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The Multifaceted Role of Culture in Communication
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Published: Sep 12, 2023
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The cultural lens of language, unspoken messages: non-verbal communication, intercultural encounters and cultural intelligence, the globalized world: culture and communication, conclusion: navigating the cultural tapestry of communication.
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By Michelle LeBaron
All communication is cultural -- it draws on ways we have learned to speak and give nonverbal messages. We do not always communicate the same way from day to day, since factors like context, individual personality, and mood interact with the variety of cultural influences we have internalized that influence our choices. Communication is interactive, so an important influence on its effectiveness is our relationship with others. Do they hear and understand what we are trying to say? Are they listening well? Are we listening well in response? Do their responses show that they understand the words and the meanings behind the words we have chosen? Is the mood positive and receptive? Is there trust between them and us? Are there differences that relate to ineffective communication, divergent goals or interests, or fundamentally different ways of seeing the world? The answers to these questions will give us some clues about the effectiveness of our communication and the ease with which we may be able to move through conflict.
The challenge is that even with all the good will in the world, miscommunication is likely to happen, especially when there are significant cultural differences between communicators. Miscommunication may lead to conflict, or aggravate conflict that already exists. We make -- whether it is clear to us or not -- quite different meaning of the world, our places in it, and our relationships with others. In this module, cross-cultural communication will be outlined and demonstrated by examples of ideas, attitudes, and behaviors involving four variables:
- Time and Space
Fate and Personal Responsibility
Face and face-saving, nonverbal communication.
As our familiarity with these different starting points increases, we are cultivating cultural fluency -- awareness of the ways cultures operate in communication and conflict, and the ability to respond effectively to these differences.
Time and Space
Time is one of the most central differences that separate cultures and cultural ways of doing things. In the West, time tends to be seen as quantitative, measured in units that reflect the march of progress. It is logical, sequential, and present-focused, moving with incremental certainty toward a future the ego cannot touch and a past that is not a part of now. Novinger calls the United States a "chronocracy," in which there is such reverence for efficiency and the success of economic endeavors that the expression "time is money" is frequently heard. This approach to time is called monochronic -- it is an approach that favors linear structure and focus on one event or interaction at a time. Robert's Rules of Order, observed in many Western meetings, enforce a monochronic idea of time.
In the East, time feels like it has unlimited continuity, an unraveling rather than a strict boundary. Birth and death are not such absolute ends since the universe continues and humans, though changing form, continue as part of it. People may attend to many things happening at once in this approach to time, called polychronous. This may mean many conversations in a moment (such as a meeting in which people speak simultaneously, "talking over" each other as they discuss their subjects), or many times and peoples during one process (such as a ceremony in which those family members who have died are felt to be present as well as those yet to be born into the family).
A good place to look to understand the Eastern idea of time is India. There, time is seen as moving endlessly through various cycles, becoming and vanishing. Time stretches far beyond the human ego or lifetime. There is a certain timeless quality to time, an aesthetic almost too intricate and vast for the human mind to comprehend. Consider this description of an aeon, the unit of time which elapses between the origin and destruction of a world system: "Suppose there is a mountain, of very hard rock, much bigger than the Himalayas; and suppose that a man, with a piece of the very finest cloth of Benares, once every century should touch that mountain ever so slightly -- then the time it would take him to wear away the entire mountain would be about the time of an Aeon."
Differences over time can play out in painful and dramatic ways in negotiation or conflict-resolution processes. An example of differences over time comes from a negotiation process related to a land claim that took place in Canada. First Nations people met with representatives from local, regional, and national governments to introduce themselves and begin their work. During this first meeting, First Nations people took time to tell the stories of their people and their relationships to the land over the past seven generations. They spoke of the spirit of the land, the kinds of things their people have traditionally done on the land, and their sacred connection to it. They spoke in circular ways, weaving themes, feelings, ideas, and experiences together as they remembered seven generations into the past and projected seven generations forward.
When it was the government representatives' chance to speak, they projected flow charts showing internal processes for decision-making and spoke in present-focused ways about their intentions for entering the negotiation process. The flow charts were linear and spare in their lack of narrative, arising from the bureaucratic culture from which the government representatives came. Two different conceptions of time: in one, time stretches, loops forward and back, past and future are both present in this time. In the other, time begins with the present moment and extends into the horizon in which the matters at hand will be decided.
Neither side felt satisfied with this first meeting. No one addressed the differences in how time was seen and held directly, but everyone was aware that they were not "on the same page." Each side felt some frustration with the other. Their notions of time were embedded in their understandings of the world, and these understandings informed their common sense about how to proceed in negotiations. Because neither side was completely aware of these different notions of time, it was difficult for the negotiations to proceed, and difficult for each side to trust the other. Their different ideas of time made communication challenging.
This meeting took place in the early 1990s. Of course, in this modern age of high-speed communication, no group is completely disconnected from another. Each group -- government and First Nations representatives -- has had some exposure to the other's ideas of time, space, and ideas about appropriate approaches to negotiation. Each has found ways to adapt. How this adaptation takes place, and whether it takes place without one side feeling they are forced to give in to the other, has a significant impact on the course of the negotiations.
It is also true that cultural approaches to time or communication are not always applied in good faith, but may serve a variety of motives. Asserting power, superiority, advantage, or control over the course of the negotiations may be a motive wrapped up in certain cultural behaviors (for example, the government representatives' detailed emphasis on ratification procedures may have conveyed an implicit message of control, or the First Nations' attention to the past may have emphasized the advantages of being aware of history). Culture and cultural beliefs may be used as a tactic by negotiators; for this reason, it is important that parties be involved in collaborative-process design when addressing intractable conflicts. As people from different cultural backgrounds work together to design a process to address the issues that divide them, they can ask questions about cultural preferences about time and space and how these may affect a negotiation or conflict-resolution process, and thus inoculate against the use of culture as a tactic or an instrument to advance power.
Any one example will show us only a glimpse of approaches to time as a confounding variable across cultures. In fact, ideas of time have a great deal of complexity buried within them. Western concepts of time as a straight line emanating from no one in particular obscure the idea that there are purposive forces at work in time, a common idea in indigenous and Eastern ways of thought. From an Eastern or indigenous perspective, Spirit operates within space and time, so time is alive with purpose and specific meanings may be discerned from events. A party to a negotiation who subscribes to this idea of time may also have ideas about fate, destiny, and the importance of uncovering "right relationship" and "right action." If time is a circle, an unraveling ball of twine, a spiral, an unfolding of stories already written, or a play in which much of the set is invisible, then relationships and meanings can be uncovered to inform current actions. Time, in this polychronic perspective, is connected to other peoples as well as periods of history.
This is why a polychronic perspective is often associated with a communitarian starting point. The focus on the collective, or group, stretching forward and back, animates the polychronic view of time. In more monochronic settings, an individualist way of life is more easily accommodated. Individualists can more easily extract moments in time, and individuals themselves, from the networks around them. If time is a straight line stretching forward and not back, then fate or destiny may be less compelling. (For more on this, see the essay on Communication Tools for Understanding Cultural Difference .)
Another important variable affecting communication across cultures is fate and personal responsibility. This refers to the degree to which we feel ourselves the masters of our lives, versus the degree to which we see ourselves as subject to things outside our control. Another way to look at this is to ask how much we see ourselves able to change and maneuver, to choose the course of our lives and relationships. Some have drawn a parallel between the emphasis on personal responsibility in North American settings and the landscape itself. The North American landscape is vast, with large spaces of unpopulated territory. The frontier mentality of "conquering" the wilderness, and the expansiveness of the land stretching huge distances, may relate to generally high levels of confidence in the ability to shape and choose our destinies.
In this expansive landscape, many children grow up with an epic sense of life, where ideas are big, and hope springs eternal. When they experience setbacks, they are encouraged to redouble their efforts, to "try, try again." Action, efficacy, and achievement are emphasized and expected. Free will is enshrined in laws and enforced by courts.
Now consider places in the world with much smaller territory, whose history reflects repeated conquest and harsh struggles: Northern Ireland, Mexico, Israel, Palestine. In these places, there is more emphasis on destiny's role in human life. In Mexico, there is a legacy of poverty, invasion, and territorial mutilation. Mexicans are more likely to see struggles as inevitable or unavoidable. Their fatalistic attitude is expressed in their way of responding to failure or accident by saying "ni modo" ("no way" or "tough luck"), meaning that the setback was destined.
This variable is important to understanding cultural conflict. If someone invested in free will crosses paths with someone more fatalistic in orientation, miscommunication is likely. The first person may expect action and accountability. Failing to see it, they may conclude that the second is lazy, obstructionist, or dishonest. The second person will expect respect for the natural order of things. Failing to see it, they may conclude that the first is coercive or irreverent, inflated in his ideas of what can be accomplished or changed.
Another important cultural variable relates to face and face-saving . Face is important across cultures, yet the dynamics of face and face-saving play out differently. Face is defined in many different ways in the cross-cultural communication literature. Novinger says it is "the value or standing a person has in the eyes of others...and that it relate[s] to pride or self-respect." Others have defined it as "the negotiated public image, mutually granted each other by participants in [communication]." In this broader definition, face includes ideas of status, power, courtesy, insider and outsider relations, humor, and respect. In many cultures, maintaining face is of great importance, though ideas of how to do this vary.
The starting points of individualism and communitarianism are closely related to face. If I see myself as a self-determining individual, then face has to do with preserving my image with others and myself. I can and should exert control in situations to achieve this goal. I may do this by taking a competitive stance in negotiations or confronting someone who I perceive to have wronged me. I may be comfortable in a mediation where the other party and I meet face to face and frankly discuss our differences.
If I see my primary identification as a group member, then considerations about face involve my group. Direct confrontation or problem-solving with others may reflect poorly on my group, or disturb overall community harmony. I may prefer to avoid criticism of others, even when the disappointment I have concealed may come out in other, more damaging ways later. When there is conflict that cannot be avoided, I may prefer a third party who acts as a shuttle between me and the other people involved in the conflict. Since no direct confrontation takes place, face is preserved and potential damage to the relationships or networks of relationships is minimized.
Nonverbal communication is hugely important in any interaction with others; its importance is multiplied across cultures. This is because we tend to look for nonverbal cues when verbal messages are unclear or ambiguous, as they are more likely to be across cultures (especially when different languages are being used). Since nonverbal behavior arises from our cultural common sense -- our ideas about what is appropriate, normal, and effective as communication in relationships -- we use different systems of understanding gestures, posture, silence, spacial relations, emotional expression, touch, physical appearance, and other nonverbal cues. Cultures also attribute different degrees of importance to verbal and nonverbal behavior.
Low-context cultures like the United States and Canada tend to give relatively less emphasis to nonverbal communication. This does not mean that nonverbal communication does not happen, or that it is unimportant, but that people in these settings tend to place less importance on it than on the literal meanings of words themselves. In high-context settings such as Japan or Colombia, understanding the nonverbal components of communication is relatively more important to receiving the intended meaning of the communication as a whole.
