Intercultural communication is a necessity in today’s world, whether in business, school or in everyday life. The ability to communicate cross-culturally is an essential skill for being a part of the global community. But what exactly is intercultural communication? Here’s what intercultural communication is, and how you can improve your intercultural communication skills to succeed in whatever you desire.
Communication across cultural boundaries is the study and practice of intercultural communication. Cultural differences such as ethnicity and gender apply equally to both domestic and international differences such as those associated with nationality or world region.
In intercultural communication, members of these groups seek to recognize and respect cultural differences, achieve mutual adaptation leading to biculturalism, and develop intercultural sensitivity on the part of individuals and organizations to enable empathic understanding and competent coordination of action across cultures.
It is much more than a simple exchange of information: it is the process of mutually creating meaning. In and of itself, information is not meaningful; its significance arises only when it is intended and interpreted.
When you tell me about a movie you just saw, you probably expect me to know what the movie is about. In addition, you probably want me to know what you felt and what you thought about it. You present the information in a language I understand, make reference to concepts and films I am familiar with, and assume that I am able to understand your experience.
I, for my part, try to interpret the information in the way you intended, using common meanings for words and concepts and taking into consideration both our shared experience of similar events, as well as the uniqueness of your personal experience.
The exchange described above is an ideal that is rare to achieve in one pass (or many passes). Most of the time, I interpret you in a way that is both more and less than what you meant. The problem probably has less to do with my failure to assign exactly similar meaning to the words and concepts you use, and more to do with the fact that I probably project my own feelings about similar events onto your description.
If you read my reply, you may recognize some errors in my interpretation and correct them. In the event that this is not your first communication with someone like me, you may have anticipated some of my likely misinterpretations by tailoring your message to me in the first place.
As we try to negotiate a mutually acceptable match, both your intention and my interpretation are involved. This is what the final meaning of a communication event is, not just your intention or my interpretation; it is our mutual creation of an agreeable position.
The meaning of “culture” in intercultural communication is that of “worldview.” Culture describes the way a group of people coordinates their meaning and actions. This is done through institutions such as religious, political, and economic systems, as well as family and other social structures.
Behind these institutions, however, is a habitual organization of how the world is perceived and experienced. In addition to cultural assumptions and values, these habits are found in all groups and not just in national societies. Intercultural communication focuses less on the institutions of culture and more on the worldview aspect of culture in general.
Human communication is conducted by people, not by institutions. Communication studies are therefore concerned with the way humans organize meaning. Our perceptions are shaped by the institutional structures we internalize as part of our socialization, and identifying those structures may provide insight into how we habitually organize our perceptions, but in the end, it is our worldview that generates meaning, not institutional structures.
The boundary that divides “us” from “them” is an essential element of culture. Each human being belongs to a group defined by a boundary. Typical boundaries are those defined by nation-states (e.g., the US, Japan, Nigeria) or by ethnic groups with a particular tribal, national, or regional heritage (e.g., Kurdish, Jewish, Russian, European, African).
Communication within a boundary differs from communication outside the boundary. There may or may not be a difference in language or jargon, but there is always a difference in understanding and action. Cultural boundaries indicate greater interaction and coordination among those enclosed by them.
The preservation of cultural agreements may be primarily the result of family interaction for some ethnic heritages, however, for most ethnicities, there is also likely to be greater interaction with other members of the ethnic group (e.g. Chinese Americans). People naturally distinguish themselves based on color (race) and will therefore group more easily with people who are physically similar to them.
Color discrimination is not necessarily associated with prejudice, but it certainly can serve that purpose, as can other distinctions between groups. Color is a complex boundary since for many societies it represents a particular type of social experience regarding prejudice or privilege, and that common experience may lead to agreement on meaning (e.g. reference to “driving while black”).
In fact, color isn’t necessarily associated with a particular ethnicity (e.g. black people of African vs. Caribbean heritage, white people of Anglo vs. Teutonic vs. Latin heritage). Since it lies on a broader set of institutions, the ethnic boundary is a more powerful cultural indicator than the color boundary.
Therefore, for instance, black Caribbean Americans may experience prejudice similarly to black African Americans, but that fact does not negate the significant cultural differences between the two groups.
In multicultural societies, national and ethnic boundaries are often combined to indicate membership in both groups (e.g. African American, European American, Malay Singaporean, Russian Kazakh). As well as these common differences, boundaries are also formed by geographic regions spanning national boundaries (e.g. Southern Italians, Pacific Northwest Americans, Western Europeans, Sub-Saharan Africans). Moreover, the boundaries of organizations often reflect very strong and distinct cultural worldviews (e.g. corporate cultures, police cultures, armed services cultures, peace corps cultures).
