An overview to Intercultural communication

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Intercultural communication in its most basic form refers to an academic field of study and research. It seeks to understand how people from different countries and cultures behave, communicate and perceive the world around them. The findings of such academic research are then applied to 'real life' situations such as how to create cultural synergy between people from different cultures within a business or how psychologists understand their patients. Groups of people are coming together, sometimes with enormous differences in cultural back grounds, beliefs, life styles, economic resources and religions. And it illustrates that intercultural communication doesn’t happen in a vacuum. History, economics and politics played an important role and how various people and group reacted from the mayor, to the hate group of Illinois, to the reaction of many local town people. Intercultural communication occurs when people of different cultural back grounds interact, but this definition seems simplistic and redundant.

Defining Intercultural Communication
To describe Intercultural Communication we just need to analyze three words i.e; INTER+CULTURAL+COMMUNICATION. INTER+CULTURAL = Consisting of various cultures COMMUNICATION= An act of imparting information "Intercultural communication is the interpersonal interaction between members of different groups, which differ from each other in respect of the knowledge shared by their members and in respect of their linguistic forms of symbolic behavior." To properly define intercultural communication it’s necessary to understand the two root words culture and communication and basic building blocks of Intercultural Communication

Building blocks of Intercultural Communication
Following are the four building blocks of intercultural communication • Culture • Communication • Context • Power Explanation

1) Culture
Culture is defined as “A system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors

and artifacts that the members of the society use to cope with one another and with their world”.
Transmitted from generation to generation through social learning, culture is the mechanism that allows human beings to make sense of the world around them. Cultures include a wide variety of races, ethnic groups and nationalities. Culture is often considered the core concept in intercultural communication. Culture can also be stated as

a learned pattern of perception, values and behaviors shared by group of people that is also dynamic and heterogeneous. Important aspects of culture Culture is Learned Culture is to be learned first of all. While all human beings shared some universal habits and tendencies e.g. we all eat, sleep, seek shelter, make love and share some motivations to be loved and to protect ourselves. These are not aspects of culture rather, culture is the unique way the human beings have learned to eat, sleep and make love because we are Muslims, Asians, Europeans, male or female, etc. when we are born, we don’t how to be a male or female, Pakistani or Afghan and so on. Rather we are taught. We have to learn hoe to eat, walk, talk and love like other members of cultural groups and usually do so slowly and sub consciously, through a process of socialization. Culture Involves Perception and Values Culture groups share perceptions, or ways of looking at the world we select, evaluate and organize information from the external environment through perception. Thus, all of our prior learning the information we have already stored in our brains effects how we interpret new information. Some of this learning and perception is related to the values of the cultural groups we belong to. Values have to do wit what is judged to be good or bad, or right or wrong in a culture. Culture is Shared Another important part of our definition of culture is that cultural patterns are shared. These cultural patterns of perceptions and beliefs are developed through interactions with different groups of individuals at home, in the neighborhood, at school, in youth groups, at college, at workplace, shopping malls etc. culture becomes a group experience because it is shared with people who lie in and experienced the same social environments, in class, the researchers some times put students in same sex groups to highlights that how many men share many similar perceptions about being male and similar attitudes towards women, the same seems to hold true for women. Men sometimes share the perceptions that women have power in social situations. Women sometimes share a perception that men think badly of women who go out with a lot of guys. Culture is Expressed as Behavior Our cultural analysis influences not only our perceptions and beliefs but also our behaviors. Some people believe in the importance of individual independence, or simply individualism, is reflected in their behavior. Some children expect to become increasingly independent when growing up and they won’t to make their own decisions about career marriage etc. but some are socialized to the cultural values of collectivism. They are expected to be more responsible for caring for other family members and to take their wishes into consideration and marriage and career decisions.