Some elements of nonverbal communication are consistent across cultures. For example, research has shown that the emotions of enjoyment, anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and surprise are expressed in similar ways by people around the world. Differences surface with respect to which emotions are acceptable to display in various cultural settings, and by whom. For instance, it may be more social acceptable in some settings in the United States for women to show fear, but not anger, and for men to display anger, but not fear. At the same time, interpretation of facial expressions across cultures is difficult. In China and Japan, for example, a facial expression that would be recognized around the world as conveying happiness may actually express anger or mask sadness, both of which are unacceptable to show overtly.
These differences of interpretation may lead to conflict, or escalate existing conflict. Suppose a Japanese person is explaining her absence from negotiations due to a death in her family. She may do so with a smile, based on her cultural belief that it is not appropriate to inflict the pain of grief on others. For a Westerner who understands smiles to mean friendliness and happiness, this smile may seem incongruous and even cold, under the circumstances. Even though some facial expressions may be similar across cultures, their interpretations remain culture-specific. It is important to understand something about cultural starting-points and values in order to interpret emotions expressed in cross-cultural interactions.
Another variable across cultures has to do with proxemics, or ways of relating to space. Crossing cultures, we encounter very different ideas about polite space for conversations and negotiations. North Americans tend to prefer a large amount of space, perhaps because they are surrounded by it in their homes and countryside. Europeans tend to stand more closely with each other when talking, and are accustomed to smaller personal spaces. In a comparison of North American and French children on a beach, a researcher noticed that the French children tended to stay in a relatively small space near their parents, while U.S. children ranged up and down a large area of the beach.
The difficulty with space preferences is not that they exist, but the judgments that get attached to them. If someone is accustomed to standing or sitting very close when they are talking with another, they may see the other's attempt to create more space as evidence of coldness, condescension, or a lack of interest. Those who are accustomed to more personal space may view attempts to get closer as pushy, disrespectful, or aggressive. Neither is correct -- they are simply different.
Also related to space is the degree of comfort we feel moving furniture or other objects. It is said that a German executive working in the United States became so upset with visitors to his office moving the guest chair to suit themselves that he had it bolted to the floor. Contrast this with U.S. and Canadian mediators and conflict-resolution trainers, whose first step in preparing for a meeting is not infrequently a complete rearrangement of the furniture.
Finally, line-waiting behavior and behavior in group settings like grocery stores or government offices is culturally-influenced. Novinger reports that the English and U.S. Americans are serious about standing in lines, in accordance with their beliefs in democracy and the principle of "first come, first served." The French, on the other hand, have a practice of resquillage , or line jumping, that irritates many British and U.S. Americans. In another example, immigrants from Armenia report that it is difficult to adjust to a system of waiting in line, when their home context permitted one member of a family to save spots for several others.
These examples of differences related to nonverbal communication are only the tip of the iceberg. Careful observation, ongoing study from a variety of sources, and cultivating relationships across cultures will all help develop the cultural fluency to work effectively with nonverbal communication differences.
Each of the variables discussed in this module -- time and space, personal responsibility and fate, face and face-saving, and nonverbal communication -- are much more complex than it is possible to convey. Each of them influences the course of communications, and can be responsible for conflict or the escalation of conflict when it leads to miscommunication or misinterpretation. A culturally-fluent approach to conflict means working over time to understand these and other ways communication varies across cultures, and applying these understandings in order to enhance relationships across differences.
 Many of these ideas are discussed in more detail in LeBaron, Michelle. Bridging Cultural Conflicts. A New Approach for a Changing World. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2003.
 Novinger, Tracy. Intercultural Communication . Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2001, P. 84.
 Conze, Edward. Buddhism: Its Essence and Development . New York: HarperCollins, 1951, p. 49.
 For more about correspondences between landscape and national psyches, see: Novinger, Tracy. Intercultural Communication . Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2001.
 Novinger, p. 31
 Okun, Barbara F., Fried, Jane, Okun, Marcia L. Understanding Diversity. A Learning as Practice Primer . Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing, 1999, pp. 59-60.
 Ibid., p. 78.
 Novinger, p. 65.
 Ibid., p. 67.
 Ibid., pp. 68-69.
 Ibid., p. 68.
Use the following to cite this article: LeBaron, Michelle. "Cross-Cultural Communication." Beyond Intractability . Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: July 2003 < http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/cross-cultural-communication >.
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- Published: 23 March 2022
Communication competencies, culture and SDGs: effective processes to cross-cultural communication
- Stella Aririguzoh 1
Humanities and Social Sciences Communications volume 9 , Article number: 96 ( 2022 ) Cite this article
- Business and management
- Cultural and media studies
Globalization has made it necessary for people from different cultures and nations to interact and work together. Effective cross-cultural communication seeks to change how messages are packaged and sent to people from diverse cultural backgrounds. Cross-cultural communication competencies make it crucial to appreciate and respect noticeable cultural differences between senders and receivers of information, especially in line with the United Nations’ (UN) recognition of culture as an agent of sustainable development. Miscommunication and misunderstanding can result from poorly encrypted messages that the receiver may not correctly interpret. A culture-literate communicator can reduce miscommunication arising from a low appreciation of cultural differences so that a clement communication environment is created and sustained. This paper looks at the United Nations’ recognition of culture and how cultural differences shape interpersonal communication. It then proposes strategies to enhance cross-cultural communication at every communication step. It advocates that for the senders and receivers of messages to improve communication efficiency, they must be culture and media literates.
The United Nations has recognized culture as a causal agent of sustainability and integrated it into the SDG goals. Culture reinforces the economic, social, and communal fabrics that regulate social cohesion. Communication helps to maintain social order. The message’s sender and the receiver’s culture significantly influence how they communicate and relate with other people outside their tribal communities. Globalization has compelled people from widely divergent cultural backgrounds to work together.
People unconsciously carry their cultural peculiarities and biases into their communication processes. Naturally, there have been miscommunications and misunderstandings because people judge others based on their cultural values. Our cultures influence our behaviour and expectations from other people.
Irrespective of our ethnicities, people want to communicate, understand, appreciate, and be respected by others. Culture literate communicators can help clear some of these challenges, create more tolerant communicators, and contribute to achieving global sustainable goals.
The United Nations established 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 to transform the world by 2030 through simultaneously promoting prosperity and protecting the earth. The global body recognizes that culture directly influences development. Thus, SDG Goal 4.7 promotes “… a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development.” Culture really matters (Seymour, 2007 ). Significantly, cultural cognition influences how people process information from different sources and suggests policies they may support or oppose (Rachlinski, 2021 ). Culture can drive sustainable development (United Nations, 2015 ; De Beukelaer and Freita, 2015 ; Kangas et al., 2017 ; Heckler, 2014 ; Dessein et al., 2015 ; and Hosagrahar, 2017 ).
UNESCO ( 2013 , p.iii ; 2017 , p.16; 2013a , p. 30) unequivocally states that “culture is a driver of development,” an “enabler of sustainable development and essential for achieving the 2030 Agenda” and as “an essential pillar for sustainable development.” These bold declarations have led to the growth of the cultural sector. The culture industry encourages economic growth through cultural tourism, handicraft production, creative industries, agriculture, food, medicine, and fisheries. Culture is learned social values, beliefs, and customs that some people accept and share collectively. It includes all the broad knowledge, beliefs, art, morals, law, customs, and other experiences and habits acquired by man as a member of a particular society. This seems to support Guiso, Paola and Luigi ( 2006 , p. 23) view of culture as “those customary beliefs and values that ethnic, religious, and social groups transmit fairly unchanged from generation to generation.” They assert that there is a causality between culture and economic outcomes. Bokova ( 2010 ) claims that “the links between culture and development are so strong that development cannot dispense with culture” and “that these links cannot be separated.” Culture includes customs and social behaviour. Causadias ( 2020 ) claims that culture is a structure that connects people, places, and practices. Ruane and Todd ( 2004 ) write that these connections are everyday matters like language, rituals, kingship, economic way of life, general lifestyle, and labour division. Field ( 2008 ) notes that even though all cultural identities are historically constructed, they still undergo changes, transformation, and mutation with time. Although Barth ( 1969 ) affirms that ethnicity is not culture, he points out that it helps define a group and its cultural stuff . The shared cultural stuff provides the basis for ethnic enclosure or exclusion.
The cultural identities of all men will never be the same because they come from distinctive social groups. Cultural identification sorts interactions into two compartments: individual or self-identification and identification with other people. Thus, Jenkins ( 2014 ) sees social identity as the interface between similarities and differences, the classification of others, and self-identification. He argues that people would not relate to each other in meaningful ways without it. People relate both as individuals and as members of society. Ethnicity is the “world of personal identity collectively ratified and publicly expressed” and “socially ratified personal identity‟ (Geertz, 1973 , p. 268, 309). However, the future of ethnicity has been questioned because culture is now seen as a commodity. Many tribal communities are packaging some aspects of their cultural inheritances to sell to other people who are not from their communities (Comaroff and Comaroff, 2009 ).
There is a relationship between culture and communication. People show others their identities through communication. Communication uses symbols, for example, words, to send messages to recipients. According to Kurylo ( 2013 ), symbols allow culture to be represented or constructed through verbal and nonverbal communication. Message receivers may come from different cultural backgrounds. They try to create meaning by interpreting the symbols used in communication. Miscommunication and misunderstanding may arise because symbols may not have the same meaning for both the sender and receiver of messages. If these are not efficiently handled, they may lead to stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. Monaghan ( 2020 ), Zhu ( 2016 ), Holmes ( 2017 ), Merkin ( 2017 ), and Samovar et al. ( 2012 ) observe that inter-cultural communication occurs between people from different cultural groups. It shows how people from different cultural backgrounds can effectively communicate by comparing, contrasting, and examining the consequences of the differences in their communication patterns. However, communicating with others from different cultural backgrounds can be full of challenges, surprises, and re-learning because languages, values, and protocols differ. Barriers, like language and noise, impede communication by distorting, blocking, or altering the meaning.
Communication patterns change from one nation to the next. It is not uncommon, for example, for an American, a Nigerian, a Japanese national, or citizens of other countries to work together on a single project in today’s multi-cultural workplace. These men and women represent different cultural heritages. Martinovski ( 2018 ) remarks that both humans and virtual agents interact in cross-cultural environments and need to correctly behave as demanded by their environment. Possibly too, they may learn how to avoid conflicts and live together. Indeed, García-Carbonell and Rising ( 2006 , p. 2) remark that “as the world becomes more integrated, bridging the gap in cultural conflicts through real communication is increasingly important to people in all realms of society.” Communication is used to co-ordinate the activities in an organization for it to achieve its goals. It is also used to signal and order those involved in the work process.
