Language is the medium through which people use for communication in a bid create understanding. Different people have different languages they use to communicate with one another. However, cultural differences may hinder effective communication. This paper relies on Hofstede and Hofstede’s cultural dimensions while using three decisive scenarios to explain the various misunderstandings that are caused by cultural variations.
The first case is between Brian who is a teacher and his student. The student does not engage in any meaningful conversation with the teacher, but often responds with a ‘yes’ in the entire conversation. The teacher seems to dominate the communication. In this conversation, the use of ‘yes’ is a form of an indirect speech act, which the teacher seems not to understand. The meaning in the use of ‘yes’ is hidden.
The student agrees with what the teacher is saying. However, the teacher cannot grasp the point that the student wishes to put across. This misunderstanding, according to the Hofstede’s cultural dimension is because of the variations of their cultural backgrounds (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005).
It is likely that the student comes from a high power distant country or culture whose individuals revere those people who they perceive to be reputable in the society. Therefore, the student feels that the teacher is advanced. Therefore, according to their culture it is not right to negotiate with superior people.
Hence, the use of indirect speech acts which was a face saving strategy and means of avoiding embarrassment (Brown & Levinson, 1987).The behaviour exhibited by the student in these interactions shows that the student is from a collectivist culture. In this culture, the goal of communication is to safeguard the values of the society besides representing all people who take part in the communication.
For instance, the student wants to safeguard or maintain harmony and respect. On the other hand, the teacher comes from a low power distant culture. Throughout their interaction, the teacher seems open and free. He allows the student to consult often without any restrictions. The teacher believes that the student has all rights to ask questions, and be answered. The teacher is patient.
In the teacher’s culture, they treat everyone equally regardless of his/her status (Hofstede, 1991). Furthermore, the teacher comes from individualistic culture according to the conversations. In an individualistic culture, meanings of words are taken literary because they are a means of communicating one’s impressions.
For this reason, Brian fails to understand what the student implies by replying with a ‘yes’ in most of their conversations. Nevertheless, the two taking the time to understand why this happens can resolve this misunderstanding brought about by their different cultural backgrounds. For instance, the teacher can ponder and seek clarification for the student as to why same questions are being asked.
Likewise, the student should explain to the teacher the reason why he responds in that manner. Therefore, the two can then appreciate each other’s culture and hence understand one another hence bridging the evident in their cultural gap.
The second case of critical incidence involves Julia, a high school teacher, and a group of international students. From the conversation and interaction between the two, it is evident that Julia comes from an individualistic culture. The silence and the indirect speech acts cannot be interpreted.
According to Julia’s culture, students, even though they work and learn as a team, are represented and are accountable as individuals. Therefore, students failing to participate in class can be interpreted at an individual level. However, on the other hand, the behaviour exhibited by students such as not participating in class or asking and answering questions is interpreted differently.
The reason behind the claim is that students come from a collectivist society. These students are trying to save their faces because they have a feeling that their participation in the class work may affect the other students negatively. This holds because they believe that a group represents their own identity, and doing something that contravenes the ideologies of the group will not be protecting the face of the group.
Therefore, they aspire to protect their face, as well as theirs (Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005). Another reason why these students fail to ask questions in class is that they come from a high power distant culture.
As a result, they feel that the teacher’s response may be negative. It may not reciprocate and or may be interpreted wrongly. Nevertheless, on the other hand, the teacher may feel that they have understood all the concepts that s/he taught thus rendering her students modest.
The society or culture from where students come is also collectivist. They value group relations. Therefore, according to their socialisation, any student among them that may fail to adhere to this may be criticised and viewed as going against their way of life (Quiroz, & Greenfield, 1996).
For instance, in this context, if some students reacted or asked and participated in the class work more than the rest, it would be an excellent opportunity for their colleagues to expose their criticisms towards the victims. Indirect speech act is also evident in these conversations. The students refused to participate in class hoping that their teacher would automatically know that they wanted to be assisted by their teacher.
This stands out as confusing to the teacher. The reason for their constraint in participating in class was avoid criticism and avoid losing their face. Therefore, the students come from a high power distant culture because they perceive a teacher as someone who is superior. Therefore, it is a sign of disrespect, as it is a way of testing the teacher’s knowledge (Maley, 1983).