2) Communication
Communication, our second building block is also complex and may be defined in many ways we can define communication as “our symbolic process whereby meaning is

shared and negotiated”.
In other words communication occurs when ever some one attributes meaning to other words or actions. In addition, communication is dynamic, may be unintentional and is receiver oriented. By symbolic we mean the words we speak and the gestures we make have no meaning themselves, rather they achieve significance only because people agree, at least to some extent on their meaning. When we use symbols to communicate we assume that the other person shares our symbol system. Also these symbolic meanings are conveyed both verbally and non-verbally. Thousand of non-verbal behaviors, gestures, postures, eye movements, facial expressions involved shared meaning. Power of social symbols e.g. flags, national anthems, and corporate logos also communicate meaning non-verbally. Communication is the process involving several components like a) People who are communicating. b) A message that is being communicated (verbal or non-verbal) c) A channel through which the communication takes place and a context. People communicating can be thought of as senders and receivers as they are sending and receiving messages. Similarly communication involves sharing and negotiating meaning. People have to agree on the meaning of a particular message, but to make things more complicated, each message often has more than one meaning. When we communicate, we assume that the other person takes the meaning that we intend but for individuals from different cultural backgrounds and experiences, this assumption may be wrong and may lead to miss-understanding and a lack of shared meaning. 3) Context Context act as the third building block of intercultural communication it means the physical and social situation in which communication occurs e.g. communication may occur in a class room, market, MASJID, office, etc. the physical characteristics of the setting influence the communication. People communicate differently depending upon the context e.g. we talk we never talk to the teachers and parents the way we talk to our friends or strangers. Context may consist of the physical, social, political and historical structures in which the communication occurs. 4) Power Power is always present when we communicate with each other although it is not always evident or obvious. In every society, a social hierarchy exists that gives some groups more power and privilege than others. The groups with the most power determined, to a great extent the communication system of the entire society. Those empower, consciously or unconsciously create and maintain communication systems that reflect, reinforce and promote their own ways of thinking and communicating. There are two types of group-related power.

a) The first involves membership in involuntary groups based on age, ethnicity, gender, physical ability, race and sexual orientation and is more permanent in nature. b) The second involves membership in more voluntary group based on educational background, geographic location, marital status and socio-economic status and is more changeable. Power is complex, especially in relation to institutions or the social structure. Some inequities, such as those involving sex, class, race is more rigid then those resulted from temporary roles like student or teacher. The power relations between student and teacher are more complex if teacher is a women challenge by male students. In short we really can’t understand intercultural communication without considering the power dynamics in the interaction. Relationship between Culture and Communication

Intercultural Communication and Business
With the expansion of industrial sector all over the world and growth of world economy trade and commerce have been flourished all over the world even the geographical, cultural, ethnic and racial frontiers of the countries have been failed to defend the arrival of foreign businesses. Running a business in one’s own country needs strong communication skills. Similarly, incorporating the business in other countries, cultures, nations and religions require strong intercultural communication. The globalization process is forcing businesses to rethink their strategies. Intercultural communication, skills assume an ever-larger role in global marketing and sale strategies. Consequently, language programs need to respond to these changes. Future business managers must acquire effective intercultural competence. The one world market has forced businesses to think global, act local, and integrate. Intercultural communication serves a vital role in that it can forestall miscommunication, prevent misunderstandings, and avert mistakes.

There are two aspects of business: • Domestic Growth • Global Growth Barriers to Intercultural Communication
Following are the four main barriers in intercultural communication d) Ethnocentrism e) Stereotyping f) Prejudice g) Discrimination Explanation

1) Ethnocentrism
Intercultural communication may involve groups whose members differ in terms of gender, age, ethnicity and physical ability among other things.

Ethnocentrism is a belief that one’s own culture or group is superior to all other groups or cultures. Ethnocentrism becomes a barrier when it prevents people from even trying to see another’s point of view through another’s “perception lens”. It is the largest problem that occurs during intercultural communication in which people bring an ethnocentric perspective to the interaction. If some body observed and judged the rest of the world from his own culture’s perspective he is known to be ethnocentric. To some extent, each of us operates from an ethnocentric perspective but problems arise when we interpret and evaluate other cultures by the norms and standards of our own. Generally, a lack of interaction with another culture fosters high levels ethnocentrism and encourages the notion that one culture is somehow superior to other. Ethnocentrism can create defensiveness on the part of the person who is being treated as if he or she is some how deficient or inferior. Solution It can be very difficult to see our own ethnocentrism often; we see it best when we expand extended time in other cultural group. How ever ethnocentrism can be avoided by judging another person’s culture by his own context which is called cultural relativism.