It is likely that different functional groups within an organization, such as accountants, service people, engineers, detectives, etc., will share a culture. Cultural boundaries can also include gender, sexual orientation, generational differences, and other groupings.
In these and other cases, culture is not determined by any particular belief or behavior, but rather by the need to coordinate meaning and action between frequently interacting individuals. Similarly, g*y culture is not about homos*xuality per se; it is about how people communicate with other people with whom they are more likely to be in contact because of shared s*xuality.
It is also true that some religious or political groups contribute to the culture, not because of beliefs. In contrast, their members spend more time with those who agree with them.
It is common for an intercultural approach to generate some controversy within domestic cultural settings. According to the argument against the assumption of domestic cultures, cultural differences between different ethnic and racial groups are not nearly as significant as differences in power, privilege, and access to sources of wealth and prosperity.
Even if cultural differences do exist, focusing on them is just a distraction from more pressing social and institutional equity issues. The same argument is used against focusing on intercultural communication aspects of gender relations.
There is a counter-argument that worldview has a “humanizing” effect. It is the direct opposite of objectifying and exploiting people based solely on their color, gender, or heritage to focus on the unique experience of a cultural worldview.
To coordinate meaning and action toward a common goal, intercultural communication requires understanding the unique experience of others. Another argument in favor of intercultural communication is that culture must be understood in relation to its own context. A culture cannot be judged by an absolute standard of civilization, and therefore people of one culture are not intrinsically superior or inferior to people of another culture. They are simply different.
Communication is the mutual creation of meaning, and culture is the coordination of meaning and action in a group. Therefore, intercultural communication is the mutual creation of meaning across cultures. Thus, intercultural communication refers to the process by which people from different cultures perceive and understand one another.
Despite the lack of guarantee that people will be respectful of the differences they encounter in this process, it is a requirement of good communication that people seek to understand each other’s intentions without being judgmental. Intercultural communication incorporates strategies that help us to attribute equal humanity and complexity to people outside of our own group.
The most common tactical goal of intercultural communication is to inform one-way cross-cultural adaptations in situations like teaching in multicultural classrooms, providing social services (including policing) in multicultural communities, and traveling for business or pleasure.
Sojourners should recognize cultural differences that are relevant to short-term communication, anticipate misunderstandings that may arise from those differences, and adjust their behavior to participate appropriately in the cross-cultural encounter in those cases. An important aspect of this application is the ability to identify cultural differences that affect communication.
These systems are discussed in the following section of this entry. The goal of utilizing tactical intercultural communication is to decrease stereotyping of cultures encountered, increase knowledge of cultural differences, and broaden the behavioral repertoire of adapters.
A more substantial goal of intercultural communication is to contribute to the success of cross-cultural projects such as transferring knowledge, conducting long-term business, or affecting change through community development. To coordinate meaning and action appropriately, more people involved in cross-cultural encounters need to make adaptations toward one another.
When intercultural adaptation is two-sided or mutual, it tends to create “third cultures” in which two or more cultural patterns of coordination are themselves coordinated. The third culture is a virtual condition that exists for the purpose of intercultural communication and then dissipates once communication ceases.
While third cultures may become more durable when they are continuously incorporated into multicultural groups or communities, by definition, they do not replace the cultural patterns that they coordinate.
Intercultural communication is best applied to derive value from cultural diversity. Historically, multicultural societies have aimed to achieve this, and now global corporations are promoting it. The mistaken belief that diversity creates value in and of itself has been replaced with the real understanding that diversity creates the potential for added value, but not the actuality.
Diversification offers alternative perspectives and approaches to tasks, which contributes to innovation and creativity. However, diversity is frequently suppressed or eliminated in the name of unified action: “my way or the highway.”
Especially apparent in immigration policies and mergers and acquisitions, where the rhetoric of added value generally conflicts with the practice of demanding assimilation into a stronger culture. In essence, assimilation destroys diversity’s added value. An adaptation in one direction preserves potential added value but does not actualize it.
Mutual adaptation is the only way to produce third cultures that support the coordination of cultural differences, and it is these coordinated differences that add value.
