A Significant Incident
We have often observed or read about stereotypical bosses who go around the corridors and shouting commands at their employees. To me, this is a pure case of a lack of communication skills, which lead to failure to communicate effectively. I noted that failure to communicate effectively could contribute to the occurrence of unintended negative events. The subject of cross-cultural communication became of interest to me after reading an article that referred to the danger of failure to communicate effectively about patients’ condition due to their diverse cultural backgrounds.
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In order to understand how failure to communicate effectively presented risky situations to patients, I realised that communication breakdown was the main cause of communication challenges between patients, nurses, and physicians. Upon further inquiry in that area, I noted that there were specific issues that led to communication breakdown. Culture differences led to a failure in communication between patients and nurses.
I noted that the major challenge that many patients and physicians faced was a challenge of interpretation. Given these difficulties in interpretation, I realised how globalisation had necessitated the need to understand various languages and cultures. I noted that the health care sector had made significant strides in improving the quality of care. However, there are certain critical areas that the health care sector has not yet addressed. I noted that language interpretation in health care facilities has remained primitive despite its relevancy in communication between patients and their care providers. After a careful review of the article, I noted that failure to communicate effectively due to cultural differences could have serious outcomes. I believe that health care facilities should implement effective methods of translation as they continue to receive patients from different cultures.
Upon my reflection of the situation, I noted that culture, especially language, has a significant effect on the provision of health care services (Misra-Hebert, 2003). In such cases, the barrier that exists may result in poor communication, and patients and physicians may totally end up not understanding each other. This leads to failure to communicate effectively, and it may contribute to cases of health disparities. I realised that cultural bias could be a major contributor to effective communication between people of different cultural backgrounds. Hence, we should look for solutions to poor communications that result from language barriers and cultural backgrounds in order to communicate effectively.
Differences in communication
I have noted that people work with others from different cultural backgrounds, even in hospitals. Hence, communication styles may vary significantly. On this note, we should develop our communication styles in order to learn how to communicate effectively with others, but this is not a simple process. I believe that understand basic aspects of a given culture can improve chances of better communication between parties.
We have to note that challenges in communication may differ beyond challenges of vocabulary. While words may bear different meanings based on their levels of complexity, speakers of the same language may need to keep their communication simple in order to communicate effectively with others. Cultures also have different aspects of language use. For instance, one language may lack a term for other elements or an appropriate method for defining a given object. In some cases, even similar words may have completely different meanings based on the cultures of the speaker. Hence, awareness in language limitations may help us to understand that failure to communicate effectively could also arise in the same culture due to differences in dialect and vocabularies, which result from geographical isolation.
I have realised that knowledge can facilitate effective cross-cultural communication. Knowledge would allow us to understand the potential challenges that could arise due to differences in cultures. As a result, we can make a conscious effort to improve our communication abilities with others.
We can also adjust our behaviours and communication styles to match those of other parties. Assuming cultural superiority may not always be the best approach because one cannot tell how the other party would react to our communication styles or behaviours. I believe that professionals must understand the possibility that cultural differences have huge potentials to hamper communication and lead to failure to communicate effectively. It is important to examine the cross-cultural elements of communication before making a conclusion. However, I believe that there are situations, which may require us to get help from professionals in order to understand what other parties say. Interpreters can be effective when dealing with patients from other cultures.
Specific issues within the Context of Communication Theories and Concepts
Notwithstanding the fact that the world has significantly evolved across cultures to be a ‘global village’, there has never been any considerable changes in cultural homogenisation of different cultures across the world. However, we have to recognise that different cultures of the world have increasingly evolved to be interdependent.
I have realised that understanding how to communicate across cultures is not only important in the health care sector, but also in other areas where people from different cultures interact.
Understanding Cultural Diversity
Based on the different cultural context I read in the health care situation, I realised that physicians face new communication issues in their duties. Even in situations where both the speaker and the listener speak the same language, but they are from different geographical regions, it is imperative to consider some fundamental aspects of cultural differences. If we consider such factors in our interactions, we would be able to optimise communication and communicate effectively.
Under such conditions, I believe that physicians should understand that their clients are from different cultures and may speak a different language. However, we have to note that such realisations may even complicate communication because of uncertainty between the two parties.
Uncertainty Reduction Theory
Uncertainty reduction theory in cross-cultural communications has recognised such challenges. The theory recognises that there are elements of uncertainty when people from different cultures meet for the first time. On this note, the major aim of people from different cultures is to lessen the level of uncertainty that exists between them. However, we have to recognise that uncertainty is both in our behavioural and cognitive aspects. In other words, a physician and a patient may not be sure how to behave in such situations. In addition, confusion may also arise because both the patient and the doctor may not be sure about what each of them thinks of the other one. At the same time, uncertainty reduction theory posits that uncertainty exists at a personal level and relational level. On this note, the theory asserts that people may use communication to lessen uncertainty between them because of differences in cultures.