This paper argues that barriers to cross-cultural communication can be overcome or significantly reduced if the actors in the communication processes become culture literates and competent communicators.
Statement of the problem
The importance of creating and maintaining good communication in human society cannot be overemphasized. Effective communication binds and sustains the community. Cross-cultural communication problems usually arise from confusion caused by misconstruction, misperception, misunderstanding, and misvaluation of messages from different standpoints arising from differences in the cultures of the senders and receivers of messages. Divergences in cultural backgrounds result in miscommunication that negatively limits effective encrypting, transmission, reception, and information decoding. It also hinders effective feedback.
With the rapid spread of communication technologies, no community is completely isolated from the rest of the world. Present-day realities, such as new job opportunities and globalization, compel some people to move far away from their local communities and even their countries of origin to other places where the cultures are different. Globalization minimizes the importance of national borders. The world is no longer seen as a globe of many countries but as a borderless entity (Ohmae, 1999 ) and many markets (Levitt, 1983 ) in different countries with different cultures. As a matter of necessity, people from other countries must communicate.
The United Nations ( 2015 ) recognizes culture’s contribution to sustainable development and promotes local cultures in development programmes to increase local population involvement. Despite the United Nations’ lofty ideals of integrating culture into development, culture has hindered development at different levels. Interventions meant to enhance development are sometimes met with opposition from some people who feel that such programmes are against their own culture.
Gumperz ( 2001 , p. 216) argues that “all communication is intentional and grounded in inferences that depend upon the assumption of mutual good faith. Culturally specific presuppositions play a key role in inferring what is intended.” Cross-border communications reflect the kaleidoscope of the diverse colours of many cultures, meeting, clashing, and fusing. Like Adler ( 1991 , p. 64) observes, “foreigners see, interpret, and evaluate things differently, and consequently act upon them differently.” Diversities in culture shape interpersonal communication. Yet the basic communication process is the same everywhere. It is in these processes that challenges arise. Therefore, this study seeks to examine how each of these steps can be adapted to enhance cross-cultural communication, especially in today’s digitized era of collapsing cultural boundaries. Barriers to cross-cultural communication can be significantly reduced if the actors in the communication processes become culture literates and competent communicators.
The objectives of this study are
To examine United Nations efforts to integrate culture into sustainable development.
To suggest modifications to each communication process step to improve effective cross-cultural communication.
Some authors have tried to link culture, communication, and sustainable goals.
The need to know about people’s culture
There are compelling reasons to learn about other people’s cultures.
Cultural literacies: Difficulties in cross-cultural communication can be reduced when senders of messages understand that the world is broader than their ethnocentric circles. It demands that senders of messages know that what they believe may not always be correct when communicating with receivers of these messages who are from different cultures. Logical reasoning will expect increased exposure to different cultures to increase understanding. When people of different groups communicate frequently, it is anticipated that they should understand each other better. This is what Hirsch ( 1987 ) labels as cultural literacy . In the ordinary course of things, common knowledge destroys mutual suspicion and misinterpretation that often generate conflicts.
To protect the earth: It is essential to point out that at “the most global level, the fate of all people, indeed the fate of the earth, depends upon negotiations among representatives of governments with different cultural assumptions and ways of communicating” (Tannen, 1985 , p. 203). If the world is to be protected, it is necessary to understand other peoples’ cultures who live and interact with us at different fronts and in this same world. The world is still our haven. Nevertheless, Vassiliou et al. ( 1972 ) find that increased exposure can increase people’s mutual negative stereotyping. Tannen ( 1985 , p. 211) remarks that stereotypes of ethnic groups partly develop from the poor impressions that people from other cultures have about the natives because they hold different meanings for both parties. Stereotyping is detrimental to cross-cultural communication, and its dismissal is necessary for any successful cross-cultural exchange.
Spin-offs from globalization: Bokova ( 2013 ) observes that globalization transforms all societies and brings culture to the front. She remarks that communities are increasingly growing diverse and yet interconnected. The spin-offs from globalization open great doors for exchanges, mutual enrichment of persons from different cultures, and pictures of new worlds.
The dynamics of cross-cultural communication
Different cultures emphasize different values. The emphasis on one value by one culture may lead to difficulties in cross-cultural communication with another person who does not see that particular value in the same light, for example, timeliness. It is crucial to note Sapir’s ( 1956 , p. 104) insistence that “every cultural pattern and every single act of social behaviour involves communication in either an explicit or implicit sense.” Even though Hofstede ( 2005 , p. 1) comments that “cultural differences are nuisance at best and often a disaster,” UNESCO ( 1998 , 1999 ) recognizes cultural diversity as an “essential factor of development” and an issue that matters. This makes cultural diversity a blessing rather than a disaster. The various shades of cultural values influence how we behave and communicate with others outside our cultural environment. Our ideals and biases also influence communication.
Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner ( 1997 ) developed a culture model with seven dimensions. They are universalism versus particularism (rules versus relationships); individualism versus communitarianism (the individual versus the group); specific versus diffuse (how far people get involved); neutral versus emotional (how people express emotions) ; achievement versus ascription (how people view status); sequential time versus synchronous time (how people manage time); and internal direction versus outer direction (how people relate to their environment). These cultural models signify how people from these areas communicate. People from different backgrounds may have difficulties communicating as their values may be significantly different. A good communicator must take note of this distinctiveness in values because they impact the communication processes. For example, a person who is particular about upholding written rules may not be interested in knowing who the culprit is before administering sanctions. But the other person interested in maintaining a good relationship with others may re-consider this approach.
Hofstede ( 1980 ) identifies five significant values that may influence cross-cultural communication:
Power distance: This is the gap between the most and the least influential members of society. People from different cultures perceive equality in various ways. The social hierarchy or status determines where individuals are placed. Status is conferred by inheritance or by personal achievement. Some cling to societal classification and its hierarchy of power. Others value and cherish the equality of all people. Yet, other cultures see other people as dependents and somehow inferior beings. A king in an African community is seen as far more powerful and important than his servants, who are expected to pay obeisance to him. Most countries in Europe are egalitarian. Arabic and Asian countries are high on the power index.
Individualism versus collectivism: This explains the extent to which members of a particular culture value being seen first, as individuals or as members of a community. As individuals, they are entirely held accountable for their errors. They are also rewarded as individuals for their exploits. However, in some cultures, the wider community is involved. Suppose a person makes an inglorious error. The whole community where that individual comes from shares in it. The same goes if he wins laurels and awards. The individual does not exist primarily for himself. African, Japanese, Indian, and most Asiatic nations follow the collective approach. A Chinese man has his Guanxi or Guanshi. This is his network of influential and significant contacts that smoothen his business and other activities (Yeung and Tung, 1996 ). He succeeds or fails based on his personal relationships. In other words, the basis of business is friendship. This is clear evidence of collectivism. Most people from America and Europe are individualistic. It must be pointed out that personal values mediate both community and individualistic spirit. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s communitarianism vs. individualism appears very similar to this Hofstede’s individualism/collectivism orientation. The information receiver who values his individuality will be offended if he is seen as just a group member or if his negative performance on the job is discussed openly. The message sender who appreciates his subordinates would send personalized messages and expect their feedback.
Uncertainty avoidance: This shows the degree to which a particular culture is uncomfortable with uncertainties and ambiguities. Some cultures avoid or create worries about how much they disclose to other people. A culture with high uncertainty avoidance scores wants to avoid doubts by telling and knowing the absolute truth in everything. For them, everything should be plainly stated. When situations are not like this, they are offended, worried, and intolerant of other people or groups they feel are hiding facts by not being plain enough. Hofstede and Bond ( 1988 ) write that this trait is very peculiar to western Europeans. This means that people from countries like Greece, Turkey, and Spain are very high on uncertainty avoidance. Communication between people with high or low uncertainties may be hindered. Some people may appear rude and uncouth because of their straightforward ways of talking. Some Africans may see some Americans and people from Europe as too wide-mouthed because they feel they do not use discretion in talking. They say things they may prefer to keep silent about and hide from the public’s ears. On the other hand, some Americans may see some Africans as unnecessarily secretive. Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner’s ( 1997 ) universalism/particularism explains why some cultures insist on applying the rule of law no matter who the offender is.
Masculinity/feminity roles : Hofstede ( 2001 ) defines masculinity as society’s preference for success, heroism, assertiveness, and material rewards for success. Conversely, femininity is seen as the preference for co-operation, diffidence, caring for the weak and quality of life. The male-female contradiction affects communication. Females are expected to be meek homemakers that tend and nurture their family members. Like Sweden and Norway, cultures that favour females do not discriminate between the sexes. Japan and Nigeria have cultures that are predominantly masculine in orientation. Competitive and aggressive females are frowned at and seen as social deviants. In the other cultures where females are more favoured, a man may land in court and face public condemnation for domestic violence. Hofstede ( 1998 ) believes that how different cultures see the male/female roles influence how they treat gender, sexuality, and religion.
Long-time orientations: A particular society accepts some degree of long or short associations. Japanese culture scores high in long-term orientation values, commitments, and loyalty. They respect tradition, and therefore, changes in their society take a longer time to happen. Cultures with low long-term orientation do not value tradition much, nor do they go out of their way to nurture long-standing relationships. Literally, changes occur in rapid succession. There appears to be more attachment to the pursuit of immediate self-satisfaction and simple-minded well-being. Baumeister and Wilson ( 1996 , pp. 322–325) say that meaning comes from a sense of purpose, efficacy, value, and a sense of positive self-worth. Thus, if you communicate with somebody with a short-term orientation, you may think that he is too hasty and intemperate, while he may feel that you are too sluggish and not ready to take immediate action.
Hall ( 1983 ) introduces two other factors:
Time usage: Some cultures are monochronic, while others are polychronic. Monochronic cultures are known for doing one thing at a time. Western Europe is monochronic in time orientation, as illustrated by the familiar adage that says, “There is a time and place for everything!” Persons from this cultural background are very punctual and strictly adhere to plans. They are task-oriented. Polychronic cultures schedule multiple tasks simultaneously, even though there may be distractions and interruptions while completing them. Plans may often change at short notice. Such different time management and usage may constrict effective communication. A London business entrepreneur will find it difficult to understand why his business partner from Nigeria may be thirty minutes late for a scheduled meeting. The answer is in their perception of time. Some Nigerians observe what is referred to as African time , where punctuality is tacitly ignored.
Low and high context: This refers to how much a culture depends on direct or indirect verbal communication. According to Hall ( 1976 ), low context cultures explicitly refer to the topic of discussion. The speaker and his audience know that the words mean exactly what they say. In high context cultures, the meanings of words are drawn from the context of the communication process. The words may never mean what they say. For example, the sentence: I have heard . In the low context culture, it merely means that the listener has used his ears to listen to what the speaker is saying. In the high context culture, the listener knows more than what the speaker is saying and may be planning something unpleasant. Europeans and North Americans have low contexts. African and Asian nations have high contexts.