Other Intergroup Relations Terms
The term “multicultural” is used in intercultural communication in order to refer to the multiple cultures represented in a group. For example, the U.S. workforce has become more multicultural, meaning that there are more diverse nationalities due to immigration, more variations in ethnic groups in the U.S., more gender and age diversity, and more representation of minorities, such as people with disabilities. Immigrants settle in multicultural communities, and multicultural classrooms are increasingly common.
Diversity is sometimes used synonymously with “multiculturalism,” referring to the existence of cultural differences. If a company has a diversity policy, it often refers to how minorities will be actively recruited, thus creating a more multicultural organization.
“Diversity” or the term “inclusion” can also refer to issues associated with multiculturalism, such as prejudice, stereotyping, segregation, denying equal rights, and other inappropriate or illegal behaviors. The term “diversity” is sometimes used to refer to actual cultural diversity, and diversity training goes beyond prejudice reduction towards recognizing, respecting, and dealing with cultural differences productively.
“Cross-cultural” refers to contact between groups of different cultures. There is a greater likelihood of cross-cultural contact among workers in a company with a multicultural workforce. Expatriate managers or exchange students living in a different cultural context have significant amounts of cross-cultural contact.
Good intercultural relations are not always the result of cross-cultural contact. In some conditions, it can generate negative stereotypes or defensiveness, while at best it increases tolerance and reduces stereotyping. The term cross-cultural can also refer to comparative studies of culture, for example in a cross-cultural study of smiling, Thai respondents were more likely than US Americans to interpret that facial gesture as an embarrassment.
The term “intercultural” refers to the interaction between members of two or more distinct cultures. Intercultural is rarely used synonymously with multicultural, so groups are rarely described as intercultural unless they are specifically designed to promote interaction (e.g., an “intercultural workshop”).
The term “intercultural” is usually used as a modifier, so “intercultural communication” or “intercultural relations.” The term “intercultural sensitivity” has a long history of referring to the ability to make complex perceptual distinctions between cultural patterns, while “intercultural competence” has been applied to an array of competencies and characteristics that seem linked to successful intercultural interactions.
As a result of the previous definitions, a multicultural workforce is likely to have a lot of cross-cultural contacts that require a higher level of intercultural communication proficiency.
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Intercultural Communication Theories
There are many types and theories of intercultural communication. Among the most important are:
An Approach Based on Social Science
The purpose of this model is to describe and compare the behavior of people from different cultures. Additionally, it examines the ways in which individuals adjust their communication with others depending on who they are speaking with. We would tell the same story differently to our best friend than to our grandmother, for instance.
Taking an interpretive approach
Communication in the form of shared stories based on subjective, individual experiences is central to the theory of accumulating cultural knowledge. Intercultural communication is the main focus as it relates to particular speech communities, so ethnography plays a major role here. Because the individual context is so important for this model, it does not attempt to make generalized predictions based on its findings.
Using a dialectical approach
The method examines intercultural communication in terms of six dichotomies, including cultural vs. individual, personal vs. contextual, differences vs. similarities, static vs. dynamic, history vs. past-present vs. future, and privilege vs. disadvantage. By adopting a broader approach and acknowledging tensions that need to be negotiated, a dialectical approach helps us think about culture and intercultural communication in a more complex way, and avoid categorizing everything as either-or.
An Analytical Approach
It examines cultures in relation to their differences from the researcher’s own culture, and in particular how these cultures are portrayed in media. The critical approach is complex and multifaceted, allowing for a rich understanding of intercultural communication.
Types Of Intercultural Communication
There are basically two types of intercultural communication: Verbal communication and non-verbal communication.
Communication is verbal and non-verbal. Verbal communication uses words to convey messages, while non-verbal communication uses gestures to convey messages.
While communicating across cultures, spoken language and written language are highly important components of verbal communication. As people may not be able to speak or write in the language of the receiver, cultural factors can influence verbal communication. Their use of words, dialects, accents, slang, etc. can also vary depending on their culture.
Similar to non-verbal cues, non-verbal communication occurs without words, such as facial expressions, hand and body movements, eye contact, and the use of objects and clothing. In addition to making the message clear, they can convey a different message as well.
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The Differences Between Multicultural vs. Cross-cultural vs. Intercultural Communication
Also, you may have heard the terms multicultural communication and cross-cultural communication. How are they different from intercultural communication? Take a look!
Multicultural refers to how a team or group is composed, especially a team with different nationalities. Nowadays, it is quite common to communicate in multicultural settings.
Across-cultural means comparing two or more different cultures; therefore, cross-cultural communication examines the different communication styles of different cultures.
In conclusion, intercultural refers to the exchange of ideas between different cultures.
