I. Understanding Cross Cultural Communication
The Collin Cobuild Dictionary 2006 defined culture as a particular society or civilization, especially considered in relation to its beliefs, way of life, or art.
b. Cross Cultural Communication
We live in a culturally diverse world. People will encounter individuals from different races, religions, and nationalities in their day to day encounters. There is often anxiety surrounding unfamiliar cultures. What manners are acceptable? What will offend a person from a very different background? It can be paralyzing to deal with other people if we do not know what to expect. The following suggestions discussed in the manual, Becoming a Master Student, by Dave Ellis are applicable to people in a variety of settings.
The desire to communicate is the first step in being effective. No matter what tools you gain in cross cultural communication. The desire to connect with another human being is the bond that will express itself clearly. A genuine effort to understand another person goes a long way in the path to communication. Not all people are successful in their management careers especially those who are in cross cultural management as people are different.
A lot of barriers may exist in the cross cultural communication leading to failure in cross cultural management. Here, I try to raise only three main barriers that block the communication of people who belong to different cultures. People who are exposed to situation of confronting others from different background include those who deal with international business, people who are not living in their home Country, people who communicate globally through the internet, among others. Those three main barriers are:
The most significant barrier to effective cross-cultural communication is the tendency of human beings to stereotype, or more specifically, to categorize and make assumptions about others based on identified characteristics such as gender, race, ethnicity, age, religion, nationality, or socioeconomic status.
Stereotypes are essentially assumptions that are made about a person or group’s character or attributes, based on a general image of what a particular group of people is like. Just as people assume that all cars have four wheels, while all bicycles have two, they also assume that all men have certain attributes that differ from women. In reality, a few vehicles that might be called “cars” have three wheels-as do some bicycles. Thus, these stereotypes about cars and bicycles are not always accurate. Stereotypes about men and women are even less likely to be accurate, as people’s characteristics vary much more so than do vehicles. Some men have physical or psychological characteristics that are more characteristic of women, while some women may resemble men in certain ways. So stereotypes are generalizations that are often oversimplified and wrong.
Stereotypes are especially likely to be wrong in conflict situations. When people are engaged in a conflict, their image of their opponent tends to become more and more hostile. As communication gets cut off, people make generalizations and assumptions about opponents based on very sketchy and often erroneous information. They see faults in themselves and “project” those faults onto their opponent, preferring to believe that they are good and their opponents are bad. Eventually, opponents develop a strong “enemy image,” that assumes that everything the other side does is evil or wrong, while everything they do themselves is good. Such negative stereotypes make any sort of conflict resolution or conflict management process more difficult.
2. Lack of Understanding
One of the major barriers to effective cross-cultural communication is the lack of understanding that is frequently present between people from diverse backgrounds. As they may have different values, beliefs, methods of reasoning, communication styles, work styles, and personality types, communication difficulties will often occur. This is compounded by the fact that many of us are not very effective at getting to understand the ways in which others may differ.
3. Judgmental Attitudes
Many of us have it when it comes to interacting with people who are different. Most of us would like to believe we are open minded and accepting. But in reality, a great many of us find discomfort with those who are different in terms of values, beliefs and behaviors. We may then evaluate those values, beliefs and behaviors in a negative light. This is the essence of ethnocentrism, where we evaluate good and bad, right and wrong relative to how closely the values, behaviors and ideas of others mirror our own. Put simply, to effectively interact with people who are different from us, we must suspend judgment about their ways, and try to get to understand them from their perspective. But for most of us, this is much easier said than done.
Developing a feedback culture means encouraging people to feel comfortable about giving and taking feedback about their performance – in the interests of better business and their own personal development. Feedback doesn’t have to be negative; indeed there are far more occasions when positive feedback should be given. As a leader, you can seek those occasions using the above simple five-step process.
I. Solution to Effective Cross Cultural Communication
In order to effectively overcome all the barriers which lead to failure in cross cultural communication, the following factors should be critically considered:
Observation: It is always best to observe the behaviors of the group and follow their lead. High- and Low-Context Cultures: Communication in high-context cultures depends heavily on the context, or nonverbal aspects of communication; low-context cultures depend more on explicit, verbally expressed communication. A highly literate, well read culture is considered a low-context culture, as it relies heavily on information communicated explicitly by words.
Nonverbal Communication: In low-context cultures, such as in academic communities, communication is mostly verbal and written. Very little information in this culture is communicated nonverbally. In high-context cultures, much of the communication process occurs nonverbally. Body language, status, tonality, relationships, the use of silence, and other factors communicate meaning. Studies show that more than 60% of communication is nonverbal and will be remembered long after your actual words. Many cultures determine the seriousness of your message by your actions and emotions during your delivery. Eye Contact: Most U.S. children are taught to look at the teacher or parent when they are being scolded and during interpersonal communication in general. However, in some cultures, looking down is considered a sign of respect for the person who is scolding them. Many adult Americans regard someone who does not look them in the eye as untrustworthy. However, some cultures may regard direct eye contact as confrontational. It is often considered to be rude or aggressive to look into someone?s eyes for more than 4 or 5 seconds. Smiling: Rather than being a sign of friendliness, some cultures regard smiling as false, overbearing, or worse. There still more about body gestures.
