Examining cross-cultural communication Essay
The world comprises lots of people from varying backgrounds. The first indicator to how varying their backgrounds are is the different locations from which people are brought up. People are described in relation to their continent of origin or by their nationality. Still within a nation, the description could be narrowed down to the particular communities. We as human beings, however, are not restricted to operate in the areas in which we were born or brought up.
In fact, it is not uncommon to be born in a particular country, to receive education in another, marry from another country, work in yet a different country and settle in yet another country. This means that we from time to time interact with people who are different from us. At least in terms of how we behave and what we believe in. Unless there is such interaction, a people would never know that there exist differences in the way they perceive things. People, upon learning their differences with other groups of people, reposition themselves variously.
Some ethnic groups believe their outlook towards issues is superior to others and they tend to dominate them. This always leads to ethnic conflicts because no people would allow their cultural beliefs to be trivialized. Other groups of people avoid the conflict approach and opt to learn in others’ cultures to enable them gain more understanding of how to relate with them. The latter approach is the subject of cross-cultural communication in which people aim at gaining understanding with people from other cultures.
Communication is the process of conveying opinions, expressing emotions and sharing ideas in a way the recipient must perfectly understand the message as intended by the sender confirmed by the feedback. Among the different communities, words or symbols used in communication may have different meanings. This amounts to miscommunication. There is need therefore for people working in multicultural settings to learn in those cultural practices. Humans progress by way of gaining understanding amongst them. This is especially so in business which involves much negotiation.
Business deals are sealed upon reaching common understanding. Failure to achieve this understanding results in deadlocks. Because business deals involve dealing with people from other cultures and gauging by the importance of some of the deals, miscommunication has to be avoided. Most of the miscommunication results from cross-cultural misconceptions. This is the process of synthesizing ones environment and selecting what it means to individuals. As much as cultural behaviors are alluded to particular groups of people, they are not universally applicable to all individuals from that group.
This means that people understand various phenomena occurring on daily basis differently. One group may interpret an action as rude while another group sees it as normal. Perception is learnt as one grows in their culture based on the experiences we encounter. Perception is continual, the way a person views others remains so over time. However, the way people perceive issues is not always accurate. Perceptions can also amount to misconceptions. Having wrong perceptions is a major huddle to effective cross-cultural communication and studies in this area are aimed at understanding what these misconceptions entail and have to overcome them.
Another major challenge to effective communication across cultures is categorization of things or people that we encounter within the environment. People have the tendency to only pick those elements that make meaning to them at a particular time. An example of such a categorization is some cultures viewing women as secretaries if they meet them in an office set up. The categorization of things or people becomes counterproductive when people are categorized in the wrong groups as in the case above.
Women could also hold senior positions and an allusion that all women are secretaries may be offensive to them. Stereotyping is often the result of this categorization. If stereotyping involves having particular notions about certain groups of people, which affects the way we relate with them. Stereotyping becomes offensive if it is maintained even when faced with contradictory evidence. All people stereotype others in one form or another but for there to be alternatives cross-cultural understanding, these stereotypes must disappear when we interact with others and know how they actually are.
The managers classified as most internationally effective in foreign cultures are those that abandoned stereotypical views once they interacted with the communities they joined. The poor managers are those who failed to back track on their earlier perceptions after interacting with the communities. Cultural differences that we observe are just a portion of all the differences that exist between any two different cultures. The visible differences that we often see are those regarding our outward behavior in relation to the environment.
The way people handle emotions like joy and anger form part of these differences. Yet the outward behaviors are more controlled from within by the subconscious part of people. In the subconscious lie the attitudes, values and belief that guide our behavior. Individual culture is shaped by the cultural set up in which we are brought up. For a person to understand why particular groups of people behave in a particular manner, he/she must be willing to dig down to that group’s values and beliefs. This may not be achieved through reading from books. It requires that people take time to learn these underlying issues.
There is, however, an interrelation across various cultures in such a way that some beliefs are almost universal. Almost all cultures agree on certain aspects as the preferred conduct given certain situations. The studies done in cultural differences have categorized culture based on observable characteristics. Cultures have been classified as ranging from an abstractive low-context and urban to the associative high-context and rural. No single culture entirely falls within any category; they often have features that span across the range. Some cultures have, however, been found to be skewed to one category than more than the other .
In order to compare and contrast the characteristics of various cultures, authors have used the social structures, philosophical outlooks, basic values and psychological, orientation as well as ways of interacting. The categories that have been defined by various authors are not mutually exclusive neither are they exhaustive. Other categories may be defined or existing ones expanded. Thought patterns of the various communities have been studied and categorized. To show just how different cultures interpret different words or symbols, some examples have been used.
Geertz gives an illustration of winking by some two boys. In one boy, winking was an involuntary twitch that did not have any meaning but to another boy, winking was a form of communication to a fellow boy, which had meaning . The subject of cross-cultural communication gained ground when Hall wrote his articles. According to Leeds, the motivation behind Hall’s writings was in response to the challenges encountered by students being taught diplomatic relations in the United States Foreign Service Institute. The focus of the studies was on the study of particular cultures into which the students would be posted.
The students found this model insufficient since they wanted flexibility to interact with more than one cultural setting. Hall’s writings remove the focus from studying one culture at a time to studying all cultures. The writings also introduced the concept of communication to cross-cultural studies. Hall suggests that communication is patterned, learned and analyzed and that if the focus for multicultural studies emphasizes learning communication, much of miscommunication could be overcome . Hall also raised issues with the emphasis of the studies on gathering information on a culture.