Vaknin ( 2005 ) brings in another value:
Exogenic and endogenic: This shows how people relate to their environment. Deeply exogenic cultures look outside themselves to make sense of life. Hence, they believe in God and His power to intervene in the affairs of men. Endogenic cultures draw on themselves when searching for the meaning of life. They think they can generate solutions to tackle the problems facing them. While the endogenic person may exert himself to find a solution to a challenge, his exogenic partner may believe that supernatural help will come from somewhere and refuses to do what is needed. Of course, this provides a problematic platform for effective communication.
The United Nations’ sustainable development goals and culture
The United Nations recognizes that culture is implicitly crucial to the achievement of the SDGs. No meaningful development can occur outside any cultural context because every person is born into a culture. To a large extent, our cultural foundations determine what we do and how we see things. Therefore, culture must be integrated into sustainable development strategies. Some specific goals’ targets acknowledge that culture drives development. Sustainable development revolves around economic, social, and environmental objectives for people. These goals are implicitly or explicitly dependent on culture because culture impacts people.
There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals. However, there are four specific ones that refer to culture are:
SDG 4 focuses on quality education
By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture’s contribution to sustainable development
In other words, quality education is most effective if it responds to a place and the community’s cultural context and exactitudes. This target hinges on education promoting peace, non-violence, and cultural diversity as precursors to sustainable development. Encouraging respect for cultural diversity within acceptable standards facilitates cultural understanding and peace.
SDG 8 focuses on decent work and economic growth
By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products
Strengthening trade in cultural goods and services will provide growth impetus for local, national, and international markets. These will create employment opportunities for people whose work revolves around cultural goods. Cultural tourism generates revenues that improve the economy. In this sense, culture facilitates the community’s well-being and sustainability.
SDG 11 focuses on sustainable cities and communities
Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage
When our cultural heritage is carefully managed, it attracts sustainable investments in tourism. The local people living where this heritage is domiciled ensure that it is not destroyed and that they themselves will not damage the heritage areas.
SDG 12 focuses on responsible consumption and production
Develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products
Several indigenous livelihoods and crafts are built on local knowledge and management of the ecosystem, natural resources, and local materials. If natural resources are depleted, production will be endangered. Local livelihoods that utilize low technology and energy generate less waste and keep their environment free from pollution. In other words, proper management of the ecosystem prevents biodiversity loss, reduces land degradation, and moderates adverse climate change effects. Where there are natural disasters, traditional knowledge already embedded in the people’s culture helps them become resilient.
The social construction of reality is hinged on the belief that people make sense of their social world by assembling their knowledge. Scheler ( 1960 ) labels this assemblage the Sociology of Knowledge . Berger and Luckmann ( 1966 , p.15) contend that this “knowledge is concerned with the analysis of the social construction of reality.” Social construction theory builds on peoples’ comprehension of their own life experiences. From there, people make assumptions about what they think life is or should be. Young and Collin ( 2004 ) present that social constructionism pays more attention to society than individuals. Communities determine what they feel is acceptable. What is widely accepted by a particular community may be unacceptable to other people who are not members of this group. Therefore, people see an issue as good or bad based on their group’s description. Thus, what is a reality in Society A may be seen as illegal in Society B . Berger and Luckmann ( 1966 ) claim that people create their own social and cultural worlds and vice versa. According to them, common sense or basic knowledge is sustained through social interactions. These, in turn, reinforce already existing perceptions of reality, leading to routinization and habitualization. Berger and Luckmann ( 1991 ) say that dialogue is the most important means of maintaining, modifying, and reconstructing subjective reality.
Burr ( 2006 ) writes that the four fundamental tenets of social constructionism are: a critical instance towards taken-for-granted knowledge, historical and cultural specificity; knowledge sustained by social processes; and that knowledge and social action go together. This taken-for-granted knowledge is a basic common-sense approach to daily interactions. Historical and cultural specificities look at the peculiar but past monuments that have shaped the particular society. Knowledge is created and sustained by socialization. Good knowledge improves the common good. However, whoever applies the knowledge he has acquired wrongly incurs sanctions. This is why convicted criminals are placed behind bars.
Social constructions exist because people tacitly agree to act as if they do (Pinker, 2002 ). Whatever people see as realities are actually what they have learnt, over long periods, through their interactions with their society’s socialization agents such as the family, schools and churches. Cultural realities are conveyed through a language: the vehicle for communication. Language communicates culture by telling about what is seen, spoken of, or written about. However, groups construct realities based on their cultures. The media construct realities through the production, reproduction, and distribution of messages from which their consumers give meaning to their worlds and model their behaviours.
The method of study
The discourse analysis method of study is adopted for this work. Foucault ( 1971 ) developed the ‘discursive field’ to understand the relationships between language, social institutions, subjectivity, and power. Foucault writes that discourses relate to verbalization at the most basic level. The discursive method explores the construction of meanings in human communication by offering a meaningful interpretation of messages to enhance purposeful communication. Discourse analysis examines how written, or spoken language is used in real-life situations or in the society. Language use affects the creation of meaning; and, therefore, defines the context of communication. Kamalu and Isisanwo ( 2015 ) posit that discourse analysis considers how language is used in social and cultural contexts by examining the relationship between written and spoken words. Discourse analysis aims to understand how and why people use language to achieve the desired effect. The discursive method explores the construction of meanings in human communication by offering a meaningful interpretation of messages to enhance purposeful communication. Gale ( 2010 ) says that meaning is constructed moment by moment. Garfinkel ( 1967 ) explains this construction as the common-sense actions of ordinary people based on their practical considerations and judgments of what they feel are intelligible and accountable to others. According to Keller ( 2011 ), a peoples’ sense of reality combines their routinized interactions and the meanings they attach to objects, actions, and events. It is in this understanding of the natural use of language that some barriers to effective cross-cultural communication can be reduced.
Messages may assume different meanings in different situations for other people. These meanings affect social interactions. They either encourage or discourage further human communication. As Katz ( 1959 ) has written, interpersonal relationships influence communication. To make meaning out of messages and improve human relationships, it is necessary to understand that content and context may not represent the same thing to people in different situations. Waever ( 2004 , p. 198) states that “things do not have meaning in and of themselves, they only become meaningful in discourse.” Since people’s perspectives are different, it becomes extremely difficult to form a rigid basis on specific ideas. Ideas are discussed on their merits. Discursive analysis inspects the ways individuals construct events by evaluating language usage in writing, speech, conversation, or symbolic communication (Edwards, 1997 ; Harre and Gillet, 1994 ). Language is the carrier of culture. According to Van Dijk ( 1995 , p. 12), this approach is used to study descriptive, explanatory, and practical issues in “the attempt to uncover, reveal or disclose what is implicit, hidden or otherwise not immediately obvious in relations of discursively enacted dominance or their underlying ideologies.” The media play fundamental roles in the processes of constructing or reconstructing reality. They can do these because of Aririguzoh’s ( 2004 ) observation that the press impacts the political and socio-cultural sub-systems.
Culture at the international galleries
The affairs of culture came into international prominence at the UNESCO’s World Conference on Cultural Policies held in Mexico in 1982. This conference gave a broad definition of culture to include “the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs” (UNESCO, 1982 , p. 1).
The United Nations World Commission on Culture and Development, led by J. Perez de Cuellar, published our Creative Diversity’s Landmark Report (UNESCO, 1995 ). This report points out the great importance of incorporating culture into development. Although the Commission recognizes cultural diversities, it sees them as the actual vehicles driving creativity and innovation. During the World Decade on Culture and Development (1988–1998), UNESCO stepped up again to campaign for greater recognition of culture’s contribution to national and international development policies. In 1998, Stockholm hosted an Inter-governmental Conference on Cultural Policies for Development. Its Action Plan on Cultural Policies for Development reaffirmed the correlation between culture and development (UNESCO, 1998 ). In 1999, UNESCO and the World Bank held the Inter-governmental Conference, Culture Counts , in Florence. Here, ‘cultural capital’ was emphasized as the tool for sustainable development and economic growth (UNESCO, 1999 ).
The United Nations General Assembly adopted the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document . Here, cultural diversity was explicitly admitted as a contributor to the enrichment of humankind. The United Nations General Assembly Resolutions on Culture and Development adopted in 2010 and 2011 (65/166 and 66/208) recognize culture as an “essential component of human development” and “an important factor in the fight against poverty, providing for economic growth and ownership of the development processes.” These resolutions called for the mainstreaming of culture into development policies at all levels. The UN System Task Team on the Post 2015 Development Agenda issued a report, Realizing the Future We Want for All ( 2012 , p. ii), with a direct charge that culture has a clear role to play in the “transformative change needed for a rights-based, equitable and sustainable process of global development.” Paragraph 71 of the report declares:
It is critical to promote equitable change that ensures people’s ability to choose their value systems in peace, thereby allowing for full participation and empowerment. Communities and individuals must be able to create and practice their own culture and enjoy that of others free from fear. This will require, inter alia, respect for cultural diversity, safeguarding cultural and natural heritage, fostering cultural institutions, strengthening cultural and creative industries, and promoting cultural tourism (p. 33).
In 2005, the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions member states agreed that cultural diversity “increases the range of choices and nurtures human capacities and values. Therefore, it is a mainspring for sustainable development for communities, peoples and nations” (UNESCO, 2005 , p. 1). The Convention reiterated the importance of the link between culture and development. UNESCO also steers an International Fund for Cultural Diversity to promote sustainable development and poverty reduction among the developing and least developed countries that are parties to the Convention.
UN Resolution 2347 of 2017 focuses exclusively on protecting cultural heritage and its necessity for peace and security. This Resolution brings a thorough awareness of culture’s role as a source of stability, inclusion, driver of reconciliation, and resilience. This Resolution reinforces Resolution 2199, adopted in February 2015, partly to fight against international terrorism financing and prohibit the illicit trafficking of cultural goods from Iraq and Syria.
Communication processes for overcoming difficulties in cross-cultural communication
The primary risk in cross-cultural communication is distortion, which creates misunderstanding or even misrepresentation of the conveyed information. Baumgratz ( 1990 , pp. 161–168) shares the opinion that relevant cultural dimensions of what he calls a social communication situation should be mapped out for individuals or groups who are from different nations or cultural origins but who have realized the need to contribute to the achievement of social, institutional, organizational, group, and personal aims. The tactics to overcome difficulties in cross-cultural communication lie in the communication processes. Any of the steps can become a barrier since culture influences the behaviour of both senders and receivers of messages. Barriers impede communication by distorting, blocking, or creating misunderstandings. Hence, it is necessary to create an enabling environment that will make communicating easier. Each of the communication steps can be strategized to enhance communication.