2) Stereotyping
Another barrier to intercultural communication is stereotypes. A stereotype can be defined as a generalization about some group of people that over simplifies their cultures. Stereotypes are widely held beliefs about a group of people. Stereotyping becomes troublesome in communication when people make assumptions about an individual on the basis of simplified notions about the group to which he or she belongs. In fact our assumptions get us in trouble when we apply to individual what we guess to be true of a group. Such stereotypes are injurious to individuals and groups. Kinds of Stereotypes Negative Stereotypes Some times teachers assumes that students don’t want to study to much but that they won’t to know what type of tests and quizzes would be given to them. These generalizations, mental shortcuts help the teachers know how to interact with students. However generalizations become harmful to stereotypes when they are held rigidly. Thus if they thought that all students were lazy or unwilling to study on their own, and they interacted with students based on this belief they would hold a negative stereotype. Positive Stereotypes Stereotypes also may be positives for example some people hold the stereotype that all attractive people are also smart and socially skilled. Even positive stereotype can cause problems for those stereotyped. Attractive individuals may feel excessive pressure to fit the stereotype that they are competent at some thing they are not, or they may be hired on the basis of their appearance and then find out they cannot do the job. Hence when some body meets an attorney, doesn’t assume that she is shady. When some body needs an Asian, doesn’t assume that he is good at mathematics. Similarly when some body meets a beautiful blond doesn’t assume that she is empty headed.

Why do we hold stereotypes? One reason is that stereotypes help us know what to expect from and how to react to others however stereotypes once adopted is not easily discarded. In fact, people tend to remember information that supports a stereotype and to not retain information that contradicts the stereotypes. We pickup stereotypes in different ways e.g. a) The media tend to portray culture groups in stereotypic ways. Some times stereotypes persist because the media choose to not pass along information that would contradict stereotypes. b) Stereotypes can also develop out of negative experiences. If we have unpleasant contact with certain people we may generalize that unpleasantness to include all members of that particular group, what ever group characteristic we focus on (race, gender, sexual orientation). Solution Since stereotypes often operates at unconscious level and are so persistent, people have to work consciously at rejecting them. This process involves several steps. a) Recognizing the negative stereotypes (we all have them). b) Obtaining individual information that can counter act the stereotype.

3) Prejudice
Prejudice is a negative attitude towards a cultural groups based on little or no experience. It is a sort of pre-judgment. Where as stereotypes tell us what a group is like, prejudice tells how we are likely to feel about that group. Why are people prejudiced? Firstly, it might be that prejudiced some social functions. One such function is the adjustment function, whereby people hold certain prejudices because it may lead to social rewards. People want to accepted and liked by their culture groups and if they need to reject members of another group to do so, then prejudice servers a certain functions. Another function is the ego-defensive function, whereby people may hold certain prejudices because they don’t want to admit certain things about themselves e.g. an instructor who doesn’t feet successful as a teacher they may find it easier to blame students and hold prejudices against them then to admit short comings as a teacher. Secondly people hold some prejudices because they help to reinforce certain beliefs or values which is called the value expressive function e.g. part of belonging to some religious groups might require holding certain prejudices against religious groups. Prejudices also may arise from a personal need to feel positive about once own group and negative about others, or from perceived or real threats. These may be genuine threats that challenge a group existence economic or political power or symbolic threats in the form of inter group value conflicts and the accompanying anxieties. In addition if some one has already had negative intercultural contact and is anxious about future contact, particularly if there are inequalities and perceive threats, prejudices likely will develop. Kinds of prejudices The noisiest form of prejudices is easy to see but is less common today. It is more difficult, however to pinpoint less obvious forms of prejudices e.g. “tokenism” is a kind of prejudices shown by people who don’t want to admit they are prejudiced. Hey go out

of their way to engage in unimportant but positive inter group behavior showing support for other people’s programmers or making statements like “I am not prejudiced” to persuade themselves and others that they are not prejudiced. The other form of prejudiced is “Arms-length” when people engage in friendly, positive behavior towards members of another group on public and semi formal situations just like casual friendships at work, interactions in large social gatherings or at lectures but avoid closer contact like dating or attending intimate social gatherings. Solution Like stereotypes, prejudices, once established, is very difficult to undo because it operates at subconscious level that is we often aren’t really aware of this fact, there has to be very explicit motivation to change our ways of thinking.

