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Intercultural Communication: An Overview

Intercultural Communication: An Overview

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Published by JoAnne Stein

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Published by: JoAnne Stein on Jul 22, 2009
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1JoAnne SteinIPC 491Intercultural Communication Training: An OverviewThe primary purpose of this essay is to explore the significant issues pertaining tointercultural communication and intercultural communication training. This includesoutlining a definition of intercultural communication, providing a brief history of intercultural communication training, outlining current issues in this area of study, and providing an overview of the content involved in training programs.Intercultural communication can be defined as “the symbolic exchange processwhereby individuals from two (or more) different cultural communities negotiate sharedmeanings in an interactive situation” (Ting-Toomey, 2005, p. 39). This definitionsuggests that intercultural communication is simply interpersonal communication thattakes place between people from different cultures. However, such a definition leads tothe need to define what a culture is. The aforementioned definition states that individuals“negotiate shared meanings.” This implies that what separates cultures are the differentsymbols used to communicate among individuals in that culture. Ting-Toomey (2005) provides a definition of culture that supports this by stating that it is “a learned system of meanings—a value-laden meaning system that helps you to ‘make sense’ of and explainwhat is going on in your everyday intercultural surroundings” (p. 27).Yet another definition states the intercultural communication is “a symbolicexchange process between persons of different cultures” (Ting-Toomey, 1999, p. 21).This definition as well indicates the importance of symbols and various meanings whencommunicating. It can be inferred that what complicates communication between
 
2individuals from different cultures is that the symbols used to communicate havedifferent meanings which causes confusion and difficulty communicating.Although a single definition of culture has not been agreed upon by all thescholars researched, these two definitions provide an effective means of explainingculture in the context of intercultural communication. Furthermore, interculturalcommunication training strives to teach trainees how to effectively communicate inintercultural situations. This is accomplished by teaching training participants about thedifferent meanings that are culturally constructed and complicate the communication process.The goal of intercultural communication training seems to be generally agreedupon by many intercultural communication scholars. According to Brislin & Yoshida(1976), “intercultural communication training refers to formal efforts designed to prepare people for more effective interpersonal relations when they interact with individuals fromcultures other than their own” (p. 2). Another goal is to “encourage constructive andnonstressful interaction between members of different cultures” (Brislin & Pedersen,1976, p. 2). Ting-Toomey (1999) states that the goal is “to create shared meanings between dissimilar individuals in an interactive situation” (p. 21).All of these goals seem to express a similar idea, maintaining that the primarygoal is to facilitate effective communication. These goals also support the idea expressedin the definition that indicates the importance of symbols, acknowledges the differentsymbols present in various cultures, and the need to understand these symbols in order tocommunicate effectively. This is articulately summed up by Wiseman & Shuter (1994) inthe statement that intercultural communication training “[encompasses] all activities
 
3designed to facilitate effective interactions between culturally different persons” (p. 153).Another view states that a good training program should have the following four goals: “enjoyment and benefit”, “attitudes of hosts toward sojourners”, “people’s owngoals”, and “stress reduction” (Brislin & Yoshida, 1994, p. 6-10).Enjoyment and benefit refers to the idea that a training program should strive to be pleasant, perhaps even fun, and benefit its participants. The attitude of hosts towardssojourners indicates the importance of relationships between the participants. Having a positive and healthy interpersonal relationship between participants “allows skills transfer to take place” (Brislin & Yoshida, 1994, p. 8). A good training program also shows anawareness of people’s own goals and “provides information that will help people achievetheir goals” (Brislin & Yoshida, 1994, p. 9). This will also ease the conveyance of information to the audience. If participants feel they are benefiting from the program andlearning something that will benefit them personally, the training program will be moreeffective due to a more receptive audience. Finally, stress reduction is a very importantgoal of any intercultural communication training program.As a goal, stress reduction wisely notes that “the goal should be its reductionrather than its elimination” (Brislin & Yoshida, 1994, p. 10). This is important to realize because no matter how much one studies another culture, no matter how many hours arespent in training, one can never be fully prepared to enter another culture. It is nearlyimpossible to fully prevent culture shock, and having a realistic expectation for a training program is necessary for the success of the program.Lastly, it is important to be aware of another goal of intercultural communication

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