Intercultural communication involves interacting with people from different cultures, while cross-cultural communication involves comparing interactions between people from the same culture and those from another culture.
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Importance Of Intercultural Communication
The first reason intercultural communication is so crucial is that each employee’s unique background, life experiences, and skillset influence their work performance. Thanks to the various perspectives of their employees, inclusive companies have been found to be nearly two times more innovative than other companies.
If you don’t have a company culture that welcomes people of all backgrounds and fosters positive communication across cultures, you won’t be able to create a diverse and inclusive workplace. Furthermore, the company’s performance could be adversely affected. Statistics show that companies with highly diverse C-suite teams outperform their less diverse counterparts.
Diverse teams can help you better communicate and connect with a wide range of consumers. The result is stronger customer relationships and a better reputation for the company.
Therefore, intercultural communication is essential in a global workforce. Companies are increasingly implementing remote work models, allowing them to hire top talent from around the world to work for them. It is important to know and respect the cultural and social norms of your employees located in various places around the world when you construct a global team.
In other words, each of your team members is unique. Their differences should be acknowledged, appreciated and understood to ensure they receive the level and kind of support they need to succeed in their role.
By gaining a better understanding of the importance of intercultural communication in today’s workplace, executives and company leaders can improve communication on a global scale.
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Applying And Managing Intercultural Communication
When you are involved in intercultural exchange, you must possess intercultural communication skills. Here are seven tips for managing intercultural communication:
Common Traps And Problems
Each culture has its own gestures and ways of speaking. If you know in advance that you will be speaking to someone or a group of people from another culture, you should educate yourself on some common faux-pas.
In some cultures, a handshake may not be the appropriate greeting. Spanish speakers also find that certain words in their language have neutral or negative meanings depending on where they are from.
Learn Phrases In Their Language
Intercultural communication requires learning a few common phrases in another language. In this way, you show that you understand their cultural differences, respect them, and are eager to understand more about their culture. If you are meeting with someone who speaks a foreign language, learn how to say hello and thank you.
Adapt Your Behavior
You may expect the other party to adapt to the other’s culture when you engage in intercultural communication. Once you stop expecting it and start adapting your own behavior, you will find more willingness on both sides to understand one another.
Check Your Understanding
Throughout the conversation, listen carefully and check your understanding. You shouldn’t be afraid to ask for clarification if you aren’t able to articulate back what the other person is saying. Better to ask than to walk away with misunderstandings.
Be quick to apologize if you realize you have offended someone – don’t let it fester or become awkward. It’s better to apologize without needing to than to leave someone feeling bad after a conversation.
If you do not already have access to that culture, watching a series of other cultures can really aid your intercultural understanding. By understanding cultural norms and how another culture lives, you will be able to communicate with them effectively.
Reflect On Experience
If you have ever participated in or observed an intercultural exchange, take a moment to reflect on the experience. What made them effective, or what prevented them from working out as intended? Adjust your future communication accordingly.
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Communicating With People Of Different Cultures
It can be a challenge to communicate across cultures, especially if you aren’t used to working with people from other cultures.
An Understanding Of Difference
You have to be aware of a fundamental aspect of understanding differences in order to effectively communicate with people from other cultures. Different cultures have different standards, expectations, and norms, and you must realize that these differences affect individuals in some ways, but do not bind them.
Developing Intercultural Sensitivity And Competence
We automatically feel differently when we interact with someone from a culture that is unfamiliar or vastly different from our own. It is up to you to enhance your intercultural communication skills by improving your cultural sensitivity.
It starts with the idea that, as you learn to recognize and understand cultural differences and interact with people of other cultures, you will become more competent and more complex in your understanding of culture. Thus, the more sensitive you will be each time you communicate across cultures.
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Practical Examples Of Intercultural Communication
Intercultural competence covers a large field ranging from linguistic aspects all the way to social and cultural conventions.
Due to linguistic differences, it can be challenging for global companies to identify suitable product names for their target markets without causing offense. Coca-Cola, for example, once tried to create a phonetic equivalent of their brand for the Chinese market and came up with KeKou-KeLa.
However, they overlooked the fact that this pleasantly sounding name translates into “bite the wax tadpole” in Chinese. The brand name had to be changed.
You should be aware that each culture may have different social conventions. Americans, for example, prefer small talk to build relationships first, while Brits may use humor, and Germans get straight to the point without waffling.