4) Discrimination
Discrimination is the behavior that results from stereotyping or prejudice. It means to overt actions to exclude, avoid or distance oneself from other groups. Discrimination may be based on racism or any of the other “isms” related to belonging to cultural groups e.g. sexism, ageism, nationalism or elitism. One way of thinking about discrimination is that power and prejudice combine together to give rise to an “ism”. It means it one belongs to more powerful group and hold prejudices towards another, less powerful, group, resulting actions towards members of that group are based on an “ism” and so can be called discrimination. Range of Discrimination Discrimination may range from very delicate non verbal to verbal insults and exclusions from job or other economic opportunities, to physical violence and systematic elimination of the group, or genocide. The connection between prejudice and extreme discrimination is closer then one might think. Discrimination may be interpersonal, collective or institutional. In recent years interpersonal racism seems to be much more delicate and indirect but still persistent. Institutionalized or collective discrimination whereby individual are systematically denied equal participation or rights in informal and formal ways also persists. Sometimes institutional discrimination is very blatant.

Challenges to the Intercultural Relationships
In every single aspect culture influences every single aspect of business communication: how to show politeness and respect, how much information to give, how to motivate people, how loud to talk, what size paper to use. Values, Beliefs, and Practices Values and beliefs, often unconscious, affect our response to people and situations. Most North Americans accept competition and believe that it produces better performances. The Japanese, however, believe that competition leads to disharmony. U.S. business people believe that success is based on individual achievements and is open to anyone who excels.

Nonverbal Communication Communication that doesn't use words- takes place all the time. Body language the size of an office or how long someone keeps a visitor waiting-all these communicates pleasure or anger, friendliness or distance, power and status. A young woman took a new idea into her boss, who glared at her, bows together in a frown, as she explained her proposal. The stare and lowered brows showed anger to her, and she assumed that he was rejecting her idea. After few months of working, she learned that her boss always "frowned" when he was concentrating. Body Language Posture and body movements connote energy and openness. North Americans open body positions include leaning forward with uncrossed arms and legs, with the arms away from the body. Closed or defensive body positions include leaning back, sometimes with both hands behind the head, arms and legs crossed or closed together, or hands in pockets. U.S. women are taught to keep your arms close to your bodies and their knees and ankles together. If we notice ourselves while sitting with friends, we can't sit in a closed body position. Eye Contact North American whites see eye contact as a sign of honestly. But many cultures, dropped eyes are a sign of appropriate defense to a superior. Japanese are taught to look at neck. In Korea, prolonged eye contact is considered rude. In Muslim countries, women and men are not supposed to have an eye contact. Gestures Americans sometimes assume that they can depend on gestures to communicate if language fails. The "thumbs up" sign means good work or go ahead in U.S. but considered as insult in Greece. The circle formed with the thumb and the first finger is considered as OK in U.S. but it means "you are nothing" in France and Belgium. Space Personal space is the distance that someone wants between himself or herself and other people in ordinary, no intimate interchanges. Observation and limited experimentation show that most North Americans, North Europeans, and Asians want a bigger personal space than to Latin Americans, French, Italians, and Arabs. People who prefer lots of personal space are often forced to accept close contact on a crowded elevator or subway. Touch Bodies needed to be touched to grow and thrive and that older people are healthier both mentally and physically if they are touched. But some people are more comfortable with touch then others. Some people like to shake hands but don’t like to be touched at all, except by family members or lovers. Other people, having grown up in families that touch a lot, hug as a part of greeting and touch even casual friends.

