Intercultural communication as a field of study began after World War II. Several centuries ago the world seemed small, and most people only communicated with others much like themselves. The typical villager in Medieval Europe seldom traveled as far as the nearby market town. There were no strangers in the village. Over the years, improved transportation brought wider travel, newer means of communication allowed information exchange over longer distances. Today, improved technologies of communication (like the Internet) and more rapid means of transportation have increased the likelihood of intercultural communication. Trade and travel brought strangers into face-to-face contact. So did invasion, warfare, and colonialization.
For many people, the sheer joy of learning about other cultures is sufficient reason to study intercultural communication. They are curious about how different worldviews affect communication and human understanding. People who consider their own culture as the only culture often feel that they do not need to study how others see the world. They presume that everyone sees the world pretty much as they do, or they are ethnocentric, judging other cultures as inferior to their own culture. A few people are even xenophobic, fearing that which is foreign, strange, and different.
Many of us perceive the world through the eyes of a single culture, surrounded by other people with similar views. We attempt to move away from that monocultural viewpoint. The ability to see the world from different points of view is fundamental to the process of becoming intercultural. While students can study intercultural communication from their own single point of view, they will not learn or retain as much as students who are aware of multiple perspectives. This is not to say that the student's existing point of view is wrong and another one is right. Rather, it is to suggest that there are different ways of thinking and that such differences must be recognized and respected.
Intercultural communication may be said to occur when people of different cultural backgrounds interact, but this definition seems simplistic and redundant. To define intercultural communication, it's necessary to understand the two root words - culture and communication.
1.1 Identity and Intercultural Communication
Identity plays a key role in intercultural communication, serving as a bridge between culture and communication. It is through communication with our family, friends, sometimes with people from different cultures that we come to understand ourselves and our identity. And it is through communication that we express our identity to others. Knowing about our identity is particularly important in intercultural interactions.
Conflicts may arise when there are sharp differences between who we think we are and who others think we are. We examine the relationship between communication and identity, and the role of identity in intercultural communication. After we define identity, we focus on the development of specific aspects of our social and cultural identity including those related to gender, age, race or ethnicity.
Identities emerge when communication messages are exchanged between persons. This means that presenting our identities is not a simple process. Does everyone see you as you see yourself? Probably not. Different identities are emphasized depending on whom we are communicating with and what the conversation is about. In a social conversation with someone we are attracted to, our gender or sexual orientation identity is probably more important to us than our ethnic or national identities. And our communication is probably most successful when the person we are talking with confirms the identity we think is most important at the moment. Our identities are formed through communication with others, but societal forces related to history, economics, and politics also have a strong influence. To grasp this notion, think about how and why people are identified with particular groups and not others. What choices are available to them? The reality is, we are all pigeonholed into identity categories, or contexts, even before we are born. Many parents give a great deal of thought to a name for their unborn child, who is already part of society through his or her relationship to the parents. It is very difficult to change involuntary identities rooted in ethnicity, gender, or physical ability, so we cannot ignore the ethnic, socioeconomic, or racial positions from which we start our identity journeys.
To illustrate, imagine two children on a train that stops at a station. Each child looks out from a window and identifies their location. One child says that they are in front of the door for the women's room; the other says that they are in front of the door for the men's room. Both children see and use labels from their seating position to describe where they are; both are on the same train but describe where they are differently. And like the two children, where we are positioned - by our background and by society - influences how and what we see, and, most important, what it means.
Societal influences also relate to intercultural communication by establishing the foundation from which the interaction occurs. But the social forces that give rise to particular identities are always changing. For example, the identity of "woman" has changes considerably in recent years in the United States. Historically, being a woman has variously meant working outside the home to contribute to the family income or to help out the country when men were fighting wars, or staying at home and raising a family. Today, there are many different ideas about what being a woman means - from wife and mother to feminist and professional.
In the United States, young people often are encouraged to develop a strong sense of identity, to "know who they are", to be independent. However, this individualistic emphasis on developing identity is not shared by all societies. In many African, Asian, and Latino societies, the experience of childhood and adolescence revolves around the family. In these societies, educational, occupational, and even marital choices are made with extensive family guidance. Thus, identity development does not occur in the same way in every society.
