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Understanding Differences in Intercultural Communication

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 4477 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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Globalisation increases the need for intercultural communication. Understanding the different in intercultural communication is one of the prerequisites for an effective intercultural communication. This paper discusses a critical dialogic approach to understanding difference in intercultural communication. Furthermore, it investigates many aspects of intercultural communication, such as barriers to intercultural communication, divisions of culture, cultural change, intercultural adaptation and the effect of technology in intercultural communication. Finally, the paper will suggest several solutions of effective intercultural communication.

  1. Introduction

Culture represents a unique identity of a set of people. It can be defined as a set of values, norms and behaviours that individuals possess and have in common for being a member of a community. These characteristics serve as difference between the set of people vis-à-vis other groups of people. Culture can also be defined as symbols, heritage and cultural products to a group of people (Hassi&Storti, 2012). Globalisation leads to a mixture of individuals from different culture.

Globalization in the modern world involves the movement of people across borders from one community to another, one state to another, one country to another and from one continent to the next. Every individual, from a community has a unique culture, with unique cultural history, practices, habits and core values. Globalization ever since its beginning keeps increasing. This movement of people leads to a mixture of various cultures in social life, politics and economics (Hassi&Storti, 2012). The results of globalization, which a diverse society of people from different culture, thus, means they have to interact with each other. Communication comes as the most common and inevitable form of interaction in everyday life such as diverse workplaces and schools. Communication between individuals from different cultures is necessary.

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In a global and diverse environment, effective communication can be a challenge due to cultural differences, even in cases where they speak the same language. This issue is common within the business sector in which communication across culture serves as a contributor to business performance and poor communication leads to low productivity. Communication between culturally different individuals is very important to ensure clear understanding between individuals from different cultures in economic, social and political environment situations (C. & Thakkar, 2012). Communication is the act of exchanging information, opinions, thoughts and feelings. Communication ensures individuals work together, despite their differences (e.g., cultural differences) to achieve certain objectives. Intercultural communication involves exchanging meaning across cultural boundaries. Without effective communication between culturaly different individuals, social, economic and political chaos can be the fruits of any interaction and, thus, understanding intercultural communication is very important for our everyday life (Durant & Shepherd, 2009) 

  1. Cultural change

Changing world demography, growth of globalization and technology all influence cultures around the world. Tourism also leads to dilution of destination culture, frequent travel leads to mixture of cultures, mass media spread certain cultures which influence exception and cultural characteristics. All these aspects represent cultural change. Cultural change does not totally erase a culture but can editing leads to certain characteristics of a culture (Chand, n.d.).

Cultural change can be caused by internal and external factors. Most cultural change comes as a result of intercultural interaction or societal changes which causes adjustment of culture. Many factors affect cultural change. Contact between culturally different individuals leads to cultural diffusion and acculturation. The growth of technologyalso brings about cultural change. For example, communication technology and transportation technology, lead to more intercultural interaction and resulting cultural change. Geological location and ecology also influence certain culture and in effect changes in a natural feature also lead to cultural changes(Chand, n.d.).

  1. Intercultural adaptation/Globalisation

People meet different individuals on daily bases. Students move across borders, immigrants travel to different culture environments and have to adapttonew habits, customs, communication styles and behavioural practices. Other factors such as work, tourism, wars, and catastrophes have increased the frequency of movement and globalisation, constant adaptation to cultures is important (Pietilä, 2010).

Tomin,Sakharova, Eremina,Kabanova, and Terekhova (2016),review the complexity, variability, ambiguity and interdisciplinarity of the intercultural adaptation of students while in cross-cultural interaction.The research findings show that adaptation level is related to the resistance of an individual to a new culture, where lower resistance leads to better adaptation and vice versa. Adaptation includes both psychological and physical aspects of the new culture. The research also shows that strategies for intercultural adaptation are divided in open and closed adaptation strategies. Open strategies entailincludepersonal isolation and counteraction processes, compensation, balancing and neutralization.On other hand, closed strategyentail transformation of the nature of external stimuli into the natural environment of the object through the processes of assimilation, mediation, entering and familiarization (Tomin et al., 2016).

Further results show that cultural adaptation occurs in two-side directions. That is, an individual can successfully adapt culturally to the new environment if he/she does not only adjust to characteristics of the new culture but also impacts the new culture, linking it with their needs and requirements (Tomin et al., 2016).

