The study of intercultural relations is quickly becoming one of the most important fields due to the rapidly increasing technological progress. The Internet and the global market made contact with unfamiliar cultures a commonplace situation. People from the United States might work in the same company as people from Finland or Brazil, and while the interaction between offices in different regions might be rare, it is not impossible which requires a certain knowledge of intercultural relations to effectively work together. This topic contains a variety of ideas, most of which will be briefly covered in the paper, along with some personal experiences.
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Effect of Culture on Perception
Culture has shown to have a strong effect on the perception of people. There are many factors that have an effect on people’s beliefs, likes, dislikes, and prejudices. A research of genes has shown that twins are likely to develop similar personalities, even when living in separate environments (Claridge, Canter, Hume, & Eysenck, 2013). However, this study does not mean that a person is born with a predetermined perception on things, only that genes can define the temperament of the person and can later suggest different preferences of beliefs and activities.
The other important stage of perception development is the environment that the person grows up in and more specifically its culture (Carneiro, Meghir, & Parey, 2012). Before going to school, children often adopt the beliefs of their family environment because they do not have any alternative. This can result in both positive and negative outcomes. For instance, children who grow up in families of hate groups like the KKK are likely to take those beliefs as truth (Flint, 2013).
However, when a person is released from the complete control of parents, the outside culture gains much more influence over the person. Traditions, common beliefs, attitudes, and customs often affect how a person sees different events. For example, some deeply religious communities have strong stances against homosexuality based on traditional beliefs of those religions (Johnson & Vanderbeck, 2014).
These types of beliefs can become a serious problem during intercultural relations so additional attention might be needed before contact. On the other hand, strong positive beliefs can be a great boost to different cultural groups. For example, the business enterprises of the Maori people have deep roots in their communal and environmental beliefs that helped not only sustain their business but also make it thrive (Houkamau & Sibley, 2016).
Language and Non-Verbal Communication as a Part of Culture
People are social creatures that often require a community to function fully. The need for communication in these communities created verbal and non-verbal forms of communication. The differences in language between even geographically close communities can be very large. Anything from sentence structure, to the sounds used in the language, can vary. By tracing back to the origin of words of those languages, a person can uncover the history of the community, its influences, and even its perception (Knowles, 2014). For example, different languages can have different perceptions of time. A person from one country can call you to a meeting at seven, but in reality, they might mean any time between seven and eight (Wang, Rieger, & Hens, 2016). These characteristics make every language an important part of its culture.
Non-verbal communication is just as important. The meaning of motions can be just as unique as the meaning of words. People in China, France, and the Oceanian Islands have three different ways to show numbers on their hands. For each of them, the hand gestures of the other countries might have no meaning, even though they might consider their motions to be easy to understand. A more subtle difference in non-verbal communication comes from the customs of the community. Ideas about personal space are not universal, and different countries hold different beliefs on this issue. It is not uncommon in Brazil to touch a stranger while talking to them, while in the United States that could be an offensive action. These differences are not only created by the culture of the communities, but also help to create a more distinct cultural identity for them (Knapp, Hall, & Horgan, 2013).
Language and Non-Verbal Communication as a Barrier
Unfortunately, these differences can become a barrier to communication between people from different cultures. This is very evident by the differences in traditions and customs between people from culturally different countries. Simple etiquette that people learn from childhood can differ wildly between people. For instance, in Japan, a person is expected to take off their shoes before entering a house. This is not the case in the United States which affects tourists of both countries. An American tourist can appear obnoxious or rude to Japanese people if they forget to take off shoes before coming into someone’s house (Brochet, Naranjo, & Yu, 2016).
Same could be said about the differences in their verbal communication. Certain situations force a Japanese person to act more humble or professional, which an American person would have no reaction to. This has often affected business negotiations between western and eastern companies. For instance, American companies can have a hard time approaching partnerships with Japanese companies due to the different style of presentation. American companies often prioritise confidence and loud, commanding statements, but Japanese presentations are usually focused on data and professional attitude. Also, the difficulty of learning a new language can be a barrier to intercultural communication. Without knowing the language, a person can only communicate using hand gestures and associations, which prevents them from effective communication (Tenzer & Pudelko, 2015).
Cultural Values and Their Effect on the Role of Women
Cultural values can have a strong influence on the role of women in a society. Traditions and customs can force people to limit their career options, hobbies, and the general way of life. Countries like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have societies that are deeply based in traditions. These traditions provide an overview of the role that women are expected to have in the community. Often this role only concerns domestic life, with little to no outside interaction. However, this does not mean that women in these countries only live according to traditions. Their desire for equality can be seen in the social organisations that some people established to help women achieve the same rights as men or at least gain more freedom in social life (Al-Rasheed, 2013).
However, this is not the only way that cultural values can affect the role of women. In some situations, women in countries that promote gender equality are still restricted based on the cultural perception of them. Women in western societies have been able to achieve some of the highest positions in government and business. Unfortunately, this did not erase the previously created perception of women being physically less able than men. This restricted women from having the same opportunities in the army as men.
These perceptions differ between the countries based on their history of conflict. Countries where women have had to be mobilised in the times of war often hold less restrictive ideas about women serving in the army (Cross, 2013). This discrimination could be avoided through normalisation of discourse in those fields. By broadening the definition of “normal” in the army, and other physically demanding jobs, women should receive less resistance when trying to join those fields (Meriläinen, Tienari, Thomas, & Davies, 2004).
