity, engagement as well as community, organisational and individual wellbeing. Therefore, one good way to learn about our work setting’s culture and much more is to begin investing in relationships with other adults in the school. Having good relationships with our colleagues can definitely make us happier on the job. Lunch and tea breaks in the staff room can be good times to have a little conversation or catch up with colleagues. Practitioners at school are likely to find out about children with behavioural problems and how they tackle these issues, or what is coming up next in the school. If we spend every break in the staff room talking on our mobile phone, texting or just doing something else which is alienating us from everyone else, our colleagues may find it rude and disregarding of others and so less likely to include us in conversations.
Work meetings and talking with parents, members of staff, students or outside agencies are all contexts that require professionalism and a more formal attitude; the way in which we conduct ourselves should show respect, listening, interest and understanding. Once we become employed to work in a professional setting like a school, we are representing the school and we should conduct ourselves in a professional manner. This professional manner should include the way that we communicate with the pupils and other adults.
Based on the style, there can be two categories of communication; hence, it is important to differentiate between formal and informal communications which have their own set of characteristics features. Formal communication includes all the instances where communication must occur in a set formal format. Typically, this can include all sorts of business communication. The style of communication in this form is very formal and official e.g., official conference’s, meetings and letters. Formal communication is generally straight forward, official, always precise and has usually a rigid tone. Informal communication instead, includes instances of free unrestrained communication between people who share a casual rapport with each other. Informal communication requires two people to have a similar wavelength and hence occurs between family and friends. Informal communication does not have any rigid rules and guidelines. Informal conversations need not necessarily have boundaries of time, place or even subjects for that matter.
When in a professional meeting, weather we are talking to parents, members of staff, students or outside agencies, it is important to think about the level of professionalism required. This could be through the way we conduct ourselves and through our body language. During meetings at work, some important issues can arise, and it is important that, no matter what the subject is, we take a high interest at getting issues dealt with, but always keeping the situation calm.
This should be shown also in our body language. Sarcasm, inappropriate jokes and other similar behaviours should be left to use during social time; during meetings instead, a professional attitude is required, with a large amount of understanding and respect. In a professional context, we should use appropriate language and gestures for children and adults and ensure that they understand what we are meaning. In fact, when communicating with other adults in a meeting, it is crucial to avoid using technical language unless we are sure they can understand us. It is also important to prepare for them; this could be through reading the agenda or finding the relevant information we have been asked for. This can also give us the opportunity to contribute in the meeting with relevant and helpful insights. When expressing our opinions, we need to be clear, official and demonstrate respect for the other contributions made. I personally find very useful to take notes during the meetings so that I can remind myself of any action I need to take.
We live in a multiracial and multicultural society. Culture is the way that we identify groups of people who share common characteristics including language, values, social practices and attitudes. We are not usually aware of our culture until we meet someone from a different culture. The language, gestures, dressing, mannerism, etc., become obviously very different.
As previously mentioned, when communicating with different cultures we need to be aware of our body language and how we speak. Many cultures have different views and values on personal space as well as on non-verbal behaviour which may include: hand gestures, body language and eye contact. If a meeting has been arranged with people of a different culture, a little research into acceptable communicational behavior and cultural background may be beneficial. It is important not to assume a stereotype attitude. Personally, I would learn and adjust to the other person’s culture to ensure that we communicate effectively and if I’m unsure, I would ask questions and find out more. However, if a problem occurs due to cultural differences, those involved must be treated with respect.
When communicating with children with communication barriers, provisions should be made. For example, breaking sentences down into two syllable words may help as well as using simple sign language such as Makaton; a language programme that uses signs and symbols as a way of communicating. Although this resource is typically used for working with children with special educational needs, it could also be used as a tool in communicating.