Culture is a way of thinking and living whereby one picks up a set of attitudes, values, norms and beliefs that are taught and reinforced by other members in the group. This set of basic assumptions and solutions to the problems of the world is a shared system that is passed on from generation to generation to ensure survival. A culture consists of unwritten and written principles and laws that guide how an individual interacts with the outside world. Members of a culture can be identified by the fact that they share some similarity. They may be united by religion, by geography, by race or ethnicity.
Our cultural understanding of the world and everything in it ultimately affects our style of communication as we start picking up ways of one’s culture at around the same time we start learning to communicate. Culture influences the words we speak and our behavior.
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Cross Cultural Communication
Cross cultural communication thus refers to the communication between people who have differences in any one of the following: styles of working, age, nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Cross cultural communication can also refer to the attempts that are made to exchange, negotiate and mediate cultural differences by means of language, gestures and body language. It is how people belonging to different cultures communicate with each other.
Each individual can practice culture at varying levels. There is the culture of the community he grows up in, there is work culture at his work place and other cultures to which one becomes an active participant or slowly withdraws from. An individual is constantly confronted with the clash between his original culture and the majority culture that he is exposed to daily. Cultural clashes occur as a result of individuals believing their culture is better than others.
Cross cultural communication has been influenced by a variety of academic disciplines. It is necessary in order to avoid misunderstandings that can lead to conflicts between individuals or groups. Cross cultural communication creates a feeling of trust and enables cooperation.The focus is on providing the right response rather than providing the right message.
When two people of different cultures encounter each other, they not only have different cultural backgrounds but their systems of turn – talking are also different. Cross cultural communication will be more effective and easier if both the speakers have knowledge of the turn taking system being used in the conversation (For example: One person should not monopolize the conversation or only one person should talk at a time).
LarayBarna’s Sources of Miscommunication in Cross Cultural Exchanges
1) Assumption of similarities : This refers to our tendency to think how we behave and act is the universally accepted rule of behavior. When someone differs, we have a negative view of them
2) Language Differences : Problems occur when there is an inability to understand what the other is saying because different languages are being spoken. Talking the same language itself can sometimes lead to discrepancies as some words have different meanings in various contexts, countries or cultures
3) Nonverbal Misinterpretation : The way we dress, the way we express ourselves through our body language, eye contact and gestures also communicates something. A simple gesture like nodding the head is considered to be YES in certain cultures and NO in others
4) Preconceptions and Stereotypes : Stereotypes involves putting people into pre-defined slots based on our image of how we think they are or should be. It may consist of a set of characteristics that we assume that all members of a group share. This may be true or may be false. But stereotypes may lead to wrongful expectations and notions. A preconceived opinion of another can lead to bias and discrimination
5) Tendency to evaluate : Humans tend to make sense of the behavior and communication of others by analyzing them from one’s own cultural point of view without taking into consideration why the other person is behaving or communicating a certain way
6) High anxiety : Sometimes being confronted with a different cultural perspective will create an anxious state in an individual who does not know how to act or behave and what is considered to be appropriate (For example: A Japanese man and an American having a business meeting where both are unsure of the other’s cultural norms)
To reduce the above barriers to cross cultural communication, one can take the effort to develop one’s listening skills. This will ensure that we start hearing the real meaning of what is being said instead of understanding at face value. Becoming aware of our perceptions towards others will ensure that we take steps to not prejudge a person or stereotype them. By accepting people and their differences and acknowledging that we don’t know everything will make us open up to people and their differences resulting in us using contextual information for better understanding. Seeking feedback and taking risks to open up channels of communication and being responsible for our feelings and actions will go a long way in ensuring that miscommunication is mitigated.