On the contrary, Julia comes from a low power distant culture because she does not see anything wrong with students asking questions and seeking clarifications from their teachers. She, therefore, treats every person as equal. Therefore, she does not portray any discrimination in her dealings with her fellow students, as well as other people (Hofstede, 1991). This problem arises from different cultures and backgrounds.
The students are international, and therefore come from cultures that are different from that of their teacher. To create understanding, the two parties need to learn and appreciate other people’s cultural beliefs to be able to cope with one another in a positive way.
For instance, the teacher needs to find out why students do not participate in class work to adjust her actions and teaching strategies. This will help in solving the evident communication barriers brought about by cultural disparities.
The third critical incident features Anita and her boss who is also the head of English Language. In this context, Anita, in the midst of her colleagues, addresses the boss. She even disagrees on several issues. This surprises and annoys Anita’s colleagues who feel that she is overreacting. Anita is therefore in a dilemma, as other colleagues do not want to associate with her because of her actions.
The reactions exhibited by Anita’s colleagues show that they come from a high power distant culture. According to Hofstede’s (1997) cultural dimensions, people who are in a high power distance culture initiate communication often besides setting rules that other people are supposed to follow. They were, therefore, astonished with the behaviour of Anita of opposing and disagreeing with the views of her boss.
On the other hand, Anita comes from a low power distant culture whereby she believes that all people are to be treated equally regardless of their status. She cannot see the reasons why she can agree with her boss. She further does not know that most of her colleagues are from a high power distant culture. Furthermore, Anita is from a collectivist culture. In these interactions, she is deserted by all her colleagues in the meeting.
The colleagues feel ashamed because Anita does not respect the group that she works with, as she portrays the whole group negatively before her boss because, in a collectivist culture, a person’s identity is normally reflected on the entire group.
One of their colleagues, who they perceived to have contravened their beliefs (Quiroz, & Greenfield, 1996), impairs the workmates or group members’ identity. Therefore, it is evident from the exposition that coming from a different culture such as an individualistic one and at the same time working in a collectivist one may be a challenge.
Indirect speech act is also used in these interactions. In response to Anita’s views, the head teacher replies with the words ‘we will see’. The three words can imply two things. First, the views of Anita will be factored in the decisions that will be made. Second, the head teacher is aggrieved or is not happy with the response for Anita, and therefore he opts to threaten Anita.
The smile expressed on the head teacher’s face while uttering the words can imply that Anita’s views can be considered in the final decision. Consequently, by smiling, the head teacher could have employed a face-saving strategy to show that something was wrong with Anita’s act of asking such questions.
Therefore, it suffices to declare this a working strategy of hiding any form of disappointment, which, on the other hand, hides any form of confrontation that can otherwise show a negative picture.
To solve the stalemate that happened during this meeting, it is indispensable for Anita to learn the culture of the new society in which she works. The colleagues at work should also appreciate the culture of Anita to avoid such occurrences in the future.
To avoid later confrontations and disagreements, at the end of the conference, Anita and the boss should clarify to the members that the witnessed misunderstanding resulted from their cultural differences, and that they should give Anita some time to learn the new culture to avoid any future disappointments.
In conclusion, the three cases have helped the reader to understand Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. It is evident that communication between inter-cultures may come with challenges as exhibited from the three cases.
The most salient thing is that people need to appreciate and learn other people’s cultures to avoid misunderstandings. Respect is also essential towards attaining an effective communication in intercultural communications.
Brown, P., & Levinson, S. (1987). Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hofstede, G. (1997). Cultures and Organisations: Software of the Mind. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Hofstede, G. (1991). Cultures and organisations: Software of the mind. London: McGraw- Hill.
Hofstede, G., & Hofstede, J. (2005). Cultures and organisation-software of the minds. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Maley, A. (1983). A miracle of rare device: the teaching of English in China, in: J. M. Valdes (Ed.), Culture bound: Bridging the cultural gap in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Quiroz, B., & Greenfield, P. M. (1996). Cross-cultural values conflict: Removing a barrier to Latino school achievement. Unpublished Manuscript.