Wednesday, 17 September 2014

What is Cross-Cultural Communication? Barriers in Cross-Cultural Communication

The phrase cross-cultural communication describes the ability to successfully form, foster, and improve relationships with members of a culture different from one's own. 

Cross-cultural communication defined language and cultural misinterpretations.  It is based on knowledge of many factors, such as the other culture's values, perceptions, manners, social structure, and decision-making practices, and an understanding of how members of the group communicate--verbally, non-verbally,  in various  social contexts.

Cross-cultural communication  involves an understanding of how people from different cultures speak, communicate and perceive the world around them. Language differences, high-context vs. low-context cultures, nonverbal differences and power distance are major factors that can affect cross-cultural communication


The study of cross-cultural communication was originally found in cold war period. These fields include anthropology, cultural studies, psychology and communication. 

Aspects of Cross Cultural Communication or Challenges in Cross-cultural communication
There are several parameters that may be perceived differently by people of different cultures. These may include ethnocentricm, ethno


In ethnocentrism there is a tendency exist that  to put one's own culture as a center of influence and to use it as a point of reference to measure others.   Generally, ethnocentric persons have the tendency to interpret the other culture, based on their own cultural values. The one cultural people may consider another language as inferior or illogical. Ethnocentrism is a belief in the centrality of one’s own culture. It often involves judging aspects of another culture by the standards of one’s own.Ethnocentrism refers to the superiority feeling of the members of a certain culture. Ethnocentrism is difficult to prevent in advance because it is often an unconscious behavior.
 The ethnocentrism can become an obstacle for an efficient empathy. The ethnocentrism people could not understand each society has its own culture and values. 
The three stages in ethnocentrism

        Denial, Defence and Minimization.

● Denial: Avoids new culture; isolated; denies the existence of new culture
● Defence: Negative stereotyping; superiority of one’s own culture eg. Nazis
● Minimization: Hide cultural variations; universal truth or values based on one’s own assumptions.

Ethnopaulism means use of name-calling and slurs in reference to other cultures

Cultural Relativism 
Cultural relativism is opposite of ethnocentrism . In this context one has to  assess other cultures neutrally, based on their own  context rather than on one's own culture. It is the refusal to make any judgement on the cultural values of other individuals, institutions or cultures. While it avoids the problem of prejudice, it is inadequate, since it involves a denial – or at least a suspension – of your own values.

Language - Misunderstandings are common among people who speak the same language, so it is not surprising that people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds face communication barriers. Anything from the mispronunciation of a word to a lack of specificity can lead to misunderstandings. For example, if a sales director in New York asks a contractor in Brazil to do something soon, the two parties may have a different interpretation of the word 'soon.' Language is a reflection of culture, and different cultures have very different ways of assigning meanings to words.
Behavior - Cultural differences in body language and other behaviors can also cause mis communications. For example, in the U.S. it is important to make eye contact with someone who is speaking to you or they may think you are distracted or uninterested. However, in many Asian countries eye contact can be a sign of disrespect or a challenge to authority. There are many other cultural differences in body language that can create barriers to effective communication. These include differences in facial expressions, the use of nodding to indicate agreement or understanding, and the amount of space to give someone with whom you are having a conversation.

Stereotypes - Stereotypes are assumptions people make about the characteristics of members of a cultural or social group. Many stereotypes are negative or even hostile and are a serious barrier to workplace communication. If you make a joke about expecting your Latin American colleague to arrive late for a meeting, you may damage your professional relationship. While some cultures may share a general set of characteristics, it is never okay to assume that individual members of a group have those same characteristics.