1.2 Gender Identity
We often begin life with gendered identities. When newborns arrive, they may be greeted with clothes in either blue or pink. To establish a gender identity for a baby, visitors may ask if it's a boy or a girl. But gender is not the same as biological sex. This distinction is important in understanding how our views on biological sex influence gender identities. We communicate our gender identity, and popular culture tells us what it means to be a man or a woman. For example, some activities are considered more masculine or more feminine. Similarly, the programs that people watch on television - soap operas, football games, and so on - affect how they socialize with others and come to understand what it means to be a man or a woman. Our expression of gender identity not only communicates who we think we are but also constructs a sense of who we want to be. We learn what masculinity and femininity mean in our culture, and we negotiate how we communicate our gender identity to others. As an example, think about the recent controversy over whether certain actresses are too thin. The female models appearing in magazine advertisements and TV commercials are very thin - leading young girls to feel ashamed of anybody fat. It was not always so. In the mid-1700s, a robust woman was considered attractive. And in many societies today, in the Middle East and in Africa, full-figured women are much more desirable than thin women. This shows how the idea of gender identity is both dynamic and closely connected to culture.
There are implications for intercultural communication as well. Gender means different things in different cultures. For example, single women cannot travel freely in many Muslim countries. And gender identity for many Muslim women means that the sphere of activity and power is primarily in the home and not in public.
1.3 Age Identity
As we age, we tap into cultural notions of how someone our age should act, look, and behave, that is we establish an age identity. And even as we communicate how we feel about our age to others, we receive messages from the media telling us how we should feel. Thus, as we grow older, we sometimes feel that we are either too old or too young for a certain "look". These feelings stem from an understanding of what age means and how we identify with that age. Some people feel old at 30; others feel young at 40. Our notions of age and youth are all based on cultural conventions and they change as we grow older. When we are quite young, a college student seems old. But when we are in college, we do not feel so old. Different generations often have different philosophies, values, and ways of speaking.
1.4 Racial and Ethnic Identity
The issue of race seems to be pervasive in the United States. It is the topic of many public discussions, from television talk shows to talk radio. Yet many people feel uncomfortable discussing racial issues. Most scientists now agree that there are more physical similarities than differences among so-called races and have abandoned a strict biological basis for classifying racial groups. Instead, taking a more social scientific approach to understanding race, they recognize that racial categories like White and Black are constructed in social and historical contexts. Several arguments have been advanced to refute the physiological basis for classifying racial groups. Racial categories vary widely throughout the world. In general, distinctions between White and Black, for example, are fairly rigid in the United States, and many people become uneasy when they are unable to categorize individuals. By contrast, Brazil recognizes a wide variety of intermediate racial categories in addition to White and Black. This indicates a cultural, rather than a biological, basis for racial classification. Racial identities, then, are based to some extent on physical characteristics, but they are also constructed in fluid social contexts. The important thing to remember is that the way people construct these identities and think about race influences how they communicate with others.
One's ethnic identity reflects a set of ideas about one's own ethnic group membership. It typically includes several dimensions: self-identification, knowledge about the ethnic culture (traditions, customs, values, behaviors), and feelings about belonging to a particular ethnic group. Ethnic identity often involves a common sense of origin and history, which may link members of ethnic groups to distant cultures in Asia, Europe, Latin America, or other locations. Ethnic identity thus means having a sense of belonging to a particular group and knowing something about the shared experiences of group members. For some Americans, ethnicity is a specific and relevant concept. These people define themselves in part in relation to their roots outside the United States - as "hyphenated Americans" (Mexican-American, Japanese-American) - or to some region prior to its being part of the United States (Navajo, Hopi, Cherokee ).
1.5 Physical Ability Identity
We all have a physical ability identity because we all have varying degrees of physical capabilities. We are all handicapped in one way or another - by our height, weight, sex, or age - and we all need to work to overcome these conditions. And our physical ability, like our age, changes over a lifetime. For example, some people experiences a temporary disability, such as breaking a bone or experiencing limited mobility after surgery. Others are born with disabilities, or experience incremental disability, or have a sudden-onset disability. The number of people with physical disabilities is growing. In fact, people with disabilities see themselves as a cultural group and share many perceptions and communication patterns. Part of this identity involves changing how they see themselves and how others see them. For people who become disabled, there are predictable stages in coming to grips with this new identity. The first stage involves a focus on rehabilitation and physical changes. The second stage involves adjusting to the disability and the effects that it has on relationships; some friendships will not survive the disability. The final stage is when the individual begins to integrate disabled into his or her own definition of self.