Spatial Arrangements In the U.S, the size, the placement and privacy of one's office connote status. Large corner offices have the highest status. An individual office with a door that closes connotes more status then a desk in a common area. Japanese firms however see private offices as "inappropriate and inefficient" they also have desk in common areas. Time Organizations in the U.S. – business, government, and schools- keep time by the colander and clock. Being "on time" is seen as a sign of dependability. Other cultures may keep time by the seasons and the moon, the sun, internal "body clocks", or a personal feeling that "the time is right". North Americans who believe that "time is money" are often frustrated in negotiations with people who take a much more leisurely approach. According to some scholars Europeans schedule fewer events in a comparable period of time than do North Americans. Oral communication Effective oral communication requires cultural understanding. Different conversational styles are not better or worse than each other, but people with different conversational styles may feel uncomfortable without knowing why. A subordinate who talks quickly may be frustrated by a boss who speaks slowly. People who speak slowly may feel shut out of a conversation with people who talk more quickly. Compliments The kind of statements that people interpret as compliments and the socially correct way to respond to compliments also vary among cultures. The statement "you must be really tired" is a compliment in Japan since it recognizes the other person has worked hard. The correct response is "thank you, but I am ok." An American who is complimented on giving a good oral presentation will probably say "thank you." Statements that seem different in complimentary in one context may be inappropriate in another. Silence Silence also has different meanings in different cultures and sub cultures. Some Americans have difficulty in doing business in Japan because they do not realize silence almost always means that the Japanese do not like the American's ideas. Different understandings of silence can prolong problems with sexual harassment in the work place. White women sometimes use silence to respond to comments they find offensive, hoping that silence will signal their lack of appreciation. But some men may think that silence means appreciation or at least neutrality. African-American may be more likely to "talk tough" in response to unwelcome advances. Writing to International Audiences Most cultures are most formal than the United States. When you write to international audiences, use titles, not first names. Avoid contractions, slang, and sports metaphors.

The patterns of the organization that work for North American audiences may need to be modify for international correspondence. For most cultures, buffer negative messages and may requests more indirect.

Benefits of Intercultural Communication
Most people have variety of intercultural relationships that span differences in age, physical ability, gender, ethnicity, class, religion, race and nationality. Intercultural relationships can encompass many kinds of cultural differences and offered many rewards and opportunities. The benefits of such relationships include 1) learning about the world 2) Breaking stereotypes 3) Acquiring new skills In intercultural relationships we often learn specific information about unfamiliar cultural patterns and language. We may also learn about what it really means to belong to a different culture. A romance or close intercultural friendship may be a way to bring abstractions like “culture or race” to life. We may learn something about history as well which produce curiosity to learn about different religions of the world. This is a kind of relational learning. Intercultural relationships also helps us to break false assumptions i.e. stereotypes about different nations of the world. We may also learn how to do new things in intercultural relationships e.g. playing different games, cooking world wide recepies, learning languages and professional skills etc. In short, intercultural communication can lead to a sense of connection with others and can established a life long pattern of communicating to bridge differences e.g. one can recounts how an encounter with an international exchange student led to a life time interest in intercultural relations.

Building Intercultural Skills
Communication is too much complex. However, we can identify several general skills that can be applied to the various aspects of intercultural communication. 1) Understanding cultural identity and history. 2) Improving verbal and non-verbal communication 3) Understanding the role of popular culture in intercultural communication 4) Building relationships and resolving conflicts We must focus on cultivating and improving the following communication skills. a) Become more conscious of our own communication. A first step in improving intercultural communication is to become aware of the messages we send and received both verbally and non-verbally. Think about the tone of voice, body posture, gestures and the eye contact also become more conscious of the cultural values of our family and observe how these values are emphasized, communicated in the family and influence our communication.

b) Become more aware of others communication. Understanding other people’s communication requires the importance intercultural skills of empathy i.e. knowing where some one else is coming from, or “walking in their shows”. This is not an easy task but by doing things such as improving our observational skills and learning how to build better intercultural skills one can accomplish it. c) Expand our own intercultural range. Notice the diversity, gender, ethnicity, age group, socio-economic classes, language and disabilities of the friends. d) Become more flexible and knowledgeable about different culture by reading local ethnic newspapers and watching foreign movies. e) Notice how different cultural groups are portrayed in the media that is the roles played by people as the representatives of color or other minority groups etc. f) Try to use tentative words wile speaking about other groups that don’t reflect generalizations e.g. “generally it happens” or “many times it occur” or “it seems to me” or “in my experience”. g) Discourage the people using ethnic, racist or sexist jokes hurtful towards another groups by saying “what do you mean by that?” or “why is that funny?” or “I really don’t think that’s very funny”.

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