Contact Between Cultures and Emigration
Throughout history, contact between cultures has resulted in many difficult situations. During the colonial period, many European countries attempted to gain territory in abroad by establishing colonies. Unfortunately, this was often done against the will of native populations. In many cases, these native populations were not as technologically advanced which created a perception of superiority among settlers. This attitude was used to undermine the native cultures, and in some cases, it resulted in the mass murder of the indigenous populations such as the Australian aborigines.
However, some cases of productive intercultural interaction have existed (Harvey, 2015). Modern contact often happens due to the emigration of people from their original countries to different ones due to a variety of reasons. In some situations, people are forced to leave their homes due to a conflict in their country, political persecution, or poor economic conditions. When emigration is sudden, people do not have any time to prepare for intercultural interaction which can lead to negative outcomes (Humphries, McAleese, Matthews, & Brugha, 2015).
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There exist many models for contact between cultures with two of them being most common. The first is the diffusion model. It covers cultural adoption and implementation of practices between cultures by their interaction with each other. In it, an influential person can affect attitudes and behaviours of others which lead to a change in cultural practices. For example, cultures can adopt the religion of others when its members are inspired by the newfound beliefs (Yonay, Yaish, & Kraus, 2015).
People have different adoption potential depending on their beliefs and personality, but they can achieve adoption with time. This model of contact needs strong ethical consideration because it can lead to unintended consequences for the adopting culture. On the other hand is the convergence model. It focuses on multiple cultures becoming similar to each other over time through communication. In recent years technology began to be a strong tool of convergence because of the widespread use of social media. People from different countries are interacting with each other in a way that was previously impossible (Samovar, Porter, & McDaniel, 2016).
The Importance of Cultural Identity
Cultural identity is defined by the traditions and social norms of a specific group. The desire for cultural identity comes from the human need to belong to a group. People often seek to create social connections and a place where they can feel comfortable. The importance of cultural identity comes from multiple factors. The first factor is related to the traditions of the group. As it was mentioned earlier in the paper, language can be used to trace back the history of its people. Language is often a part of cultural identity, but it is not the only aspect that helps to understand the history of the group. The same could be done by analysing traditions, communal behaviours and beliefs.
When an outsider gains an understanding of those factors, they are more likely to distinguish between stereotypes and reality which can help to avoid prejudice. Therefore, cultural identity can be used to both preserve the history of the group and to make it more accepted. Cultural identity also provides crucial benefits to people that belong to the group. A tightly knit group is likely to be trusting of its members and has strong social connections between them. It also can create a desire to improve the status of the cultural group, and the life of its members (Peng, Van Dyne, & Oh, 2015). This can be seen in the previously mentioned businesses of the Maori people. They are focused on providing employment to their community, as well as the maintenance of their lands (Ann Roche, Haar, & Brougham, 2015).
Intercultural Communication in Business Innovation and Sustainability
Innovation and sustainability are two of the main goals of many corporations. Because of the global nature of the modern economy, organisations are constantly seeking new ways to innovate through international collaboration. A concept called “open innovation” is responsible for collaboration and knowledge sharing between companies in different parts of the world. Innovation that comes from intercultural communication can change any aspect of the business from marketing to pricing policies. It could also help both companies become more open to innovation and different business structures (Dabrowska & Savitskaya, 2014).
However, the differences in cultures can create barriers between companies. Different cultures can have different approaches to business that could make collaboration much harder. This puts more pressure on the managers who try to ensure sustainability of the cross-cultural partnerships. The team needs to understand their differences before starting a cooperative project to ensure that it would be sustainable in the long run (Ferraro & Briody, 2015).
Change of Prejudices
During my research into the history of the Maori people, it became clear to me that dominant cultural patterns can have a devastating effect on the alternative cultural patterns of the indigenous cultures. It is sad to admit that I was not aware of the difficulties the Maori people experienced over the years. For the longest time, I unwillingly ignored their history because I had no reason to research it. However, I quickly found the topic to be fascinating, and the current state of the Maori people became highly inspirational for me.
The culture of the Maori people has been undermined for a very long time, and their language is slowly facing extinction due to the dominance of the English language in the country. Despite that, the Maori people have experienced a revival because of positive political action and the activist movements of the Maori people. They have already become an undeniable part of the country’s national identity, and have not stopped the work on their revival. Negative stereotyping and racial tensions still exist in New Zealand, but when comparing the current situation to one only a few decades ago, the progress is impressive (Coates, & Hetherington, 2016).
Personal Paradigm Shift
The same research not only broadened my perspective on the Maori people but also changed my perception of the abilities of indigenous people when they are given the opportunity to thrive. Before the research, I assumed that indigenous people of the world that became victims of colonisation have very little chance to compete with international companies on the global market. The stories of Native American reservations(Dippel, 2014) and Australian natives (Fiske, 2016) have created a very dire picture in my mind.
However, I was pleased to find that this is not the case when it comes to the Maori people. As mentioned previously in the paper, Maori people are deeply involved in business. Moreover, their business practices are based on their cultural beliefs. What is more impressive is that these companies are successful and are highly competitive in the international market. It is very surprising to me that I have not seen these companies used as examples of the benefits of reparations. These companies offer three major benefits to the country: they improve the economy, they provide jobs for the Maori people, and they look after the environment of the country (Brougham, Haar, & Roche, 2015). These benefits should be prioritised by the government of the world, but unfortunately, I have not seen any other initiatives like that.
Intercultural relationships are important. In recent years the world has gotten smaller because of technology, and this should force people to consider the cultures of other people. The many different aspects of this can be hard to grasp at first, but their importance only grows with time.
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