Tuesday, April 4th, 2017...6:10 pm

“Let’s do lunch!” Discomfort, Flexibility & Grad Connection

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Guest Blog

Rebecca Hazell


SOURCE: https://www.pexels.com/photo/people-coffee- meeting-team- 7096/

In a recent workshop on communication with the Graduate Conflict Resolution Centre, I asked the group what they felt were the real meanings behind certain commonly used phrases such as, “Let’s do lunch sometime.”  One international student described his confusion when people in Canada suggested “doing lunch” or “grabbing a drink,” but never followed through on making plans. “Why do you do that?” he asked the group (thankfully good-naturedly!).

This kind of difference in understanding is common across U of T with its large international student body and location within the most multicultural city in the world. When it comes to working across differences or nurturing intercultural understanding it helps to maintain a spirit of discovery and inquiry. When we encounter differences and treat our surprise as a spark that might lead to discovery, we move away from the judgement and stereotyping that can often lead to negative feeling or potentially a conflict between peers or colleagues.

Michelle Lebaron and Venashri Pillay have identified “flexibility” as an important starting point for dealing with intercultural conflict. They suggest “sitting with the discomfort” that may come from miscommunication or difference, interrupting the judgments that often govern our understanding of situations, and getting excited about the surprises that may come up in intercultural dialogues.

Think back to the international student whose sincere interpretation of each offer of a social outing left him feeling frustrated and confused. His question of “Why do you do that?” led to a lively group discussion about how some students may be socialized by a culture that doesn’t place as much importance on following through on every suggestion of a shared lunch.

By igniting a spark of inquiry or discovery in this situation we learned about the student’s genuine desire to interact with his peers socially, and how his own culture places a high value on sharing meals with friends. When it comes to communication conflicts across cultures, the cause may be what is left unsaid: shyness, a lack of trust, or maybe a difference in communication styles. Recognizing your own communication style or the cultural lens that informs your point of view can lead to greater awareness of difference and promote flexibility when there is a misunderstanding.

Miscommunication in intercultural dialogues may be prevented if you:

  • Embrace clarity in your language and speech
  • Express the meaning of your statements plainly, and
  • Use active listening skills to encourage your conversation partner to elaborate upon their point of view.

In my experience, intercultural understanding takes time and patience to develop, but has resulted in many meaningful friendships. I try to embrace any surprises or differences in understanding as opportunities to learn more about unfamiliar cultures and to engage with different perspectives. I have found greater understanding in grad school and in my life in Toronto by taking the time to ask questions, and to listen for what is left unsaid.

You can also always book an appointment with a G2G Peer Advisor on CLN or visit one of our many drop-ins on campus if you want to talk about a communication issue or difficult intercultural exchanges. We can help you develop strategies to overcome confusion or miscommunication with peers or colleagues on campus!

Also, check out some of these great resources on U of T campus:

  • Looking to build connections with grad students outside your department? Check out Grad Escapes for unique trips around Toronto and U of T campus with fellow grad students (http://uoft.me/2Wi).
  • Interested in developing your professional communication skills? Consider taking a Professional Development and Skills workshop at Grad Room (http://uoft.me/2Wk).
  • Are you an international student eager to meet others or improve your language skills? The Centre for International Experience (CIE) is place for you! The CIE offers an English Communication Program (ECP) (http://uoft.me/2Wl) and plenty of social events year round (http://uoft.me/2Wm).
  • The Multi-Faith Centre is a great place to start when seeking opportunities to meet other students and to engage in interfaith dialogue. (https://www.facebook.com/multifaithuoft).


Rebecca is a G2G Peer Advisor, M.Ed candidate in OISE’s Adult Education and Community Development program and Qualified Mediator.

Works Cited:

LeBaron, Michelle and Venashri Pillay. Conflict Across Cultures: A Unique Experience of Bridging Differences. Intercultural Press, 2006.


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