Golden Rule of Cross-Cultural Communications Anyone Research Paper

Pages: 5 (1659 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: Doctoral  ·  Topic: Communication

Golden Rule of Cross-Cultural Communications

Anyone who has attended school, held a job, or formed a relationship, which is to say everyone, can readily testify that communicating with others can be a challenging enterprise at times. Even when people hear what is being said, they may not understand it properly because of a wide range of factors that can adversely affect the communication process. In an increasingly globalized world, these problems have been compounded by powerful cross-cultural differences, or at least that is what many authorities would have people believe. In reality, communicating effectively with others involves some fairly straightforward techniques that are equally valid in any setting rather than the complex multidimensional conceptualizations that are being advanced in the literature today. To gain some fresh insights in this area, this paper provides a review of the relevant peer-reviewed and scholarly literature concerning constraints to cross-cultural communications and how these can be overcome by using some common sense and intuition. A summary of the research and important findings are presented in the paper's conclusion.

Review and Discussion

The world is becoming smaller by virtue of innovations in technology and transportation that are creating more opportunities than ever before for routine cross-cultural communications. For instance, according to Yang and Zhang (2010), "Due to the development of science, the communication facilities are greatly improved. As a result, the communications between different regions, races, nations and religious become more and more frequent, including the cross-culture communication" (p. 13). Likewise, Chu, Strong, Ma and Greene (2005) emphasize that, "As we enter the 21st century, cross-cultural concerns and business will become more and more significant" (p. 97).

Moreover, the world is also being drawn closer together through innovations in telecommunications that allow people from all over the world to communicate in computer-mediated online forums and through other asynchronous communications techniques. In this environment, it is reasonable to suggest that there are some established as well as potentially unexpected barriers to effective cross-cultural communications. In this regard, the Henderson (2006) suggests that some of the known barriers to cross-cultural communication include:

1. Language differences;

2. Differences in emotional and articulate forms of nonverbal communication;

3. Cultural stereotypes that distort meanings;

4. Evaluating the content of speech as either good or bad; and,

5. High levels of anxiety that distort meanings (p. 197).

Clearly, language differences constitute the majority of the problems involved in cross-cultural communications, but the English language is increasingly becoming the lingua franca of the business world and is already used by international air traffic controllers and law enforcement agencies as an official language. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to suggest that most of the problems that can be expected in cross-cultural communications will relate to language. Such differences, though, also exist between people of the same nation and in fact, within regions of nations in various enclaves and exclaves.

These types of problems, though, have been encountered throughout history and have not proven an insurmountable barrier to cross-cultural communications. Therefore, assuming that language differences are not an issue, the other potential barriers to effective cross-cultural communication include cultural stereotypes, preconceptions and biases about other cultures. For example, Pederson and Ivey (1999) report that, "Biases are important barriers to cross-cultural communication. We tend to encourage persons who share our cultural point-of-view and criticize those who take a different viewpoint" (p. 120). Unfortunately, these are self-perpetuating schemas that can tend to automatically shape perceptions, responses and reactions to communications from people of other cultures unless ongoing and active steps are taken to address them. In this regard, Pederson and Ivey add that, "We are trapped by our culturally learned patterns of encouragers unless we can escape this rigid set of rules. We can escape by becoming more aware of our cultural biases so that we will not be unintentionally controlled by them" (1999, p. 120). These same types of self-perpetuating stereotypes, though, apply to others within an individual's own culture, as can be witnessed from the institutionalized racism that lingers in the Old South and elsewhere. This is not to say, of course, that cross-cultural communications are identical to intracultural communications, but it is to say that there is nothing particularly "special" about the quality of the differences that exist between people from different cultures, only the extent to which the communicators are willing to go to succeed in their efforts. In this regard, Sapp (2004) emphasizes that, "Clearly, learning intercultural communication skills is vital to success in the increasingly global economic arena in addition to encouraging the reduction of ethnocentrism and an increased value for diversity of all kinds" (p. 137). Therefore, overcoming specific cross-cultural barriers to communication requires some effort and resources as well as an understanding that other people may well view things differently based on fundamentally different worldviews (Sapp, 2004).

Likewise, differences in emotional and articulate forms of nonverbal communication that can adversely affect cross-cultural communications are equally salient in all types of person-to-person communications, irrespective of the cultures that are involved. In these settings, nonverbal communications can manifest in several ways, including:

1. The communication environment which consists of the physical environment and spatial environment.

2. The communicators' physical characteristics: physique or body shape, general attractiveness, height, weight, hair, skin color, tone or odors (body or breath), physical appearance (clothes, lipstick, eyeglasses, wigs and other hairpieces, false eyelashes, jewelry), and accessories such as attache cases;

3. Body movements and positions, including gestures, posture, touching behavior, facial expressions, eye behavior and vocal behavior (Chu et al., 2005).

Admittedly, there are some important nonverbal communication issues involved in cross-cultural communications that may not be relevant in other settings, such as pointing one's foot at another in Thailand (which is regarded as highly insulting) but these issues relate to gaining an understanding and appreciation for other cultures as a common courtesy when conducting business or other communications routinely, especially when it comes to conducting face-to-face negotiations. In fact, relatively minor and unintentional breaches of these types of cultural taboos may be forgiven or even ignored when they are inadvertently committed, and it is possible for some Westerns to even go overboard when attempting to accommodate cultural differences by becoming "too Japanese" or "too German" in their business dealings (Chu, Strong, Ma & Greene, 2005).

What is known is that everyone wants to be treated courteously and with respect and everyone generally wants the opportunity to be heard. Therefore, some common sense and a sense of humor can go a long way in overcoming inadvertent breaches in different cross-cultural settings. In fact, and at the risk of sounding like the "Ugly American," it is reasonable to suggest that people from other cultures realize when inadvertent breaches of their own cultural practices are made by foreigners, and simply ignore or tolerate them. After all, people make mistakes in communicating with people from their own culture all the time, and these types of unintentional communication barriers exist the world over, even among married couples and others with close relationships. In this regard, Ruch (1989) emphasizes that, "Even if all meanings could be expressed in all languages, cultures would still create unique norms for human encounters" (p. 5).

Penultimately, as noted above, everyone has a tendency to evaluate the content of speech as being either good or bad, and to formulate responses based on this evaluation. This type of evaluation is virtually automatic, but is also universal and can be channeled effectively when the communicators are mutually aware of the accepted formalities and protocols that are involved (Sapp, 2004). By developing this level of mutual understanding beforehand, cross-cultural communicators can avoid "the bewilderment resulting from cultural blunders in managing group dynamics" (Sapp, 2004, p. 139). In reality, though, such "bewilderment" exists in same-culture settings when people accidentally breach some type of localized cultural protocols. Increasingly, people are living… [END OF PREVIEW]

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