COVID-19 information and resources
Douglas College wordmark
Facebook logo Twitter logo Instagram logo Snapchat logo YouTube logo Wordpress logo
back to search

Intercultural Communication in the Workplace

Course Code: CMNS 1217
Faculty: Language, Literature & Performing Arts
Department: Communications
Credits: 3.0
Semester: 15
Learning Format: Lecture, Seminar
Typically Offered: Winter
course overview

This highly interactive, face-to-face course provides an understanding of the interpersonal communication skills required to develop constructive relationships in the multicultural workplace. In the first part of the course, selected foundational theory, sources of interpersonal difference and barriers to understanding are examined. The latter part of the course emphasizes workplace application of cross-cultural interpersonal communication skills and strategies. Leadership, small group communication, and professional and ethical issues in the multicultural workplace are investigated.

Course Content

  1. Appreciating differences in Canada’s multicultural workplace
    • important definitions and terminology
    • Canada’s multicultural policy
    • cultural demographics in the workplace:
      • Canada
      • British Columbia
      • Vancouver
    • What is “Canadian culture?”
  2. Examining basic selected background knowledge in cross-cultural interpersonal communication
    • terminology
    • models and characteristics of interpersonal communication
    • conceptions and models of culture
    • cultural identity development
    • intercultural communication competence
  3. Investigating obstacles to workplace communication across cultures
    • sources of misunderstanding in multicultural work settings
      • cultural differences
        • perception, values and beliefs
        • verbal behaviour and nonverbal behaviour
      • barriers to understanding
        • perceptual relativity and ethnocentrism
        • stereotyping and prejudice
        • stress and anxiety
    • intercultural misunderstanding on the job
      • the concept of “face”
        • “giving” and “saving” face
      • culturally different approaches to communicating about difficulties
        • individual-oriented/face-to-face discussion
        • group-oriented/using intermediaries
      • factors influencing the outcomes of intercultural misunderstanding
  4. Examining interpersonal skills for communicating in the multicultural workplace:
    • prerequisites for preventing misunderstanding
      • awareness of the influences of one’s own culture
      • awareness of differences in communication style
      • sensitivity to nonverbal behaviour
      • knowledge of workplace-oriented culture general and culture specific information
      • awareness of different cultural approaches to conflict
      • differentiation of task-oriented from relationship-oriented encounters
      • mindfulness
    • prerequisite skills for constructive communicating
      • expressing respect and positive regard
      • attending, observing and listening to gather information
      • describing, interpreting, evaluating behaviour (D.I.E.)
      • generating and testing hypotheses
      • perception-checking
      • giving appropriate constructive feedback
    • c. prerequisites for resolving misunderstanding
      • sensitivity to social and cultural issues
      • intercultural empathy
      • ability to manage anxiety associated with unfamiliarity
      • tolerance for sustained ambiguity in self, others and in workplace relationships
      • sense of humour
  5. Considering strategies for communicating one-to-one in the multicultural workplace
    • one-to-one encounters
      • orienting new workers
      • everyday interactions
    • interview situations
      • the research or information interview
      • selection interviews
      • performance appraisal interviews
    • telephone exchanges
  6. Identifying intercultural dynamics in small groups at work
    • definitions of a “work group”
    • role functions
    • stages of group development
    • group memberships
      • reference groups
      • in-group out-group dynamics
    • characteristics of effective multicultural work groups
    • strategies for building effective multicultural work groups
    • multicultural group dynamics in meetings
      • setting the stage for an effective meeting
      • managing meeting dynamics
      • bringing closure
  7. Exploring workplace leadership and decision-making style
    • definitions of leadership
    • cultural variation in views of power, status and authority
    • role attributions and expectations
    • communication style in leadership
    • characteristics of effective leaders in multicultural environments
    • strategies for effective leadership in the multicultural workplace
  8. Communicating about multicultural policies and ethics
    • ethics in a culturally relative world
    • workplace policy
    • professional codes of ethics
    • professional and ethical implications of multiculturalism in the workplace

Methods of Instruction

This course will emphasize experiential learning, will utilize interactive teaching methods and will require active student participation both in and beyond the classroom. Working individually or in small groups, students will be involved in the discussion, analysis and interpretation of face-to-face interpersonal communication as it applies to the multicultural  workplace. They will practice intercultural communication skills in simulated workplace settings and in role play situations. Role plays may be audio- or video-taped for the purposes of informed self- and peer-evaluation. Students are likely to conduct research with human participants as part of course requirements and evaluation. Instructors are responsible for making sure that such research is conducted in a manner consistent with College research ethics policies and federal policies.

Means of Assessment

Evaluation in this course includes a combination of self-, peer and instructor assessment. The following is one example of assessment components and weighting:

Case Studies and Double Entry Journal 20%
Interview with Professional who Experiences Cultural Difference in the Workplace 30%
Description, Analysis and Discussion of an Intercultural Group 20%
Skills Demonstration and Analysis 15%
Attendance, Participation and Class Activities 15%

Learning Outcomes

Overarching goal:

By the end of the course, students will be able to use basic theories and interpersonal skills to constructively frame and creatively address multicultural concerns, issues and problems in the workplace.


Within the context of the multicultural  workplace, students will be able to

  1. describe domestic circumstances that create the need for effective cross-cultural interpersonal communication skills
  2. exhibit basic foundational knowledge of terminology and selected models, theories and concepts useful in examining interpersonal communication across cultures
  3. account for some sources of misunderstanding across cultures and identify culturally different approaches to communicating about misunderstanding
  4. explain the elements of an interpersonal communication skill set for communicating across cultures
  5. discuss multicultural  dynamics in small work groups
  6. elaborate on different leadership styles and their effects
  7. discuss ethical issues, standards and professional codes of ethics


Within the context of the multicultural  workplace, students will be able to

  1. use theory to analyze workplace-related cross-cultural encounters
  2. demonstrate skills and strategies for communicating interpersonally in a variety of workplace settings, including one-to-one encounters, small and large groups, telephone exchanges, meetings, and research, selection and appraisal interviews
  3. reflect on factors influencing the outcomes of interpersonal encounters across cultures and describe  appropriate alternate approaches.


Within the context of the multicultural  workplace, students will be able to

  1. show awareness of the influences of one’s own culture on interpersonal communication
  2. demonstrate increased awareness of workplace issues arising from cultural differences.


Within the context of the multicultural  workplace, students will be able to

  1. cultivate a greater appreciation and enjoyment of interpersonal communication across cultures
  2. articulate, from their own perspective, the relevance of intercultural communication skills in professional undertakings.

course prerequisites

Recommended but not required: CMNS 1216 and CMNS 1104

curriculum guidelines

Course Guidelines for previous years are viewable by selecting the version desired. If you took this course and do not see a listing for the starting semester/year of the course, consider the previous version as the applicable version.

course schedule and availability
course transferability

Below shows how this course and its credits transfer within the BC transfer system. 

A course is considered university-transferable (UT) if it transfers to at least one of the five research universities in British Columbia: University of British Columbia; University of British Columbia-Okanagan; Simon Fraser University; University of Victoria; and the University of Northern British Columbia.

For more information on transfer visit the BC Transfer Guide and BCCAT websites.


If your course prerequisites indicate that you need an assessment, please see our Assessment page for more information.