Intercultural Communication Is an Academic Field Term Paper

Pages: 12 (3461 words)  ·  Style: APA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  Level: College Sophomore  ·  Topic: Communication

Intercultural Communication is an academic field of study which aims to look at how people from different cultures interact with each other. Various other fields also contribute to the body of knowledge of intercultural communication, namely Anthropology, psychology, communication and cultural studies. Culture can simply be considered as the basic values, attitudes and behaviors of a certain group of people most of the time. The basic process of communication is considered to be the process where a sender encodes a message, the message travels through the medium and the receiver decodes and interprets the message, and finally gives feedback. Communication is delivered after the application of many filters, e.g. status, age, subject, nature of relationship, level of interest, and so on.

A cultural filter is a penetrable cultural barrier. It is inevitable to encounter some level of cultural filters in intercultural exchanges. The major problem with cultural barriers is that in many cases, they are difficult, or even impossible to remove. But at the same time, it is possible to communicate across these filters, without removing the filter altogether. The filter is called penetrable because some information comes through the filter. It is important for the parties to gauge the characteristics of the filters in order to work with it. At this time, it is important to understand that, while overcoming cultural filters it is essential to understand that there is no such thing as a superior or an inferior culture, and the cultures have to be seen as being different, not as being better or worse.

There are various examples of cultural filters in the corporate environment and beyond. Attitudes to the labor market form an important cultural filter. Some cultures prefer lower pyramids of management, where the employees are prepared to take more responsibility for their own work, and management is considered to be a facilitating, rather than imposing presence. In other cultures, relatively higher pyramids of management are acceptable, thus resulting in the employee giving less importance to self-responsibility. Taking the example of employee training, it would be essential for the trainer to be aware of the cultural leanings of the groups in question in order for the training to achieve its objectives. The trainer can elicit reactions such as unwillingness or disinterest if his training methods assume a personal responsibility towards the learning process, whereas the employee is used to being "managed." This confrontation can be avoided through better cultural understanding.

In any intercultural interaction, communication forms the core of the whole exercise. Freltoft and Kay (1996) opine that a lack of a common working language (or limited common language) can act as a cultural filter as well.1 if not treated carefully, this filter can cause minor misunderstandings, which can lead to discomfort or even irritation. Examples of these misunderstandings exist even at the highest level. Take the example of UN during the Cold War. The declaration by Soviet party secretary Khrushchev, that "our system will survive yours" was translated by the interpreter as "our system will obliterate yours." The resulting misunderstanding can only be too obvious.

It is common for our responses to be shaped by our cultural filters, and if the individual does not make a deliberate effort to recognize these cultural filters, the responses become automatic behavior and go beyond conscious awareness. It is important to understand that our cultural filters shape the way we view the world. E.g. It shapes one's view of how humans relate to nature: they control nature, they co-exist with nature, or they are subject to the forces of nature. A similar case would be one's belief about men and women: mean and women are equal, men are dominant whereas women are submissive, or women are dominant whereas men are submissive. These approaches are shaped by our cultural filters. Nisbett describes a research experiment where an animated underwater animation scene was shown to American and Japanese students simultaneously. It is interesting to note that both groups saw the scene differently, based on their cultural filters.2 the Americans focused on how the big fish swam with the small fish, whereas the Japanese were more interested in the background environment. After research, Nisbett concluded that the Japanese view the world as a complex place and give importance to the context, whereas the Americans consider the world to be a relatively simple place, giving more importance to the parts, not giving undue attention to the context.

Verbal and nonverbal cues play a very important role in intercultural interactions. The significance of verbal patterns might be the more obvious of the two, and as a result, most people might focus their energies on this aspect, but the nonverbal patterns, although subtle, are equally important and convey important messages. This is even more important in intercultural exchanges and it is imperative that a person is careful and knowledgeable about the cross cultural sensitivities during the communication process; otherwise it can have an unexpectedly negative impact. It can be illustrated with a real-life example. An American politician toured a Latin American country several years ago. While coming out of the airport of the local country, he waved to the gathered crowd of reporters and dignitaries. When asked how his flight had been, he flashed a thumbs-up sign to indicate that the flight was fine, as the cameras flashed away. To an American layman the above example might not strike as extra-ordinary, but a person well-versed in intercultural exchanges would know that this sign is considered to be an obscene gesture in that part of Latin America. Needless to add, the next day's local newspapers' front pages carried the politician making that gesture, instantly making the trip an embarrassment and a flop.3

Hesselgrave opines that the nonverbal cues determine a person's first impression, i.e. how he dresses, what his style is, his expressions, etc. But until the verbal communication commences the knowledge of a person remains confined. Verbal communication opens up the deeper side of a person, i.e. his thoughts, his philosophy of life, his interests etc. Thus through a combination of verbal and nonverbal patterns, people are judged. Similarly, in a cross cultural perspective, people across different cultures tend to judge people through their verbal and nonverbal patterns. Nonverbal patterns include eye-contact, facial expressions, gestures, dress, proximity etc. And in the Japanese culture, even silence is a nonverbal cue. E.g. although silence is considered a moment of awkwardness in the American culture, in the Japanese culture it is just as important as speaking. Thus, while interacting with a Japanese counterpart, it is important not to try and break the silence, as silence is considered to be an opportunity to think and ponder, while breaking it might be construed as a sign of insincerity. Similarly touching is also considered to be non-verbal cues. In the American culture, when two men meet in a business transaction, a handshake is considered to be customary, but in the Arabic culture, the handshake is preceded by a kiss on each cheek. It is important to keep in mind these cross cultural aspects while in a multi-cultural setting.

Riemer and Jansen (2003) assert that the main difference between verbal and nonverbal communication is that in verbal communication, one word usually carries one meaning, but in nonverbal interactions, one bodily expression may be shared across cultures for different meanings, as discussed above.4 conflict is an opposition or clash between two groups. Misunderstandings and conflicts can occur if the principles of inter-cultural communication are not properly applied. When the conflict is not merely limited to interests, but in fact to values and views, we can term it as a cultural conflict. Encyclopedia of Small Business (2002) cites language as the biggest barrier to conflict-free communication across cultures. The importance of linguistic differences between different cultures is frequently downplayed but it is an important element of cross cultural communication. In cases where the languages are different, the interacting parties are better served by acquiring the services of a good translator. Three types of language-based hindrances are: blatant translation problems, subtle differences from language to language, and variations between the speakers of the same language based on culture.5 Accents also play a part in inter-cultural exchanges. Sometimes different accents elicit negative stereotyping of people, due to reasons of prejudice or racial discrimination and might even serve to fuel preconceived notions with respect to business acumen, ability and intelligence. Thus it is important, for cross cultural exchanges, not to judge a person on the basis of ill-conceived notions regarding particular accents.

There can be various ways in which culture can conflict with cross cultural understandings. Firstly there are the cognitive constraints, which deal with the context and frames of reference within which people belonging to a certain culture insert new things and attach meaning to them. Secondly, there are behavior constraints. These are related to how a particular culture interprets verbal and nonverbal communication, as discussed earlier in the text. The third type is called the emotional constraint, which has to do with the different… [END OF PREVIEW]

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