I believe that even if we do not extend deep into cultures and sub-cultures of others, the most fundamental idea is to recognise cultural diversity in situations in which we have to engage in cross-cultural communications. The understanding of cultural diversity of others does not require us to study different cultures and languages and their inner details. In this context, I believe that physicians can learn how to interact with others effectively, even if their clients’ first languages differ from their own.
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I believe that understanding cultural diversity among physicians can prevent communication challenges that occur at their workplaces. Cultural intelligence may result from understanding the diversity of other people’s culture. I believe that knowledge in cross-cultural communication can aid relational development among people of different cultures as they strive to lessen the impacts of uncertainty in their communications.
Developing awareness for the other culture
Learning about languages out other cultures may be the ultimate way to understand the cultures of others. However, this may not be possible as several cultures come to interrelate in a global village. Hence, basic levels of language and other cultural concepts may be necessary for the interaction. This is important for professional like physicians who may need to engage in acceptable forms of greetings and physical contact with their clients. For instance, physicians may not communicate effectively with Muslims because of different cultures, including beliefs about physical contacts. Hence, they may find it extremely difficult to communicate effectively during their services.
The need to train employees on different cultures in their geographical locations may be an effective method of promoting cultural awareness between employees and people they serve.
Developing awareness for others’ cultures requires us to be sensitive to different cultures. These may also include cultural, language, and religious values, among others. For instance, physicians must understand how to communicate with their patients from Islamic culture. However, one must also recognise that there are sub-cultures within major cultures. Hence, culture awareness needs us to understand such variations.
If we strive to acquire knowledge in cross-cultural awareness, then we can realise ad respect sensitive issues in others’ cultures because they have impacts on individual behaviours and communication styles. Hence, the best way for us to improve cultural consciousness during our intercultural communication is to perform cultural immersion. This would allow us to understand the socio-cultural abilities of other speakers as we make contact with them. I believe that if we engage in cultural immersion, then we would be able to have a rational understanding and knowledge of such cultures. In addition, we will also learn the difference between our culture and others’ cultures.
Communication Accommodation Theory
According to communication accommodation theory, it is necessary to determine and understand what motivates people and consequences of their actions when they change their communication styles. These theorists believe that when communication takes place, the speaker and the listener try to contain others in their communication by changing their manner of interaction. The speaker who feels that his or her culture and language are superior assumes a divergence approach. On the other hand, people from minority groups or groups that require approval take a convergence approach in cross-cultural communication.
I believe that effective interpersonal communication in a different cultural setting enhances both social and personal life success. Interpersonal communication skills are responsible for creating positive values that enhance success in individuals’ lives. It has enabled people of different cultures with similar interests to create values in relationships and build value-yielding relationships. At the same time, it enables people to acquire positive values from interactions with individuals of diverse cultural backgrounds.
The concept of cultural competence
I have realised that the manner in which we communicate may not be similar even in the same culture. However, globalisation has enhanced interactions among people of different cultural orientations in work, social, and personal life. There are cultures of high context and low context behaviours. Some of these cultures may be direct and do not need a speaker to interpret. On the other hand, some cultures tend to have emphases on nonverbal messages. Such forms of cross-cultural communications are difficult and may lead to interpersonal conflicts in communications. Thus, effective interpersonal communication has become significantly valuable as individuals of different cultures interact in different environments.
We can achieve success at work and in personal life through tolerating ambiguity. Ambiguity tolerance is an approach that results in successful interpersonal communications among people of different cultures. Thus, we must accept ambiguous and unclear circumstances and be able to handle them in a constructive manner (Wilkinson, 2006).
Interpersonal communications between people of different cultures often have certain goals that both parties wish to achieve. Cultural differences present communication barriers that both parties would wish to overcome. Individuals who can tolerate ambiguity in situations of such cultural differences strive to find solutions and achieve positive experiences of intercultural communications.
People of different cultures have varied patterns of behaviours and opinions about issues. These differences create an environment of uncertainty among parties. The problem arises because people tend to be confused in interpersonal communications where there are diverse cultural differences. What each party expect from each other may not be clear, and at the same time, parties may not be aware of what factors constitute acceptable behaviours. Thus, tolerance of ambiguity gives individuals opportunities to “accept ambiguities and uncertainties, and in turn, look for alternatives before such ambiguous situations result into problems” (Wilkinson, 2006). This implies that such individuals will find success in both their personal and work life.
On the other hand, people who have a “low tolerance for ambiguity usually experience difficulties in their relations with people from other cultures” (Wilkinson, 2006). Cultural differences are threats to such individuals. Such characters react by avoiding such circumstances or escaping an ambiguous situation whenever possible. In cases where such individuals cannot escape, they end up misinterpreting the situation, feel uncomfortable, and underrate ambiguity. Still, attempts to provide solutions to such cases end up with partial solutions and simple alternatives. Such individuals have narrow opinions and always insist on definite ways of handling ambiguous cases.