He is the source or initiator of the message. He can be a person or an organization. If the sender is a person, Malec ( 2018 ) refers to him as the carrier of intangible culture and the creator of the tangible ones. Messages are conveyed through spoken or written words. Nevertheless, messages can also be non-verbal. The encoding includes selecting words, symbols, or gestures in composing a message. The sender should encrypt, transfer meaning, or package his messages in ways that the receivers can access them. He should use symbols that the receiver would comprehend. The first thing he should do is use a language that his receiver understands. For example, it is useless to send a message written in English to another person who only understands French. Not only is the effort wasted, but it might also generate hostility. In Nigeria, Mexican soaps are freely watched. However, their producers avoided the obvious language challenge by dubbing in English voice-overs.
Words mean different things in different languages. For example, a British boss would answer yes to a question. However, his American subordinate would answer, yeah . The boss would think that he is disrespectful and impolite. Meanwhile, the American employee would be bewildered by the boss’s apparent coldness. British people use words that have different meanings from their American counterparts. For example, the word, pant , means underwear to a Briton but a pair of trousers to an American. The Englishman may still run into trouble with other nationals because his words have different meanings to these listeners. For example, the English phrase fart means a different thing among the Danish. For them, the word means speed ! The English word gift means poison in German. If an Englishman calls somebody a brat , his Russian friend will conclude that he is calling him his brother , which is what the word means in his language. Igbo children of south-eastern Nigeria call the hawk leke . But for the Yorubas in the southwest, this is the name given to a male child.
The sender, too, must know that even body language may mean different things. He should not assume that non-verbal messages mean the same in every part of the world. In Japan, nodding the head up and down means disagreement. In Nigeria, it means the opposite. Even though his own culture invariably influences the message’s sender, he should understand that his message is intended for a cross-cultural audience. He must also realize that the contents are no longer meant for ethnic communities defined by geographical locations but for an audience connected by frequent interactions that are not necessarily in the same physical place. A message sender that values esprit de corps will incorporate this into his messages by telling them that the laurel does not go to any person in particular but to the winning team. He thus encourages everybody to join in to win, not as individuals but as members of a group. If he is high on doubt avoidance, he makes his messages very direct and unambiguous and leaves no room for misinterpretation. However, a male sender who wants to assert his masculinity may wish to sound harsh. The sender who regularly attends church services may unconsciously put some words of Scripture in his messages because of his exogenic roots. The sender with monochronic orientation will send one message and expect the task to be completed as scheduled. His linear cultural background will be offended if the result is the contrary. Similarly, the sender who places a high value on rules and regulations would send messages of punishment to those who break them but reward those who keep them without minding his relationships with them. An effective sender of messages to a cross-cultural society should state his ideas clearly, offer explanations when needed, or even repeat the whole communication process if he does not get the appropriate feedback.
This is the information content the sender wants to share with his receivers. These include stories, pictures, or advertisements. He should carefully avoid lurid and offensive content. A French man may see nothing wrong in his wife wearing a very skimpy bikini and other men ogling at her at a public beach. His counterpart from Saudi Arabia will be upset if other men leer at his wife. In addition, the wife would be sanctioned for dressing improperly and appearing in public. If a person has a message to share with others from a different cultural background, he should be careful. His listeners may not isolate his statement as being distinct from his personality.
Societies with high context culture usually consider the messages they send or receive before interpreting them. Messages are hardly delivered straightforwardly. The message is in the associated meanings attached to the pictures and symbols. Thus, those outside that community find it very difficult to understand the meaning of the messages. In low-context communication, the message is the information in words. The words mean what they say. However, a corporate sender of messages, for example, the head of the Human Resources Department of a multi-cultural company interested in building team spirit, may organize informal chit-chats and get-togethers to break the proverbial ice as well as create a convivial atmosphere where people can relate. The message he is passing across is simple: let colleagues relax, relate, and work together as team members irrespective of where they come from. All of these are communicative actions.
The channel’s work is to provide a passage for the sender to guide his message to the receiver. While face-to-face communication is ideal for intimate and close group conversations, it is impossible to talk to everybody simultaneously. Different channels of passing across the same message may be used. For example, the same message may be passed through radio, adapted for television, put online, or printed in newsletters, newspapers, and magazines. The hope is that people who missed the message on one channel may see it on another somewhere else. A pronounced media culture will hasten cross-cultural communication. Many people consume media content. However, these consumers are expected to be media literates. Aririguzoh ( 2007 , p. 144) writes that:
media literacy is the systematic study of the media and their operations in our socio-political systems as well as their contributions to the development and maintenance of culture. It is the information and communication skill that is needed to make citizens more competent. It is the ability to read what the print media offer, see what the visual media present, and hear what the aural media announce. It is a response to the changing nature of information in our modern society.
Official messages should be passed through defined routes and are best written. This would close avenues of possible denials by others if the same message were passed across verbally. It could be difficult to misinterpret the contents of a written document. Written documents have archival values. As much as possible, rumours should be stamped out. A good manager should single out regular gossips in a multi-cultural organization for special attention. Equally, an effective manager heading widely dispersed employees can co-ordinate their activities using communication technologies with teleconferencing features. Aririguzoh ( 2007 , p. 45) notes, “information and communication technologies have transformed the range and speed of dispersing information and of communicating. Today, the whole world lies a click away!”
The media of communication are shaped by the culture of the people who produce them. What they carry as contents and the form they assume are defined by the culture of the sender. In low-context societies, it is common for messages to be written. In high context societies, it is common for statements to be verbal. Importantly, Aririguzoh ( 2013 , pp. 119–120) points out that “… the mass media can effectively be deployed to provide pieces of information that enhance communication, build understanding and strengthen relationships in our rapidly changing environment dictated by the current pace of globalization. The mass media assiduously homogenize tastes, styles, and points of view among many consumers of its products across the globe. They have effectively helped in fading away national distinctions and growing mass uniformity as they create, distribute and transmit the same entertainment, news, and information to millions of people in different nations.”
The receiver is the person the sender directs his message to. In a workplace, the receiver needs the message or information to do his job. The receiver decodes or tries to understand the meaning of the sender’s message by breaking it down into symbols to give the proper feedback. If the message is verbal, the receiver has to listen actively. The message receiver must understand a message based on his existing orientations shaped by his own culture. Even the messages that he picks are selected to conform to his existing preconceptions.
Oyserman et al. ( 2002 ) make an interesting discovery: that receivers from different cultures interpret the message senders’ mannerisms. For an American, a speaker talking very quickly is seen as telling the uncensored truth. In other words, the speaker who talks too slowly implicates himself as a liar! However, for the Koreans, slow speech denotes careful consideration of others. In some cultures, particularly in Asia, the receiver is responsible for effective communication. Kobayashi and Noguchi ( 2001 ) claim that he must become an expert at “understanding without words.” Miyahara ( 2004 , p. 286) emphasizes that even children literarily learn to read other people’s minds by evaluating the subtle cues in their messages and then improvising to display the expected and appropriate social behaviour and communication. Gestures involve the movements of the hands and head of the sender. The receiver clearly understands these body movements. As painted by Sapir ( 1927 , p. 556), “we respond to gestures with an extreme alertness and, one might almost say, in accordance with an elaborate and secret code that is written nowhere, known by none, and understood by all.”
Receivers who value individualism appreciate personal freedom, believe that they can make their own decisions, and respect their performance. Those who prefer communitarianism would prefer group applause and loyalty. A monochromatic receiver would start and finish a task before starting another one. He would be offended when colleagues do not meet deadlines, are late to appointments, and do not keep rigid schedules. His co-worker, who synchronizes his time, develops a flexible working schedule to work at two or more tasks.
This is the final process. Ordinarily, the sender wants a response to determine if the message he sent out has been received and understood. Acknowledging a message does not indicate a clear understanding of its contents. Feedback can be positive or negative. Positive feedback arises when the receiver interprets the message correctly and does what the sender wants. Negative feedback comes when messages are incorrectly interpreted, and the receiver does not do what the sender of the information has intended him to do. Cross-cultural communication recognizes that people come from different backgrounds. Therefore, feedback on diverse messages would be different. A sensitive communicator would be careful how he designs his messages for a heterogeneous audience so that he can elicit the desired feedback.
It must be emphasized that no culture is superior to another as each culture meets the needs of those who subscribe to it. To a large extent, our culture influences our behaviours and expectations from other people. Although there are noticeable similarities and differences, what separates one culture from another is its emphasis on specific values. As the United Nations has affirmed, there is diversity in cultures. These diversities add colour and meaning to human existence. This suggests that particular policies should be carved out to attend to specific locations and supports Satterthwaite’s ( 2014 ) proposition that local actors should be empowered to help achieve the SDGs. What the local populace in one community may appreciate may be frowned upon and even be fought against by residents in another place. As Hossain and Ali ( 2014 ) point out, individuals constitute the societies where they live and work. While Bevir ( 1996 ) describes this relationship as that of mutual dependence, he recognizes that people are influenced by their particular social structures and therefore do not go against them. Bevir believes that social systems exist for individuals.
Societies are built on shared values, norms and beliefs. These, in turn, have profound effects on individuals. Society’s culture affects individuals while the individuals create and shape the society, including initiating sustainable development. Development rests on the shoulders of men. Thus, culture influences the ways individuals behave and communicate. The effective communicator must actively recognize these elements and work them into communication practices. As Renn et al. ( 1997 , p. 218) point out, “sustainable practices can be initiated or encouraged by governmental regulation and economic incentives. A major element to promote sustainability will be, however, the exploration and organization of discursive processes between and among different actors.”
To achieve the United Nations sustainable goals, the competent communicator has to recognize that the culture of the actors in a communication process is the basic foundation for effective communication. For example, while one individual may discuss issues face-to-face and is not afraid to express his feelings candidly, another person may not be so direct. He may even involve third parties to mediate in solving a problem. Either way, their approaches are defined by their cultural backgrounds. It may be counterproductive to assume that either of these approaches is the best. This assertion is supported by the study of Stanton ( 2020 ), who explored intercultural communication between African American managers and Hispanic workers who speak English as a second language. He finds managers that follow culturally sensitive communication strategies getting more work done. Cartwright ( 2020 ) also observes that intercultural competence and recognition of cultural differences in East and Central Europe are foundation pillars for business success. This lends credence to Ruben and Gigliotti ( 2016 ) observation that communication with people from different cultures reduces the barriers associated with intercultural communication and enhances the communication process.
Irrespective of our ethnicities, people want to communicate, understand, appreciate, and be respected by others. Effective communication is the foundation of good human relationships among team members, whether their cultural backgrounds differ or not. Good feedback is achieved when both the sender and receiver of messages create common meanings. This is what discourse is all about. Messages must be meaningful, meaningfully constructed and meaningfully interpreted. Georgiou ( 2011 ) labels this the communicative competence : acknowledgement of the intercultural dimension of foreign language education and successful intercultural interactions that assume non-prejudiced attitudes, tolerance and understanding of other cultures, and cultural self-awareness of the person communicating. An efficient communicator must understand that culture shapes people, and the people then shape society. In other words, communication shapes the world. Therefore, appropriately chosen communication strategies help blend the different cultures.
