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An introduction to intercultural competence in the workplace
An introduction to intercultural competence in the workplace

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7 Communication is situated and contextual

Do you know the idiom ‘heard it through the grapevine’? Nowadays this can refer to a rumour, but it has its roots in a particular practice.

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Activity 8

Timing: 20 minutes


Option 1


Option 2

The correct answer is a.


As can be deduced from this example of an English idiom, our language use reflects our environment. Language is ever-changing, and the words or phrases people create, as well as the way people talk about certain topics, displays shared practices and values and norms they hold.

Part 2

One common example of the situatedness of language use is the linguistic choices people make when making a request. Depending on the context, which includes the relationship with other speakers, people will phrase a request differently to accommodate the often unspoken rules of formality and politeness.

In this Activity, you’ll read three variations of the same request. Then match the nuances to different contexts. The examples below would be typical phrases used in countries with English as an official language.

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The same meaning [the request for salt] is mitigated in different ways to accommodate the relationship dynamic at hand. These rules are by no means fixed – you might even disagree and say that at your family dinner this request would be phrased differently. This is one of the main difficulties in intercultural communication. In an unfamiliar setting, it can be tricky to navigate what behaviour is found appropriate because the rules are not fixed. It is important to find the right degree of politeness to avoid offending someone.

The importance of situated language use becomes very apparent when examining talk in the workplace. The jargon used for tasks that are highly specific would not make sense to individuals outside of a trained group of professionals. Language use at work also reflects how interlocutors understand their professional role in relation to others.