In his view, not much of this information was necessary for interpersonal interaction with a people of that culture. Hall also managed to expand the scope of intercultural communication beyond diplomacy to the international business community. Hall, in fact, opened up path for researchers to delve into intercultural communication as an independent field of study. Hall extended the theory of culture to communication. The anthropologists had described culture as patterned, learned and organized and because culture is propagated by communication, it meant that communicating with people of a different culture could also be learnt.
Learning to communicate would help more to not only gain a common understanding with one culture but across all over the cultures. Another challenge to cross cultural communication is the misevaluation of some cultural aspects and labeling them as good or bad. There exists some mentality in some cultures that theirs is a better culture. Adler gave an example of a situation in which judging a culture is demonstrated. She gives an illustration of a Swedish executive who had a business deal with a Spanish businessman. For some reason, the Spaniard was late for an hour to sign the important business deal.
As the Swedish waited for the Spaniard to arrive, he had already judged Spaniards to be lazy and unserious about business deals. In his mind, the Swedish has judged Spanish people wrongly on business deals; he had also labeled the Swedish community to which he belonged, to be serious on business based on his punctuality. The studies on cross-cultural communication have led to the discovery of such underlying attitudes, which could not be explained, from students’ particular cultures. Hall in his writings identified what he referred as low and high context orientations.
They were based on information processing, time orientation and the interaction patterns used by particular cultures. Hall describes high context people as those who expect others to pick up issues bothering them without themselves being specific. They are said to be people who revolve around the subject matter without necessarily stating it categorically. In low context cultures, these people are not bent on building lasting relationships. Their relationships are terminated once they realize their deals will not go through. This is especially so in business deals.
Hall classified the low and high context cultures as operating both M-time and P-time time models respectively. M-time (monochromic time) mode emphasizes schedules, segmentation and promptness while P-time, (polychronic) time, several things happening at once characterize this mode. These are said to stress involvement and completion of transactions rather than adherence to strict schedules . The contemporary view is based on cultural variability dimensions. This view assesses how information is conceptualized and processed by the abstractive and associative categorizations.
In associative cultures, the effectiveness of the communication process relies on the context and it mainly occurs among a people who share identical mannerisms of thought. On the other hand, the abstractive category is bound to context and therefore information processing is based on facts. Some countries like the United States, France and England are said to possess abstractive culture while the Japanese, Chinese and Spanish communities follow the associative culture. Studies into the differences between the various cultures have shown that the American and Arabic cultures vary.
The American culture is more individualistic which differs with the more collective Arabic culture. These differences are based on the observable ways of life between the two cultures. Americans’ individualistic culture is expressed by their emphasis on freedoms; freedom of speech, of expressions, of opinion and several other freedoms. The Arabic collective culture is indicated by their way of transforming individual wishes to communal or collective responsibility. Public relations practitioners deal with mixed audiences in all countries since no culture consists entirely of the natives.
Some suggestions have been proposed on how well these public relations agencies can best convey information without causing offence to any group of people. This would help in minimizing conflicts arising from minor or far reaching statements. Media practitioners are also among those who deal with mixed audiences and caution has to be exercised as they deal with them. These public relations agencies and media practitioners are encouraged to incorporate a sense of collectiveness in their reporting when the target audience is mainly Arabic.
However, when the audience is mainly American, a sense of individualism should be incorporated. Reversing this set up would amount to offending the audience. The Arabic culture is also seen to value social events. It is recommended that media practitioners lay emphasis on such events when reporting for such audiences. The Arabs are also value family ties and they also protect against negative portrayal of family members . While still on the American and the Arabic cultures, Arabs are known to be more defensive and easily angered by certain remarks about their religious beliefs.
They are known to result to mass action when any person trivializes their beliefs. Americans on the other hand, though very religious, prefer to maintain religious matters to private levels. They do little of broadcasting on their religious beliefs or even run institutions based on their beliefs. It is rare to find Americans antagonizing over the remarks made by people concerning the religious faith they belong to. Arabic cultures are also bound to some common faith. Most of the Arabic nations belong to the Muslim faith. This further emphasizes their collective culture.
The faith of one is spread across all the people. Some Arabic nations have laid their nation’s governance structures based on the faith they share. Americans would oppose such a move since their way of life is more liberal. The studies on individualistic culture have associated this culture with such characteristics as exciting life, a sense of accomplishment, self-cultivation and self-respect. The collective culture is associated with such values as obedience, meeting obligations and harmony, being cooperative and so on.
A study done by Gudykunst among others revealed that the Chinese have more collective culture as opposed to Australia, which indicated an individualistic culture. This is analogous to other studies, which had similar findings. Their findings also indicated that individualistic values positively predict ability to interpret indirect meanings and negatively predict indirect messages. Collective values could predict sensitivity positively while negatively predicting positive attitudes. These findings support earlier findings that values could predict individual behavior .
Cross cultural communication is a field that needs more studies to enable scholars and other to know how they can avoid miscommunication when interacting in a multicultural set up. This will enable businesspersons to engage in more profitable business deals. This will drive the international business to better performing levels. The findings that would come up would also contribute to gaining better international understanding while at the same time lay the foundation for developing acceptable and inclusive foreign policies for all nations.