According to Bokova ( 2013 ), there is “renewed aspirations for equality and respect, for tolerance and mutual understanding, especially between peoples of different cultures.” This means that if all parties respect other team members’ cultures, a clement work environment is inevitable. Cultural literacy creates more tolerant and peaceful work environments. Achieving this starts with a re-examination of the whole communication process. The crux of cross-cultural communication is developing effective ways to appreciate the culture of others involved in the acts of communication. Understanding these differences provides the context for an enhanced understanding of the values and behaviours of others. Reconciling these differences confers competitive advantages to those who communicate effectively. The media must provide the links between senders and receivers of messages in the context of their socio-cultural environments.
The United Nations appreciates the distinctiveness in cultures and has incorporated it as a significant factor in achieving sustainable development goals. This global body has produced different documents championing this. Every development takes place in an environment of culture. The heart of sustainable development is the man. The SDGs will be more meaningful and easily achievable by recognizing that actions should be both locally and culturally relevant. Cultural differences can be effectively managed if senders and receivers of messages understand that culture shapes how people communicate and, by extension, the relationship with other people who may not necessarily be from their tribal communities. Breaking down the barriers to cross-cultural communication lies in understanding these distinct differences and consciously incorporating them into the communication processes to enhance communication competencies.
All data analysed are contained in the paper.
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I acknowledge: Dr. Emmanuel Mogaji of Greenwich University for reading and pointing out helpful corrections; Professors Innocent Chiluwa, Abiodun Gesinde, David Imhonopi and Dr Evaristus Adesina of Covenant University, who went through the manuscript, suggested corrections and encouraged me not to give upe and my daughter, Victoria-Grace Onyekachi Miracle Aririguzoh, who proofread this manuscript and brought in sunshine when the clouds were grey.
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Aririguzoh, S. Communication competencies, culture and SDGs: effective processes to cross-cultural communication. Humanit Soc Sci Commun 9 , 96 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-022-01109-4
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Language Learning: Why Is Intercultural Communication Important?
March 24, 2023
Thanks to fast transportation, global media, and the world wide web, we are now more connected than ever to other people worldwide. Working with the international community for economic survival means countries and cultures can no longer operate in a vacuum. Because of this, intercultural communication is no longer a choice but a must .
In addition, misunderstandings resulting from a lack of familiarity with another culture are often embarrassing. Blunders like these can make it difficult, if not impossible, to reach an agreement with another country or close a business contract with a foreign partner. For travelers, a faux pas can also make interactions more awkward. In this article, we’ll be discussing the importance of intercultural communication.
Intercultural Communication Definition
The capacity to communicate with people from diverse cultures is referred to as intercultural communication. Interacting effectively across cultural lines requires perseverance and sensitivity to one another’s differences. This encompasses language skills, customs, ways of thinking, social norms, and habits.
There are many ways in which people all around the world are similar, yet it is our differences that truly define us. To put it simply, communication is the exchange of ideas and information between individuals by any means, verbal or otherwise. Sharing knowledge with others requires familiarity with social norms, body language, and etiquette.
Having the ability to communicate effectively across cultural boundaries is critical for the success of any intercultural or multinational endeavor. Additionally, it helps improve relationships by facilitating two-way conversations, which in turn foster mutual understanding between people of diverse backgrounds.
Intercultural Communication Examples
There are several facets to intercultural communication competence, from language skills to knowledge of social practices and cultural norms. These capabilities are constantly used throughout organizations and in all forms of communication. Here are a few examples of intercultural communication in action:
It can be challenging for multinational corporations to find appropriate product names that will not offend customers in their target markets due to linguistic differences. For instance, Coca-Cola initially considered renaming its brand KeKou-KeLa for the Chinese market. However, they didn’t take into account that this cute moniker means “female horse stuffed with wax” or “bite the wax tadpole.” Unsurprisingly, a rebrand was necessary. Coke then looked up 40,000 Chinese characters to get a phonetic equivalent and came up with “ko-kou-ko-le,” which roughly translates to “happiness in the mouth.”
Respecting the social norms of another culture requires an understanding that practices may vary. While Americans value making small talk with potential business partners, the British may try humor, while the Germans may jump right to the point.
In contrast, people from Thailand don’t bat an eye when asked what may be seen as intrusive questions in the West, such as whether you’re married or what you do for a living. In a similar vein, first names are preferred by Americans, but in Austria, titles are used to prevent coming off as disrespectful.
You may have heard the popular myth that the Chevrolet Nova of the 1970s was a resounding flop in Latin America due to its name, since “no va” translates to “no go” in Spanish. In reality, the car was a smashing success — since the name “nova” also means “new.” Nevertheless, there are innumerable examples of poorly translated advertisements across cultures that led to more severe outcomes.
For example, the Spanish equivalent of the American “Got Milk?” campaign featured the phrase “Tienes leche?” which translates as “Are you lactating?” The campaign completely bombed, ruining the reputation of the brand in that area. This mishap could have been avoided with more thorough focus group testing of intercultural communication.
Public Relations and Media Events
Executives from the United States frequently interview international media and make public appearances in other countries. Working knowledge of the language is obviously necessary for such work, but words alone can’t account for how people will interpret things like tone of voice, the pace of speech, gestures, and facial expressions. In Japan, for instance, it’s rude to point out. Instead, you should wave politely in that direction. Similarly, the Indian equivalents of “please” and “thank you” are sometimes seen as overly formal and even disrespectful.
The Importance of Intercultural Communication
When we investigate the cultural influences on communication, we gain a deeper understanding of both areas. Additionally, it aids in expanding our knowledge of who we are as individuals and as a society.
Understanding our communication styles, habits, and tendencies and how they may serve or work against us when interacting with others from other cultural backgrounds is a valuable personal benefit of studying intercultural communication.
When seen in a broader context, intercultural communication can shed light on a wide range of human experiences, from the process of defining the workings of the brain to the power of languages in bringing people together.
As the world gets more interconnected, the ability to communicate successfully across cultural boundaries is becoming more and more vital. Since we are now able to travel to more places, we are exposed to other cultures and ways of living.
The ability to communicate effectively across cultural boundaries is crucial for the successful collaboration and relationship-building of multiethnic and international communities. It is also essential for avoiding and resolving conflicts. If you want to learn about other people and their customs and find common ground around the world, this is how to do it.
Intercultural Communication Competence
There are a variety of skills that are necessary for effective intercultural communication; some of them may be taught, while others are inherent and just require practice. Let’s take a look at some of the most crucial personal competencies for intercultural communication, as opposed to just linguistic ones like speaking, listening, and body language.
- Self-awareness: Recognizing how your personal views, behaviors, and possible prejudices and stereotypes might affect a conversation is a massive step in improving your ability to have meaningful interactions with others.
- Empathy: Intercultural communication relies heavily on empathizing with others and gaining insight into their experiences.
- Respect: Even if you don’t agree with or appreciate every aspect of another person’s or group’s culture, you may still respect them by recognizing their right to do so.
- Emotional intelligence: Learning to pick up on the subtleties of communication is essential when working with people from other cultures. Whether you get what is being communicated or not depends on how well you use your senses, how well you know yourself, and how well you can empathize with others.
- Adaptability: One of the goals of intercultural communication is to teach people how to modify their way of speaking to replace ambiguity, conflict, and antagonism with clarity, harmony, and cooperation. That’s why it’s important to be adaptable in our thinking, reactions, and interactions with others, as well as in our speech, listening, and body language.
- Patience: Effective communication across cultural boundaries doesn’t happen immediately. That’s why you need to have patience. Don’t rush through the process of becoming well-versed in best practices; instead, take your time and make them part of your routine. Due to cultural differences, it may take more or less time than usual to absorb new information.
- Positivity: Maintaining an optimistic attitude when interacting with people of other cultures is crucial. Misunderstandings occur all the time, and in most cases, it’s not because someone was trying to be deliberately unclear. Those of us who aren’t well-versed in other cultures often fail to grasp the intended meaning of a message. This is why it’s essential to look at every intercultural exchange in a constructive light.
Improving Your Intercultural Communication Skills
Here are some steps you can take to begin improving your intercultural communication skills:
Acquire Cultural Knowledge
Discovering the world through the lens of other people’s beliefs, values, and ways of expression is a fascinating and eye-opening experience. Educating yourself on the fundamentals of intercultural communication, such as language and gestures, is just as important as expanding your knowledge of the world’s diverse cultures.
Watch International Shows
If you want to get a feel for how people speak in a different culture, it’s better to see an international film in its original language than to suffer through a bad English dub. If you’re interested in learning more about Indian, Turkish, or Chinese culture, you can find TV shows from those countries and more on modern streaming platforms like Netflix.
Speak to People
When you have coworkers or neighbors from other countries, you gain access to a wealth of undiscovered possibilities. In-depth conversations with people about their backgrounds and the culture shock they may have felt upon arriving in your country can yield a great deal of valuable knowledge and perspective. If they are treated with respect and dignity, people all around the world are happy to have their voices heard.
Take in What You Hear and See
There are a wide variety of ways to enhance your intercultural communication competence. Among these are learning when to ask open-ended questions, stick to yes/no answers, and decide when to use humor. The two most crucial pieces of advice for improving your communication skills are to listen attentively and to watch what others do.
Whether you’re a tourist taking a trip overseas, a businessperson negotiating a merger, or a professor teaching a classroom full of international students, you need to be aware of the importance of effective intercultural communication.
In today’s interconnected world, the ability to communicate across cultural boundaries is more important than ever. It facilitates communication across linguistic and cultural boundaries, leading to more tolerance, acceptance, and, ultimately, stronger relationships amongst people of diverse backgrounds.
Enrolling in a language program is an excellent first step if you’re interested in learning more about intercultural communication and identifying and overcoming your own cultural biases. You can improve your language skills and your ability to communicate across cultures by enrolling in one of the Middlebury Language Schools’ immersion programs . Teaching both beginners and more advanced students, our immersion and graduate programs cover a wide range of languages.
When you need help learning a new language, Middlebury Language Schools is here to guide you. Contact us today !
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Culture and Communication
Play an important role in our life, especially in International business. Due to the globalisation is developing rapidly worldwide, doing business effectively is the best way to ensure the economic’s growth as well as to gain more reputation for the organisation or a country. However, International business is a complicated issue that includes many different categories. Typically well-known issues are about culture and communication, which closely get along and have a huge impact on International Business. Culture and communication are familiar topics and has been discussed for a long time. Thus, this paper would provide some specific views of the relationship between culture, communication and international business. In addition, it might indicate the way they work effectively and suggest some good advices for the organisation to plan some suitable strategies in which supposed to have the best international business outcomes. The first aspect that strongly influence on international business is culture. Culture is a difficult phenomenon to define as there are various definitions from studies. Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1985) state that 164 definitions of culture were found. From a social view, culture can be seen as a combined set of values, beliefs, and attitudes that are shared by the people in an initial society (Muzychenko, 2008, 369). In other words, Hofstede (1991) observed culture as the collective mind program, which each individual is different from another. In recent years, the world’s economy has developed dramatically.