Verbal Communication: Avoid use of technical phrases, jargon (words that are commonly understood), and acronyms(it is not much serious if the acronyms are broadly used or commonly known for example, UN is mostly understood as the United Nations). Explain the meaning of technical language and acronyms throughout your conversation or presentation. Pause between sentences and ask some questions to ensure listeners understand you. The questions may include, ?Do you have any questions so far?? Do not wait until the end of your presentation. Do not be afraid to use facial expressions, body language and other signs of emotion to enhance your message (make sure you understand the meaning of each sign in real context so it won?t pull you down).
Emotional Responses: Emotional responses will vary among different cultures. While some cultures will not react emotionally to your messages, others will. Do not become concerned whether there are emotional outbursts during your conversation. Be prepared to compassionately acknowledge the emotional impact that your message may have on your listeners.
Interpreters: Get to know the interpreter in advance. Your phrasing, accent, pace, and idioms are important to a good interpreter. Review technical terms in advance. Ensure a shared understanding of terms in particular and your message in general before you speak. Speak slowly and clearly. Try to phrase your thoughts into single ideas of two sentences; work this out with the interpreter in advance. Be careful with numbers. Write out important numbers to ensure understanding.
Watch your body language. The audience will be checking your body language while your words are being converted into their language. The interpreter will not be able to transmit your inflections and tone, so you must find other ways to underscore your message and why they should believe what you are saying. Watch their eyes. Watch to see if the interpreter?s words seem to register with them. Avoid humor and jokes. American humor often depends on wordplays that do not translate well. Rely on a pleasant facial expression.
Use visuals where possible. A picture really is worth a thousand words; the universal language of pictures can make your job easier. Spend time to let the interpreter become acquainted with your visual material.
In addition to the above mentioned, Neil Payne of Kwintessential (2004) suggest the following tips should be considered to solve most of the barriers in effective cross cultural communication as he believes that Communicating across cultures can be confusing and uncertain?unless we have the right frame of mind and approach.
� Slow Down.
Even when English is the common language in a cross cultural situation, this does not mean you should speak at normal speed. Slow down, speak clearly and ensure your pronunciation is intelligible.
� Separate Questions.
Try not to ask double questions such as, ?Do you want to carry on or shall we stop here?? In a cross cultural situation only the first or sec-ond question may have been comprehended. Let your listener answer one question at a time.
� Avoid Negative Questions.
Many cross cultural communication misunder-standings have been caused by the use of negative questions and answers. In English we answer ?yes? if the answer is affirmative and ?no? if it is negative. In other cultures a ?yes? or ?no? may only be indicating whether the ques-tioner is right or wrong. For example, the re-sponse to ?Are you not coming?? may be ?yes?, meaning ?Yes, I am not coming.?
� Take Turns.
Cross cultural communication is enhanced through taking turns to talk, making a point and then listening to the response. This means you cannot just keep talking without your partner understanding. Let them interact with you. Give them chance to talk or ask for confirmation.
� Write it Down.
If you are unsure whether something has been understood write it down and check. This can be useful when using large figures. For exam-ple, a billion in the USA is 1,000,000,000,000 while in the UK it is 1,000,000,000.
� Be Supportive.
Effective cross cultural communication is in es-sence about being comfortable. Giving en-couragement to those with weak English gives them confidence, support and a trust in you.
� Check Meanings.
When communicating across cultures never assume the other party has understood. Be an active listener. Summarize what has been said in order to verify it. This is a very effective way of ensuring accurate cross cultural communication has taken place.
� Avoid Slang.
Even the most well educated foreigner will not have a complete knowledge of slang, idioms and sayings. The danger is that the words will be understood but the meaning missed.
� Watch the humor.
In many cultures business is taken very seriously. Professionalism and protocol are constantly observed. Many cultures will not appreciate the use of humor and jokes in the business context. When using humor think whether it will be understood in the other culture. For example, British sarcasm usually has a negative effect abroad.
By understanding all these important factors, effective cross cultural communication may be likely to be made leading to successfulness in cross cultural management careers.
1. Kwintessential Ltd 2004.
2. D. Eckberg and M. Podkopacz, Family Court Fairness Study, (2004) Fourth Judicial District of the State of Minnesota, Fourth Judicial District Research Division.
4. Collin Cobuild Advanced Learner?s English Dictionary 2006
5. Crode Devade, Cross Cultural Guides, (2003), 2nd Edition