Effective cross-cultural communication plays a significant role in the daily life of every person since it fuels or retards conflicts. As much as every person is endowed with natural communication skills, some people communicate more effectively than others do. Interpersonal communication is effected when there is transfer of information and thoughts from one person to the other in which a sender passes on an idea to the receiver.
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When an organization is composed of people of different races, ethnic backgrounds, gender, or religious affiliation, these aspects usually pervade most contemporary conversations. That is why skills in verbal and non-verbal communication are crucial for efficient cross-cultural communication to take place.
Intercultural communication refers to the “communication process in which people from different cultures try to understand what others from different cultures try to communicate and what messages mean”(Reisinger, 2009, p. 167).
However, it is important to note that barriers to effective intercultural communication usually arise from cultural differences among the communicators. To begin with, differences in verbal signals can lead to communication breakdown. These arise due to cultural differences in language use, which makes communicators miss one another with the meaning of their words.
For example, what is referred to as chips in England is referred to as French fries in the United States. In this instance, a US American and a British can bypass one another when communicating. This can occur if any of them assume that meanings are hidden in words, whereas, in fact, meanings are hidden in people. This implies that in intercultural communication, both the sender as well as the recipient ought to have same meanings for the words per se.
Intercultural communication is impaired because of differences in the perception of non-verbal signals among cultures. The significance of communication through various forms of wordless messages is usually multiplied across different cultures. This is because people usually try to find non-verbal cues in instances when verbal messages are not very clear in meaning. This is more evident across cultures, particularly when communicators are using different languages.
The understanding of non-verbal signals is based on how a particular culture defines its importance. It is said that low-context cultures, for example, the U.S. and Canada, tend to place less importance on nonverbal communication. On the other hand, high-context cultures, for example, Japan and Colombia, give relatively more emphasis to it than on the literal meanings of the words themselves.
It is important to note that some aspects of nonverbal communication such as emotions of happiness, worry, surprise, or hatred, are expressed in similar ways across cultures.
However, some emotions have different meanings in various cultural settings. For example, the Chinese or the Japanese have different meanings of facial expression from the rest of the world. Therefore, when engaging in intercultural communication, one is obliged to take into consideration these differences to avoid disagreements, or escalate existing disagreements (Rosenberg, 2003).
Another variable in cross-cultural communication entails interaction style with others, which ultimately shape the communication style of the communicators. In most cultures around the world, social bonds are important for success in communication. Communication style varies across cultures in the world since it relies on how direct individuals are and the ways they use to express meanings in words. As an example, in Euro-America, individuals tend to rely in physical evidence; however, this is often discounted in Chinese and African settings.
Time is considered as one of the important variables that distinguishes various cultures in the world. In the west, time is logical, sequential, and reflects the march of progress since people are time dependant. In this time setting, interruptions are not allowed and the expression “time is money” is commonly heard.
On the other hand, in the East, time has unlimited continuity and individuals may attend to many things at the same time. Differences over time are an important consideration during intercultural communication. This is especially important during negotiations or conflict-resolution processes.
Face and face-saving are also crucial elements in cross-cultural communication though their dynamics play out differently. LeBaron (2003) says that face “includes ideas of status, power, courtesy, insider and outsider relations, humor and respect”.
In most cultural settings, maintaining culture is significant since every person has a concept of face, which influences his or her behavior and action. During interpersonal communication, individuals who belong to low-context individualist cultures are usually bothered with preserving their own self-image, whereas individuals of high-context collectivist cultures are bothered with the other-faces.
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The use of cultural stereotypes (misconceptions about people) can impair efficient intercultural conversation (Sebenius, 2002). Individuals often stereotype others when they do not have adequate information about them. This makes them to develop quick generalizations since they are not able to get all the essential information necessary before arriving at fair judgments concerning new individuals or circumstances.
As much as there might be positive influences of stereotyping, its negative influences are more far-reaching. Negative stereotyping in intercultural communication can lead to serious misunderstanding, distrust, enhanced prejudice, and limited understanding of one another. Therefore, being conversant with other cultures can significantly lower negative stereotyping.
A major barrier to effective cross-cultural communication relates to the differences in the frame of references of the communicators (West &Tumer, 2006). All things that are taking place round a person are being inferred in his or her own frame of reference. This implies that every person’s unique frame of reference is due to a complex blend of education, culture, aspirations, and personal attributes.
Therefore, every person brings his or her own biases when engaging in intercultural communication. For individuals of different cultural backgrounds, they may see a particular situation at different angles. For that reason, people are usually advised to take note of other people’s frames of reference when engaging in cross-cultural communication.
To this end, it is imperative that for efficient intercultural communication to take place, the difficulties discussed above must be managed well. Effective intercultural communication leads to satisfying interpersonal relationships, strengthening of friendships, and better understanding among people of various cultures (Foong & Richardson, 2008).
Most disagreements in businesses can be attributed to lack of skills in intercultural communication, which is more common when the sender and the recipient are of different cultures. Flawed conversations can be accompanied by dire consequences.
It can lead to loss of profitable business opportunities and a good intention can be frustrated. Therefore, the ingredient for building satisfying interpersonal relationships that is good for business rest on maintaining effective intercultural communication, especially when dealing with overseas firms or customers. For successful intercultural communication to take place, individuals are obliged to address issues and problems related to verbal and non-verbal communication that can exist between them.
Foong, Y. P. & Richardson, S. 2008. The perceptions of Malaysians in a Japanese company. Cross Cultural Management: An International Journal, 15 (3), pp. 221-243.
LeBaron, M., 2003. Cross-cultural communication. Boulder: University of Colorado. Web.
Reisinger, Y. 2009. International Tourism: Cultures and Behaviour. Jordan Hill, Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Rosenberg, M. B. (2003). Nonviolent communication: a language of life. California: PuddleDancer.
Sebenius, J. K. 2002. ‘The Hidden Challenges of Cross-border Negotiations’, Harvard Business Review, vol. 80, no. 3, pp. 76-85.
West, R., & Tumer, L. H. 2006. Understanding interpersonal communication: Making choices in changing times. Boston: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.