Self-control and motivation are necessary for cultural adaptation. The willingness to adopt new cultures goes a long way to facilitate intercultural adaptation. However, in cases where the core cultural values of the natural source culture have to be totally changed to fit the new culture, difficulties can be encountered. All this can cause cultural stress and psychological stress (Yashima, 2013).Intercultural adaptation is crucial in the modern-day diverse society especially in workplaces where the workforce is usually diverse with individuals from all over the world and a range of cultural backgrounds(Greenet al., 2015).                                                    

  1. Barriers to intercultural communication

Globalisation, technology and media growth, increase intercultural interaction and intercultural communication. Intercultural interaction and intercultural communication are crucial for individuals from different background to get along smoothly. However, due to stiff differences between cultures, it can be very challenging to adapt to certain cultures. These difficulties form certain barriers to intercultural communication. Bajzát (2016), through the use of systematic literature review in his research, used secondary data, analysed the data and presented various barriers to intercultural communication including:

  • Differences and problems of verbal communication.
  • Lack of attention or interest and distractions.
  • Differences in perception.
  • Prejudices and stereotypes.

Differences and problems of verbal communication

Each language has its cultural beliefs, values, norms and connotations attached to it, which possesses socio-cultural barrier and affect interpretation in various ways.Culturalspecific syntax, idioms, vocabulary and slangs poses as barrier as certain slang can mean a totally different thing in a new language, which is usually misused. Also, message in certain culture usually carry certain meaning that is exempted from the verbal transmission of a message. Individuals adapting to new cultures face difficulties to pick up these non-verbal messages. In cases of low-context where all information is transmitted verbally, misunderstanding is usually highly common. Physical appearance also plays a great role in communication and thus individuals from different cultures with different dressing habits may influence/impact communication success in intercultural context (Bajzát, 2016).

Certain cultures have eye gestures, facial expression and closeness during discussion, which are particular to that culture. It is difficult for individuals to make out difference in gesture and other factors which is polite in their culture, which can come across as impolite to the other person from another culture; presenting challenges to intercultural communication (Bajzát, 2016). 

Lack of attention or interest and distractions

Paying attention during communication is vital. An individual not paying attention to the person speaking is a big barrier to communication success. For instance, an individual can be talking while the listener is still preparing a reply of the previous question. Lack of interest in a certain topic also affects communication. Distraction from the main conversation by noise, mechanical barriers and other distraction poses a great barrier to intercultural communication. Hence, individuals need full commitment, attention, and interest for effective communication between culturally different individuals.

Differences in perception

Perception plays a key role in communication. Every person has perceptions that are influenced by experiences. Culture makes up a huge part of how individuals perceive a certain thing, words and what other non-verbal communication mean. During intercultural communication individuals have different perceptions based on cultural assumptions which can lead to misunderstanding, posing a barrier to intercultural communication (Ting-Toomey, 2005). 

Prejudices and stereotypes

Prejudice is having a pre-conditioned opinion about a group of individuals, based on experience or word of mouth. Prejudice can be negative or positive. Whatever the case, having a made-up mind or idea about a culture can lead to poor perception and poses a barrier to intercultural communication. For example, many human rights movements report that police in the United States often associate black to crime. Such a perception can lead to poor communication and understanding of certain actions (Nisa, Kholil Sand Zulkarnain, 2017).

Stereotype mindset is an instant where and individual already has a standardized about a certain group of individuals or people of the same culture. For instant, Russians are always perceived as violent. Stereotype can be positive or negative. No matter the case, it affects perception and thus greatly affects intercultural communication (Nisa et al., 2017).

In conclusion, many barriers stand in the path of intercultural communication making it important for individuals to master intercultural communication as it has the ability to bridge cultural differences, mitigate problems, and assist in achieving more harmonious, productive relationship (Nisa et al., 2017).

  1. Effect of technology in intercultural communication and relationship

The growth of technology, the internet and communication media across the world has caused a greater interaction and communication has been seen to increase across the world between people from different geological location and regions. Social media platforms such as twitter and Facebook enable interaction from all over the world causing change in the way information is presented and exchanged, lead to spreading and exchange of cultures, create new intercultural relationships in virtual communities. Growth of media affects communication aspects such as cognition and social effect. Media allows individuals to communicate in close virtual proximity and increase interactivity between them. This increase in interaction has caused the idea of intercultural communication to be a subject of importance and interest (Yuan, 2013).

To study the mediawith respect to globalization and communication, Chen (2012) studied relationship that exist between new media and intercultural communication, where she explicates the characteristic of new media and how it is related to globalization and explains how new media impact intercultural communication from different perspective.

According toChen (2012), the media allows individuals to communicate through voice, visual communication, which has led to dynamism and pervasiveness. Dynamism causes friction between cultural identity and cultural diversity between individuals from around the world with different core cultural values, belief and behaviours and through its pervasive characteristic, it infiltrates the human community and affects human way of thinking, living and behaving. Chen (2012) also found out that new media has reduced a gap between culture and people, affecting traditional cultural language, themes and other communication characteristics, which affects a cultural pattern and creates new interaction ways with people from different cultural background, affects and promote new and different cultural practices and thus creates a new form of intercultural communication (Chen, 2012).