Interpersonal communications between people of different cultures also look at behaviours. Successful individuals always consider behaviours when interacting with people from different cultures. This implies that people should be flexible in behaviour and be able to adapt to their immediate environment in order to achieve understanding and co-operation in personal and work life.
Individuals know “expected and appropriate behaviours in their own cultures or other familiar cultures” (Wilkinson, 2006). However, situations that bring persons from diverse cultures together also present difficulties in behaving appropriately. The normal behaviour of people may not be appropriate for the other party. This calls for adaptation in behaviours and expansion of one’s own behaviours.
People who have mastered intercultural competency have capacities to identify intercultural communication signals and apply diverse ranges of behaviours in attempts to adjust to the prevailing intercultural interactions. People can only achieve success in intercultural communications if they can adjust their behaviours to fit different cultural environments. Such individuals achieve success by acting differently in a similar environment. They are able to identify issues that may cause conflicts and mitigate them accordingly. Successful people have learned to take account of “other people’s behaviours and effects of their behaviours on others in order to improve upon them” (Wilkinson, 2006).
Conversely, people who cannot adapt their behaviours often act in a similar fashion even in different cultural environments. Such people have limited abilities to consider alternative behaviours in processes of interpersonal communications that involve different cultures. They tend to stick to their behaviour patterns. In addition, such people rarely notice the effects of their behaviours in other people and are unable to change their behaviours to meet certain environments.
In a competitive world of business, firms look to employ a range of workers that have abilities to communicate effectively with people of different personalities and cultural backgrounds. To achieve success in interpersonal communications at the workplace, appreciating cultural differences should be an initiative in the business world as this presents as an opportunity or threats in personal or business communications. Individuals should possess what some authors refer to as “global mindset” that calls for a wider aspect of keenness, peripheral visions, and numerous interpretations which reflect open-mindedness instead of insisting on hypotheses” (Lane, 2009).
Individuals should also strive and achieve cultural competence. This entails recognising various conditions of minds, studying cultures, individuals’ customs, and preparedness to modify behaviours and prospects accordingly. People form opinions in processes of learning. Such opinions result in the formation of attitude. Attitude leads to reactions in obvious ways towards objects or situations. Thus, the formation of attitude results in stereotypes, which people’s mental orientations utilise in labelling others.
When people encounter new colleagues from foreign countries at workplaces, the first response could be a stereotype approach, an indicating factor of bringing out cultural differences. However, people see and hear what they expect until they have had experience with individuals of different cultural backgrounds. Therefore, in pursuit of success in interpersonal communication at workplaces, people should avoid suppositions of individuals based on their group characteristics as it robs them of their personalities. Successes in organisations and the business world through interpersonal communications are only possible if people focus on cultural aspects essential to issues in question, and evading traps related stereotypes. This pushes for recognition of the person, instead of his or her national culture, and possibly creates a possible culture of working together.
Nonverbal communication is critical in any form of interaction because of the effect it may have across different cultures. I have noted that people may resort to nonverbal cues when spoken words may not help in their situations, or the message becomes ambiguous. Nonverbal cues develop from our cultures and usually from common sense. This is our belief about what should be appropriate, normal, acceptable, and effective for a given situation during communication. I have noted that people from different cultures use different forms of gestures to express themselves. Hence, it important for us to understand how to interpret such gestures, silence, body language, dressing, facial express, and emotional expressions appropriately. However, we must note that various cultures have attached different meanings and importance to different aspects of verbal and nonverbal communications (LeBaron, 2003).
I have noted that when we have to meet for people from other cultures for the first time, we often develop uncertainty about how to react and communicate. This situation may have negative impacts when it leads to failure to communicate effectively. From my reading of how cultural differences affect communication between physician and their patients, I realised that cross-cultural communication might not be simple in such a setup, which may even lack interpreters.
I have noted that cross-cultural communications have different challenges to people taking part in communication. However, how we manage these challenges that may affect the outcome because they can lead to failure to communicate effectively with other parties, on this note, I believe that people should take time to learn about cross-cultural communication to prepare themselves for cross-cultural communications.
From what have I have noticed in a health care setting, the most viable solution for challenges associated with cultural and background differences is using a reliable interpreter, who also understand all other aspects of a given culture. Overall, we also need to acquire cultural competence by acknowledging diversity in cultures. Interpreters may help us to avoid misinterpretations, which could lead to severe outcomes. I believe that the language barrier presents the biggest obstacle to effective communication in any setting. As a result, it is the major cause of failure to communicate effectively, but we can improve our approaches in cross-cultural communications and avoid unwanted outcomes in a given situation.
Lane, S 2009, Interpersonal Communication: Competence and Contexts, 2nd edn, Allyn & Bacon, London.
LeBaron, M 2003, Cross-Cultural Communication, Web.
Misra-Hebert, A 2003, ‘Physician cultural competence: Cross-cultural communication improves care’, Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, vol. 70, no. 4, pp. 289-303.
Wilkinson, D 2006, The Ambiguity Advantage: What great leaders are great at, Palgrave Macmillan, London.