Diversity is a Value. So, How Can We Enhance Our Communication Skills and Empathy?


Strategic tips from Valeria Russo, emotional coach, to improve cross-cultural skills and facilitate interaction. Spoiler: curiosity is the key.



By Valentina Grigoletto. Cover image by Margaret Mitchem for I’M Firenze Digest.

“Diversity is the one true thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day.” 

Winston Churchill 

Diversity is truly a unifying factor. Each of us is unique and irreplaceable, and our differences make us special despite the attempts of society, technological evolution and the standardised models promoted by the media to make us all alike.
But what is diversity? Do we really understand it fully and know how to value it instead of hiding it, as we often do?
At Istituto Marangoni, an international institute with schools in Europe, Asia, and the USA, we strive to promote diversity and inclusion among our students from various ethnicities, cultures, and religions. Our primary objective is to create a welcoming, secure, and motivational environment where students can express their identity, personality and creativity and develop sensitivity and openness towards others.
Valeria Russo, a tutor at Istituto Marangoni Firenze and an Emotional Coach with extensive knowledge of emotional skills, shared some valuable advice on how to strengthen our cross-cultural communication skills and thrive in a cosmopolitan educational and professional environment, learning how to listen, understand and empathise with others through diversity and inclusion skills tips.

© Margaret Mitchem, 2023.

How can we promote cross-cultural communication?

To understand how we can activate cross-cultural communication, let’s first consider the original meaning of ‘Communication’. The word is derived from the Latin words’ cum’ and ‘munire’, (from the Latin ‘cum’ + ‘munire’), meaning ‘to build, to create a bond’. Communication, therefore, is not a one-sided act but an act of co-creation, the result of giving and receiving. It is the result of interaction between two or more diverse cultures.

  • Cross-cultural communication is a connection between different cultures. The real challenge here is not the language barrier but the difficulty in expressing and sharing different cultural backgrounds, which have shaped and moulded us. 
  • Cross-cultural communication requires the skill to facilitate an encounter between different worlds, distant not only in territorial boundaries but also in terms of beliefs, values, habits, attitudes, mindsets, and other socioeconomic, generational and cultural differences.
  • Cross-cultural communication skill is not merely a meeting between two worlds but the ability to facilitate their interaction, the purpose of which is to create something new.

What are the major difficulties in communication between the new generations today?

Diversity and inclusion sit in the ability to adapt to change and comes naturally to the younger generations. They grow up in a world with increasingly fluid boundaries, shaping new realities where barriers are often seen as challenges. When I encounter difficulties, I tend to view them in the context of the generations before them, who have a slower approach to change and are often hesitant to embrace the openness that young people crave. The challenge of cross-generational communication lies in striking a balance between sharing and valuing experience on the one hand and harnessing enthusiasm and energy on the other.

How can we improve our empathic communication towards those we perceive to be different from us because of their culture, language or tradition? 

With curiosity. I often find myself talking about this great resource. Curiosity eliminates judgement, breaks down walls and builds bridges. We should maintain the curiosity that belongs to children, who don’t care about labels and differences, although they experience them, perceive them and absorb them at different levels. Another key ingredient to develop is our listening skills. Are we really able to listen? We must create a space between our perceptions and reactions to do that. By waiting and listening, we learn to see the world through the eyes of others and develop a true connection.

What is the real value of diversity? 

Diversity is an added value and an opportunity for growth. We have different choices when we face diversity. We can ignore it or pretend not to see it and decide that it does not interest us, or we can stop, observe it and slowly open up to it. We can become part of it and allow it to enrich our thoughts and actions. Diversity and inclusion are growing values.

How relevant is it to be able to support effective intercultural communication for our professional future and to improve leadership and teamwork?

Diversity is at home in our school. Here, we invest in our talents’ future, helping them develop skills that will help them build effective relationships in their future workplace. Leadership, self-leadership and teamwork are resources we strengthen to embrace and value diversity as an opportunity, not an obstacle. 
Our teams are multicultural, and we experience every day that the best teams are those where diversity converges into creating something new and where different unique individuals interact, put their skills together and create a new kind of uniqueness, which is the sum of all, exponentially enhanced by inclusion.

What are your thoughts on the new professional roles related to diversity and inclusion management being introduced in fashion and luxury companies?

In every market, there are still spheres with a somewhat rusty approach, and there is a real need to unravel toxic dynamics that hinder the well-being of individuals within the teams. In these cases, to change the corporate culture, it is essential to have professionals who can work on the individual and the group, creating a workplace environment that promotes psychological safety and empowering individuals to express their voices and ideas, knowing they will be heard. In turn, the team will benefit from the added value of different perspectives.

What is your advice for students coming to Florence who will start a new experience in a city rich in art and culture, with plenty of inspiration but also some barriers?

I advise new students to approach each day with curiosity and a smile. I tell them to let themselves be swept away by the beauty around them and become an integral and substantial part of it.

This is the second article on ‘Emotional Pills’, an idea by Valeria Russo and Valentina Grigoletto to support students and encourage them to improve their soft skills and stimulate their curiosity.

Fields of Study
Fashion Business

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