Prejudice in Communication
Another problem for intercultural communication is prejudice, a judgment made on the basis of past experience rather than an evaluation of present circumstances. Like ethnocentrism, prejudice tends to emphasize “my” values at the expense of “your” values. In stereotyping, a judgment made on the basis of communicated information rather than personal experience. Prejudice can be individual or institutional Individual prejudice is focused on cultural out-groups, such as members of other races, religions or lifestyles.
Institutional prejudice is imbedded in organizations. It may not be conscious, but it gives evidence of discrimination against members of cultural out-groups in situations such as university or hospital admission policies, hiring practices, housing, and transportation security screening.

High and Low Context Cultures: Context is the most important cultural dimension and also very difficult to define. Anthropologist Edward T Hall  was originate the idea of context in culture. Hall breaks up culture into two main groups: High and Low context cultures.  He refers to context as the stimuli, environment or surrounding.  Hall explains that low-context cultures assume that the individuals know very little about what they are being told, and therefore must be given a lot of background information.  High-Context cultures assume the individual is knowledgeable about the subject and has to be given very little background information.

Nonverbal Differences

Gestures and eye contact are two areas of nonverbal communication that are utilized differently across cultures.  For example, American workers tend to wave their hand and use a finger to point when giving nonverbal direction. Extreme gesturing is considered rude in some cultures. Japanies would never use a finger to point towards another person because that gesture is considered rude in Japan. Instead, he might gesture with an open hand, with his palm facing up, toward the person.
Eye contact is another form of nonverbal communication. In the U.S., eye contact is a good thing and is seen as a reflection of honesty and straightforwardness. However, in some Asian and Middle Eastern cultures, prolonged eye contact can be seen as rude or aggressive in many situations. 

Language Differences

The biggest issue dealing with cross-cultural communication is the difficulty created by language barriers. 

Power Distance

The next cross-cultural issue regards how individuals deal with power distance.

Specifically, five types of distance can be observed:
The distance of disparagement arises when two groups compete for the same resources. Such situations lead to relationships that are very high in ethnocentrism and very low in cultural relativism. It gives rise to frequent incidents of ethnopaulism.
The distance of avoidance likewise exists in an environment high in ethnocentrism and low in cultural relativism.
The distance of indifference involves moderate levels of both ethnocentrism and cultural relativism associated with an insensitivity to the concerns of others and the use of ethnically disparaging terms. 
The distance of sensitivity is based on a low level of ethnocentrism and a high level of cultural pluralism. In this situation, speech is used deliberately to reduce the social distance between cultural groups.
The distance of equality exists within an environment of a very low level of ethnocentrism and a very high level of cultural pluralism. Speech at this distance avoids making judgments against others..

 Guidelines for Inter cultural Communication

Here are some guidelines drawn from communication research and practice that can foster better communication among various cultures.

  1. Understand your own culture and communication variables such as social role, symbolism, thought patterns, worldview, silence and particularly the various nonverbal aspects of communication .
2.     Learn the communication rules for the other culture by reflecting on its approach to nonverbal and other aspects of communication. Be sensitive to verbal and nonverbal language codes, and use language appropriate for the culture or co-culture with which you are trying to communicate.
3.       Approach intercultural communication with a positive attitude and with the goal of understanding the other side rather than preaching about or defending our own.  
4.      Avoid ethnocentrism that interprets everything on the basis of your own social and cultural values. Instead, try to understand how a concept, product or practice fits into the other culture. 
5.     Be flexible, we  should change your own communication style or our interpretation of the communication style of the other person.

 Unit Quiz
1.      Define ethnopaulism.
2.      Give an example of changing social attitudes toward prejudice.
3.      Give examples of the distance of avoidance, the distance of equality, and the distance of disparagement.
4.      Define prejudice.
5.      Define culture.
6.      Give an example of an uncertainty-accepting culture and an implicit-rule culture.
7.      Define cultural relativism. Discuss the role the ethnocentrism plays in your social environment.
8.      Discuss how degree of formality or degree of personalness affects communication in intercultural situations.
9.      Note who/what you consider your in-group, and give examples of groups within your society who you consider to be out-groups. Discuss the reasons for making these distinctions.