While Thais, on the other hand, do not think twice about asking what is considered rather personal in the west, such as your marital status or employment status. When addressing others, Americans like to call them by their first names, while in Austria, titles should be used to avoid sounding disrespectful.
Thailand’s people will bow rather than shake hands, while Germans will want to shake hands.
It’s also interesting that different cultures have different presentation styles in a business context. Take note if you or your staff are planning on presenting overseas. Western cultures like Australia and the U.S. are more forward-looking and prefer to focus on potential future benefits of their products and campaigns. Reps from countries like China or India, on the other hand, prefer to discuss past achievements to establish credibility. This information is crucial for building and maintaining relationships.
Non-verbal communication can be just as difficult to master as verbal communication. Giving a thumbs-up sign is a positive expression that indicates agreement in many countries. In some cultures, however, such as Japan, Indonesia, and Latin America, it is considered offensive.
In Indian culture, eating with your hands is perfectly acceptable, but it is considered rude by many other cultures.
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Barriers And Challenges In Intercultural Communication
As a result of its complexity, there are several barriers to intercultural communication.
Intercultural communication is often hampered by ethnocentrism, which is the common but mistaken assumption made by a cultural group that it is superior to other cultural groups. It is possible to overcome this by actively trying to be open-minded and accepting of other cultures.
Another barrier is assuming other cultures are similar to your own rather than different. Therefore, you might behave as you would in your own culture, but end up causing offense or worse, simply because you are unaware that different rules and norms apply in another culture.
Finally, one of the most common barriers to intercultural communication is anxiety. Whenever you are unsure of what is expected of you or what to do, it is only natural to feel anxious. The focus of your attention will then shift to your feeling of anxiousness rather than the intercultural transaction taking place. As a result, you may make more mistakes than otherwise and seem awkward to others.
Join our cultural coaching to ensure you do everything right when it comes to intercultural communication!
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How To Improve Your Intercultural Communication Skills
To improve your intercultural communication skills, use these tried-and-true strategies:
Find out who you will be dealing with by doing your research. Discover the cultural norms and social customs of the area. Check out our country guides before you travel to China, South Korea, or Japan, for example!
Learn the language
Learning your counterpart’s language will no doubt be a huge benefit and much appreciated. They will surely respect you for it, and this will improve your relationship.
If you are interacting with a representative of an unfamiliar culture, pay attention to how they behave. You should pay attention to how they respond to various communication styles, as well as any similarities to your own culture.
Be open-minded and self-aware
Let go of any blanket assumptions you may have had about the other culture. Since people are still individuals with their own preferences, be aware of any preconceived ideas you may have and challenge them.
The best thing to do if you’re unsure about something or think you’ve misunderstood something is to ask and clarify rather than guessing and possibly committing an embarrassing faux pas.
You will be coached in the culture of your target country. Their hands-on experience can help you answer any questions you may have.
By participating in our popular cross-cultural training, you will gain a better understanding of the working and leadership styles in your target country. Thus, you will be able to effectively communicate with and motivate employees. Additionally, EHLION’s coaches will offer tips on conflict management and negotiation in the local area, as well as explain how gestures and facial expressions differ based on culture.
What is intercultural communication, and why should you improve your intercultural skills? Communication with other cultures is essential for success in all areas of life, and our world is only getting smaller. Follow our tips to foster effective intercultural communication by adapting your behavior, checking your understanding, and reflecting on your experiences.
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What are some examples of intercultural communication?
- Conversation between a Christian and a Muslim.
- The woman receives an order from a man.
- Africans and Americans share their views.
- A Chinese politician talks with an American leader.
What is intercultural communication and why is it important?
Intercultural Communication can help us understand our own preferences, strengths, and weaknesses when it comes to communicating and how they may influence our ability to communicate across cultures.
What is the most significant factor in intercultural communication?
Communication across cultures requires intercultural awareness, understanding that different cultures have different standards and norms.
Why do we need to learn intercultural communication?
In relation to other people’s experiences, we learn many aspects of intercultural communication. Our study of Intercultural Communication will ultimately enhance our ability to connect with others and challenge ourselves to become better individuals.
What can you learn from intercultural communication?
Communication across cultures requires knowledge of verbal and nonverbal strategies to effectively communicate with individuals from other cultures; the relationship between language and identity and the social, cognitive, and emotional aspects of learning multiple languages.
What is the role of intercultural communication in work life?
By enhancing cultural diversity in the workplace, brands can build and maintain trust with specific target markets. Companies can show a deep understanding of a particular culture and inspire loyalty.
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