Hence, the firm’s international business should be emphasized to keep pace with the rapid growth. Expanding the scope of the company’s activities is the best contribution in development and earning profit. In the globalisation period, culture not only represents the features of that country, but also reflect the level of development in that country. Culture is an integral part of each country and has a strong influence on people’s activities. However, the cultural distance is hard to target. For instance, the culture in Western is absolutely different from the Eastern due to the location, traditional custom, climate and ancestors. Culture has been lasting for a long time and it is a representative of the people who live in that place. Likewise, it is extremely hard to change and there is no reason that everywhere need to have a similar culture. Thus, it would take a long time to adapt to a new culture. Moreover, another considerable thing in this case is the cross-cultural competence. Cross-cultural competence can be understood as an effective cross-cultural interaction. It supports people to learn both knowledge and skills by reducing misunderstandings and inappropriate behaviours.
It can be either an opportunity or a challenge for the enterprise (Muzychenko, 2008). According to Johnson et al.(2006), it appears commonly in international business, workplace diversity and intercultural communication. Acknowledging the benefits of cross-cultural competence, many researchers developed a model that empowers the role of cross-cultural competence and apply it into reality more effectively. Depend on the user and their purposes, the model would have different approaches, but related to ‘effective cross-cultural interaction’ to improve international business more effectively. Another factor which plays a vital role in doing business is the communication between parties. There are various aspects in this category, but it can be divided into two major issues which are language (verbal) and nonverbal communication barriers. As its direct influence on the way people work and people’s behavior, it is absolutely necessary to identify the causes and consequences of these issues. Moreover, having a deep acknowledge and analyse the problems will not only find out the best solution, but also improve the international business more effectively. In language filed, according to Hansen (1967) ‘All languages fulfil the same functions: firstly, they serve human communication and secondly, they ensure a reference to reality’ and Deetz (1973) ‘Languages is the vehicle of meaning’, the role of language is indicated importantly in our life. It is obvious that different languages would cause a lot of problems.
Although English is considered as an international language, not many people can be fluent and it would lead to the misunderstanding which might cause some serious problems. The misunderstanding between people or organisations through language is the common thing in doing business. The differences between language and the method of communicating is the main reason that makes the misunderstanding between parties occurs. Specifically, Charles (2006) had done the research about the Lingua Franca in business. This research had done by some multinational companies in Scandinavia, which find out the number of people work with shared languages. The result shows that the people who use English as the second language is much higher than the native speakers (estimated to be 90%). Thus, on one hand, it will affect directly the perception of people. With the people is not good at English, they will be responsible by improving English to cope with their work’s demand. It is a good idea to increase people’s self-esteem. On the other hand, it will cause some problems like pronunciation, spelling or grammar… which may influence their work negatively (Charles, 2006, 262-264). Maude (2011) points out that nonverbal communication is essential and compulsory in international business. It is because verbal communication is often in a wrong and ineffective way.
The differences between cultures or languages also contribute to the misleading. Otherwise, when using individually, it would be unreliable and misunderstood. On the contrary, nonverbal communication is quite hard to control and therefore, it often expresses the feelings and attitudes and react to the situation more accurately and reliably (Maude, 2011, 84). For example, in some international workplace like multinational companies or international corporations, the employer and staff might come from different countries or race. In some cases, if the verbal communication is used alone, it is easy to be misunderstood or even lead to less cooperative and commitments. Since applying nonverbal communication, the employer and employees would understand each other more clearly. Hence, the employment relationship has improved significantly and more positive outcomes will be produced (about 70%) (Noller, 1984 in Maude, 2011, 86-87). Otherwise, the relationship between culture and communication still an interesting topic for the academic studies to do their research. Therefore, many assumptions and definitions appeared to provide a comprehensive view and support people’s knowledge on this topic, which is more abstract than the above categories.
As Condon and Yousef (1975) state that ‘We cannot separate culture from communication, for as soon as we start to talk about one we are almost inevitably talking about the other too’, it is definitely that culture and communication have a strong correlation, which is very useful in society and globalisation. Indeed, the culture-communication relationship can be understood as the process that was determined internally and developed based on exchanging the mutual and related symbols (Chen and Starosta, 1998). There are many ways to demonstrate the culture-communication correlation such as: talking and listening, writing and reading, performing and witnessing. In other words, it can be defined as the process which doing something involves “messages” in every case (Craig, in Leonard et al., 2009). Indeed, some further researches indicate that culture has an influence on the way of people’s communication. Sanchez-Burks et al. (2003) recognized that Chinese people who live in America for a long time still maintain the way of communicating (verbal and nonverbal communication) like the East Asian, which is strongly different from the native American. They also have their own hobbies, daily routine, technology acceptances and individual preferences, which is more similar to their ancestors (Leonard et al., 2009, 866-869). In general, maintaining the ancestor’s culture is not a terrible thing, but sometimes, it might cause problems, especially living in a different culture. Therefore, having a balance between new and old cultures in the communication style would be the best way to meet the goals positively.
Image 1 : The culture-language model (Crozet & Liddicoat, 1999) Generally, this paper has argued the relationship between culture, communication and international business as well as provide an overview about the benefits and limitations when doing international business. International business is necessary for the company to not only target more goals, but also integrate into the globalized world. Thus, in order to have better international business outcomes, we need to take seriously in culture and communication – the two most important factors in doing business. In cultural aspect, because the culture is variable and it depends on both internal and external factors, it is hard to know every culture clearly and steadily. Therefore, it is highly recommended that preparing vital skills and knowledge carefully is the best way to prevent the culture shock and adapt to the new environment faster. Many ways can support people to get knowledge about new cultures such as: Internet, books, brochures… or either ask the people already have some experiences about the place that you intend to come.
The experiences from the people who used to live there would be the most valuable preparation. Otherwise, After knowing the culture, the communication style should also be considered carefully as it will be shown to society directly by our actions. When doing business overseas, the first meeting always plays an important role to decide whether you will be successful or not. Consequently, the more you prepare, the better result you get.
- Babcock, R. D. & Du-Babcock, B. (2001) Language-Based Communication Zones in International Business Communication, Journal of Business Communication, 38(4), 372-412 Baraldi, C. (2006)
- New forms of Intercultural Communication in a globalized world, International Communication in a Globalized World, 68;53 Berry, J.W. (2005)
- Acculturation – living successfully in two cultures,International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29, 697–712. Blasco, M. (2009)
- Cultural Pragmatists – Student perspectives on learning culture at a business school, Academy of Management Learning & Education, 8(2), 174-187 Charles, M. (2007).
- Language Matters in Global Communication,Journal of Business Communication,44(3), 260-282 Holmes, P. & O’Neill, G. (2012)
- Developing and evaluating intercultural competence: Ethnographies of intercultural encounters, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 36, pp 707-718 Leonard, K. M.; Scotter, J. R. V.; Pakdil, F. (2009)
- Culture and Communication: Cultural Variations and Media Effectiveness, 41(7), 850-877 Johnson, JP., Lenartowicz, T., Apud, S. (2006)
- Cross-cultural competence in IB: toward a definition and a model, Journal of International Business Studies, 37, 525-543 Muzychenko, O. (2008)
- Cross-cultural entrepreneurial competence in identifying international business opportunities, European Management Journal, 26, 366-377 Roth, K. (2001)
- Material Culture and ICC, International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 25(5), 563-580. Sarala, R. (2009)
- The impact of cultural differences and acculturation factors on post-acquisition conflict, Scandinavian Journal of Management, 26(1), 38-56 Tuleja, E. A. (2008)
- Aspects of intercultural awareness through an MBA study abroad program: going "backstage".Business Communication Quarterly, 71(3), 314-337 1
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Communication and Culture
315 words 2 page(s)
Effective intercultural communication can assist with the problem of international conflict in a variety of ways. First of all, intercultural communication will help engage people from various nations into humanitarian cooperation. In the situation where the scarcity of food and water resources is leading to increasing competition for land and water, humanitarian cooperation is the key to solving the issue of conflict over the resources. In particular, cooperation on the international level can ensure food availability, help avoid detrimental competition, and provide for lasting political viability.
Next, intercultural communication can help resolve political issues that divide states within the globalized world. These issues are the potential sources of conflict and, owing to intercultural communication, they can be resolved through dialogue and subsequent agreement. One example is the U.S. confrontation with China over human rights issues.
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Further, world peace can be maintained through sustaining effective intercultural communication by preventing the spread of nuclear and chemical weapons. One example is negotiations with Iran and the representatives of from France, Russia, Germany, China, the UK and the U.S., which aimed at preventing Iran from further development of nuclear weapons.
Additionally, intercultural communication can help manage the danger of global terrorism. Through intense cooperation between the members of the international community, the threat of terrorism can be neutralized, through high-quality coordination and overcoming cultural and language barriers.
Moreover, intercultural communication is the tool of preventing conflicts on the basis of religious divisiveness, ethnic violence, and nationalism. Some of examples of these threats are Russia’s nationalistic claims on the territory of Ukraine, Nuer and Dinka tribes’ competition over resources in Southern Sudan, and the confrontation between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Myanmar.
Besides, intercultural communication could help resolve long-lasting territorial claims, such as over Kashmir region, between India and Pakistan.
In this way, intercultural communication can bring about the world peace with regard to different political domains.
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Essay on Cross-Cultural Communication & Differences
Explore the intercultural difference with our cross-cultural communication essay sample! Here, you can find information on the importance of the topic and gain inspiration for your multicultural communication essay!
Cross-Cultural Communication as a Topic
Cross-cultural differences, communicating across cultures: essay conclusion, cross-cultural communication faq.
Cross-cultural communication is a crucial success component nowadays. Globalization and integration contribute to the importance of it.
Cross-cultural contact is vital on all levels. Relations across borders are no longer unusual. Businesses all over the world strive to get into the global arena. Countries cooperate with foreign parties.
Any person can get communicate with foreigners regularly. Expertise in the field is a competitive advantage. This multicultural communication essay focuses on cross-cultural differences. It provides examples of cross-cultural communication.
Intercultural contact has become a popular essay topic these days. Pupils and students of different levels need to elaborate on it. One of the benefits is that we start realizing how important the topic is.
Interpersonal contact occurs when any kind of information gets from one person to another. We can define the process as a sender-recipient transmission of ideas.
During intercultural communication, people from different cultures understand each other’s messages. At least, they should try to do so. Some people seek to only get their point across. They do not pay as much attention to their partner’s ideas.