Intercultural adaptation

Intercultural adaptation is complex and greatly affects an international student. Sojourners or immigrants in alien cultural environments use social media to communicate with the home country and present country. Through social media, they communicate with new environment with no fear of resentment and thus increase their chances of adapting to a new culture. However, interaction with the origin country through social media can promote nostalgia for home and thus affect their cultural adaptation. International students usually face cultural shock in new countries; the use of social media help them to cope with cultural barriers as it promotes integration into the new culture as well as interaction with home country for comfort (Fakir, 2018).

Intercultural conflict

Through the use of media various governments try to construct and promote their cultures, coin messages to send out information under a certain framework to pass positive messages to the international community. However, media usually lead to alienation of certain cultures, with some cultures being promoted at the expense of other cultures or asymmetric reflection. For example, the media coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games represents one of the common examples of intercultural conflicts; western media portrays P.R. China as nation with abusive human rights, political corruption and freedom of speech and during 2008 Beijing Olympic Games the government used state won media to maintain positive image in reporting. While Chinesse and most Asian media in presented the success of the Olympic Games as signs of Chinabeing a rising nation, western media in other countries such as the United states criticise the Chinese government for restriction of freedom of speech. Thus, Western media coverage of the Olympics where based on cultural beliefs of freedom of expressions, social justice and human rights while the Chinese cultural values pays more attention to face saving, social order, harmony and group interest. And as a result, media coverage of the 2008 Olympic Games came under intercultural conflict in media coverage (Chen, 2012).

  1. Theory and approaches to intercultural communication

Many different approaches and theories have been employed to explain intercultural communications. Most theories of intercultural and cross-cultural communication focus ion differences and similarities that exist between cultures, through comparing communication patterns of different cultures, interaction patterns how interaction is influenced by cultural and communication features of a group of people.

Intercultural communication separates cultures into cultural values and behavioural patterns, under the assumption that understanding values and behaviours will reduce ambiguity of inter-cultural communication. To manage these differences researchers use adaptive (Avoiding intercultural conflict) and defensive (intercultural conflict and misunderstanding among culturally different people) attitudes to manage cultural differences (Xu, 2013).

One other theory that has been used iscultural convergence theory, which explains that in a social system found within a closed loop, where members intercommunicate without any constraint, they tend to walk toward and eventually will lead to state of general cultural uniformity (Kincaid, 1988, p. 289, cited by Xu, 2013).

An approach that has been used is difference-as-problem approach which suggests that intercultural differences can be condensed into a communication problem which can then be targeted through basic communication tools. However, this approach faces criticism for neglecting the historical contexts and power relations between different cultural groups, setting up unnecessary dichotomies and rigid expectations, taking a unitary and essentializing view of the self and an epistemological foundation that is problematic and limiting amongst many other flaws(Xu, 2013).

Another approach that has been used is the dialogic perspective, whose theorist is most interested in dialogue, self-other relation, dialectics, fragmentation, and resist. This approach has been widely employed in interpersonal, organisational and public communication(Xu, 2013).

Dialogic perspective of intercultural communication

Intercultural dialogue is a common phenomenon between individuals from different culture on a personal note or between nations on an international note. According to UNESCO (cited by Phipps, 2014), intercultural dialogue can be explained as exchange or dialogue between civilizations, people and culture under the umbrella of equality and respect for each other’s cultural values (Phipps, 2014).

Through the dialogic perspective, individuals from different culture interact with each other better. Individual sees the world from different cultural standpoints, encompassing many diverse cultural activities and interpretations of the same ideas. Through dialogic principles, it makes both parties to come to results by accepting their difference and finding a common ground on which their opposite ideas coexist towards a single result. That is, dialogic principle encourages mutual respect between cultures and thus promotes intercultural communication (Xu, 2013).

  1. Suggest solutions of effective intercultural communication.

The world is changing as days go by, intercultural communication is becoming a very important characteristic (C. & Thakkar, 2012). Effective intercultural communication can go a long way in reducing intercultural conflicts around the world. It is vital for international and local business negotiations in the diverse modern market (Ö. AVCI, 2015). For effective intercultural communication, I can propose a few solutions:

The use of goal setting technique: Goal setting technique has been exploited in business environment and has been seen to increase productivity through promoting individuals to attain goals. Modern workplaces are very diverse with individuals from different cultural background; goal setting techniques help intercultural communication through better toleration and understanding of cultural differences between workers, with all of them working to attain preset goals of the business (Ö. AVCI, 2015).

Effective intercultural communication can be achieved through mutual respect of cultural ideas and cultural differences. Knowing that no culture is superior over another culture will go a long way to ensure better intercultural communication (Xu, 2013).

Open-mindedness can ensure effective intercultural communication. Cultures have certain beliefs, which can appear bizarre to another person from another culture. Hence, when interacting with individuals from another culture, keeping an open mind will give room for surprises and better interactions (Taheri , Ansari. And  Ganji, 2013).


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