Successful interpersonal communication implies various factors. It is connected with many competencies. Some of them are emotional intelligence and conflict management skills.
There are numerous barriers to effective communication. They include both objective and subjective aspects. Subjective factors might be emotional, psychological, connected with perception peculiarities, etc. For instance, the emotional state of the speaker and the receiver affect their perceptions of ideas. Moreover, interlocutors might face a lack of attention and interest. Sometimes the transmitted information seems irrelevant to the receiver, so they do not listen properly.
Objective barriers might be:
- Physical disabilities
- Language differences, etc.
Those possible challenges are relevant to any communication. However, they become even more acute when the partners belong to different cultures. There are even more factors that start tuning in. In extreme cases, effective contact might even seem impossible.
Getting on well with people from other cultural settings requires effort. People started realizing that fact long ago. In ancient times, when different tribes had to interact, they faced various challenges. People became aware of culture-specific differences and their impact on communication.
Since then, professionals studied the issue. Psychologists, sociologists, linguists, philosophers, and writers worked on it. All tried to find a key to effective cross-cultural contacts.
In-depth research on the issue helped create new professions. Some of them are communication coaches, negotiation consultants, etc. There are many classes, webinars, conferences, and other events on the topic. As the study field developed, textbooks and guidelines appeared. We can choose from many books by businessmen, psychologists, and other specialists.
Colleges are integrating the subject into their study programs. Students can explore it in any country in the world. There are Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. programs related to cross-cultural communication.
Businessmen are aware of the importance of that topic, too. Effective intercultural communication implies the success of business negotiations.
A lack of the appropriate skills causes most conflicts in business. Negotiators cannot contact effectively because of culture-specific issues. It leads to a loss of business opportunities. An essential ingredient for building rapport in business is substantial cultural awareness.
Communication is imperfect due to culture-specific differences. The reasons are distinctions in language, behavior, etiquette, non-verbal signals, etc.
One of the most apparent differences is a linguistic one. People from different countries might face language barriers. Insufficient language competence might lead to conflicts. Translators and interpreters can help the parties understand each other. These experts need specialized culture-specific knowledge to succeed.
There are many culture-specific linguistic elements. Some are metaphors, proverbs, and references to national literature and folklore. These things are difficult to translate without specific knowledge. One should be aware of the cultural implications behind such words.
There is such a phenomenon as culture-bound lacunae. These words denote some concepts that do not exist in the other party’s culture. There is no adequate analog in the other language.
Problems may arise even if both speakers use one language. There are many differences in the use of it. For instance, both speakers may be from the US, the UK, and Australia. They will see many variations in the vocabulary of each other. All parties can speak English and have trouble understanding each other.
Insufficient cultural awareness leads to conflicts. One may offend a person of a different culture without a purpose. It happens because of stereotypes, prejudices, and inadequate perceptions.
False expectations based on stereotypes and prejudices lead to false assumptions. People hear what they expect to hear rather than what others mean. This leads to incorrect conclusions.
Cultural differences are apparent when comparing the norms of conduct. The rules of social interaction vary in different countries. Sometimes they differ even in the regions of the same country. The rules of etiquette include:
- Business cards exchange;
- Non-verbal signals and their meaning;
- Appropriate topics for small talk and more.
Those differences are apparent in negotiations where the parties are from the East and West. For example, Americans can be amazed by the Chinese specifics, and vice versa.
Businessmen are to communicate with people from other countries. In these cases, they should make sure to explore the cultural specifics of their partners. Some other aspects that can vary in different cultures are:
- How freely one expresses emotions;
- The concept of personal space;
- The concept of time;
- Decision-making process;
- The way people perceive presents;
- How negotiators structure their meetings (whether they stick to the agenda or “go with the flow”), etc.
All this proves how difficult it is to communicate across cultural borders.
Such communication is valuable because one can break stereotypes, enrich their perception, and learn new concepts. Stereotyping may seem comforting. Still, its negative impact is more important than the benefits. Prejudices and false expectations lead to a limited understanding of each other.
One should be open-minded and eager to embrace cultural specifics. That is the key to successful cross-cultural interaction.
Contact between cultures is essential in our everyday lives. Some people communicate better than others. Some have conflicts, whereas others get on well. It is true when the two parties are from different cultural settings.
People presenting different cultures face numerous objective and subjective barriers. It is possible to overcome them. In the modern world, everyone should be aware of culture-specific differences and ready to embrace them.
Effective intercultural communication is crucial. It leads to good relationships, successful business deals, emotional enrichment, and more.
What does cross-cultural communication mean?
Cross-cultural communication is an interaction where the parties belong to different cultural settings. It is a vital component of modern life. Globalization and Internet technologies facilitate these contacts. Negotiations between American and Japanese business partners are cross-cultural. Another example is talking to a foreigner when traveling.
Why is cross-cultural communication important?
At present, a well-known saying, “It’s a small world,” has become as accurate as ever. Infrastructure and Internet technologies connect different parts of the world. People from various cultural settings interact all the time. Building a rapport with foreigners is only possible if we respect their cultural specifics.
What are the challenges of cross-cultural communication?
Naturally, people understand the world in different ways. Parties face various challenges of subjective and objective hindering factors. The culture we belong to shapes our perception. Every culture generates prejudice, stereotypes, specific etiquette rules, and more. Cross-cultural contact is much more complicated due to culture-specific differences.
How do you manage cross-cultural communication?
Managing cross-cultural contacts is one of the main tasks for present-day businessmen. Interaction with foreigners takes place often in our day-to-day lives. In successful contact, many factors are essential. We should research, respect, and embrace culture-specific differences. Multiple cross-cultural communication essays, textbooks, guides, classes, and other sources exist. They help to understand the concept better.
What are the principles of cross-cultural communication?
Different specialists list multiple principles. The common thing is that the parties should be open-minded, curious, respectful, and friendly. Intercultural communication breeds issues of verbal and non-verbal contact. The parties should be aware of those potential challenges. Another principle is to control your behavior and not offend others.
- Cultural competency in the delivery of health services for Indigenous people (Australian Government)
- Definitions of Cultural Competence (Georgetown University)
- Multicultural Collaboration (Community Toolbox)
- Cross Cultural Training (North Territory Government)
- Culture Matters (The Peace Corps Cross-Cultural Workbook)
- How to Improve Cross-Cultural Communication in the Workplace (Northeastern University)
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Culture and Communication
Culture and communication are inextricably linked, as they are essential elements that shape and influence our understanding of the world. The relationship between these two is complex and multi-dimensional because as culture shapes the way we communicate, communication, on the other hand, plays a crucial role in shaping and maintaining cultural norms and practices. In her book “Intercultural Communication: A Current Perspective”, Bevan (2020) explores the relationship between culture and communication and argues that culture plays a significant role in shaping our communication styles, attitudes, and expectations. This essay will delve into Bevan’s insights and discuss how cultural factors affect various aspects of communication, such as language use, nonverbal cues, and perception of time and space.
One of the main reasons why it is crucial to be aware of culture when thinking about communication is that culture shapes our perception of reality and influences our communication styles. Cultural differences can greatly impact how individuals interpret and respond to communication. For example, in some cultures, indirect communication is preferred, while direct and straightforward communication is valued in others. Indeed “a lack of sensitivity to cultural differences can lead to serious misunderstandings and miscommunications that can harm relationships, damage reputations, and even cause conflict Bevan (2020). Therefore, understanding differences in cultural norms, values, and beliefs that shape how individuals communicate and interpret messages is necessary to avoid confusion and potential conflict.
Another main reason it is crucial to be aware of culture when thinking about communication is that it affects our communication styles and strategies. Some cultures may view emotional displays as a sign of sincerity and honesty, while others may see them as a lack of self-control. Also, some cultures value indirect communication highly and use subtle hints and implicit messages to convey meaning more than others. So “successful communication in intercultural contexts requires the ability to be flexible, patient, and willing to adapt to different communication styles ” (Bevan 2020). Understanding these nuances is crucial when communicating across cultures, as it can help individuals adjust their communication style to be more effective in reaching their audience.
Culture shapes both verbal and nonverbal communication in a variety of ways. Verbal communication, like language and speech patterns, is heavily influenced by dictating how cultures prefer either direct or indirect communication. On the other hand, nonverbal communication, such as body language and gestures, is shaped by cultural norms and practices by dictating how some cultures may value communication means like eye contact as a sign of respect and attentiveness, while in others, see it as a sign of aggressiveness or confrontation. Bevan notes that cultural norms and values heavily influence language and speech patterns and nonverbal communication, such as body language and gestures. She states, “Culture shapes communication in powerful ways, influencing not only what is communicated but also how it is communicated” (Bevan, 2020, p. 20). Therefore, culture is critical in shaping communication and providing valuable insights into effective intercultural communication.
Culture profoundly impacts the gender theme, including attitudes, ideas, and expectations about gender roles and identities. Gender norms and expectations range greatly among countries, with some societies emphasizing conventional gender roles and others promoting greater gender equality. Gender roles and expectations differ between countries, which can influence communication patterns and relationships. Bevan, for example, explores the concept of gender and its confluence with culture in Chapter 2, emphasizing that cultural expectations and conventions impact gender identity and expression. Bevan also mentions in chapter 2 that cultural differences can contribute to misinterpretations and misunderstandings in communication, especially in intercultural circumstances (Bevan, 2020). As a result, the relationship between culture and the gender issue is; therefore, the relationship between culture and the theme of gender is complex and multifaceted, and understanding the cultural influences on gender is essential for promoting gender equality and building more inclusive societies.
Culture plays a significant role in shaping the theme of perceptual filters. In chapter 3, Bevan notes that individuals’ perceptions are shaped by their cultural background and experiences, which can impact how they interpret and respond to communication cues. Since perceptual filters are influenced by cultural factors like language, values, and beliefs, cultural differences can lead to misunderstandings and misinterpretations in communication, particularly in intercultural contexts (Bevan, 2020). Therefore, culture is critical in shaping perceptual filters and their impact on communication. As a result, there is underscore a need for cultural sensitivity and awareness in effective intercultural communication.
Paying attention to culture can help a person improve as a communicator in ways like helping people adapt to a more effective communication style when communicating with two individuals. When one understands cultural differences in communication styles and norms, one can adapt their communication style to be more effective when interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds. In Chapter 1, Bevan notes that “introducing cultural awareness and sensitivity into one’s own communication practices is essential for successfully interacting with individuals from diverse backgrounds” (Bevan, 2020,p. 25). She adds on the need for cultural competence, which involves the ability to effectively negative cultural differences. This can include adjusting one’s tone, language use, and nonverbal cues to better align with cultural expectations. Therefore, paying attention to culture increases the ability to connect with people from different cultural backgrounds, which in return help them become more effective communicators.
Bevan, J. L. (2020). Making connections: Understanding interpersonal communication
(3rd ed.). https://content.ashford.edu
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