1.6 Religious Identity
Religious identity is an important dimension of many people's identities, as well as a common source of intercultural conflict. Often, religious identity gets confused with racial / ethnic identity, which means it can be problematic to view religious identity simply in terms of belonging to a particular religion. For example, when someone says, "I am Jewish", does this mean that this person practices Judaism or views Jewishness as an ethnic identity? When someone says, "That person has a Jewish last name", does this confer a Jewish religious identity? Historically, Jews have been viewed as a racial group, an ethnic group, and a religious group. Drawing distinct lines between various identities - racial, ethnic, religious, class, national, regional - can lead to stereotyping. For example, Italians and Irish are often assumed to be Catholic. Intercultural communication among religious groups also can be problematic. Religious differences have been at the root of conflicts from the Middle East, to Northern Ireland, to India / Pakistan, to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The traditional belief is that everyone should be free to practice whatever religion they want to, but conflict can result from the imposition of one religion's beliefs on others who may not share those beliefs. Religion traditionally is considered a private issue, and there is a stated separation of church and state. However, in some countries, religion and the state are inseparable, and religion is publicly practiced. Some religions communicate and mark their religious differences through their dress. Other religions do not mark their members through their clothes; for example, you may not know if someone is Buddhist, Catholic, Lutheran. Because these religious identities are less obvious, everyday interactions may not invoke them.
1.7 Multicultural Identity
Today, a growing number of people do not have clear racial, ethnic, or national identities. These are people who live "on the borders" between various cultural groups. While they may feel torn between different cultural traditions, they also may develop a multicultural identity - an identity that transcends one particular culture - and feel equally at home in several cultures. Sometimes, this multicultural identity develops as a result of being born or raised in a multiracial home. The United States, for example, has an estimated 2 million multiracial people - that is, people whose ancestry includes two or more races - and this number is increasing. The development of racial identity for multiracial children seems to be different from either majority or minority development. These children learn early on that they are different from other people and that they don't fit into a neat racial category - an awareness-of-differentness stage. The second stage involves a struggle for acceptance, in which these children experiment with and explore both cultures. They may feel as if they live on the cultural fringe, struggling with two sets of cultural realities and sometimes being asked to choose one racial identity over the other. In the final stage, self-acceptance and assertion, these children find a more secure sense of self. This exposure to more than one culture's norms and values often leads to a flexible and adaptable sense of identity - a multicultural identity.
Ethnocentrism is the degree to which individuals judge other cultures as inferior to their own culture. The concept of ethnocentrism comes from two Greek words (ethos, people or nation, and ketron, center) which mean being centered on one's cultural group (and thus judging other cultures by one's cultural values). No one is born with ethnocentrism. It has to be taught. Everyone learns to be ethnocentric, at least to a certain degree. The concept of ethnocentrism may be divided into two parts: the belief in the superiority of one's own group and the consequent belief that other groups are inferior. It is quite natural to feel that one's own group is the best, whether a country or a culture. The problems arise not from feeling pride in one's own culture but from drawing the unnecessary conclusion that other cultures are inferior. Ethnocentrism is a block to effective intercultural communication because it prevents understanding unalike others.
Ethnocentrism is not just an intellectual matter of making comparisons with another culture; emotions are involved. The symbols of one's ethnicity, religion, or national ingroup become objects of pride, while the symbols of an outgroup (a flag, for example) become objects of contempt and hatred. Outgroup members are perceived as inferior and perhaps immoral. For example, European colonialists often perceived the native people that they conquered in Latin America, Africa, and Asia as subhuman. Extreme ethnocentrism may lead to conflict and even to warfare with an outgroup.
Many languages inherently convey a certain degree of ethnocentrism. For instance, the word for the language of the Navajo people, Dine, means "the people". So all non-Dine are, by implication, non-people. An ethnocentric parallel exists in many other languages. For example, La Raza (Spanish for "The Race") implies exclusivity for Latinos in the United States. The word for foreigner in most languages is negative, implying something that is undesirable. An example is the expression "a foreign object in my eye". In Hindi, the word for foreigner is ferengi. This word is not a compliment in India. The Chinese refer to their own country as "the Middle Kingdom", implying that it is the center of the world. Similarly, people living in the United States refer to themselves as "Americans", forgetting that everyone who lives in North America, South America, and Central America are also Americans.
Ethnocentrism tends to be the strongest concerning outgroups that are most socially distant and most unlike the ingroup. At least some degree of ethnocentrism is almost always involved in intercultural communication and is a barrier to communication effectiveness. An individual who despises a particular outgroup because he / she perceives that outgroup ethnocentrically will not be able to exchange meaningful information with that outgroup.
1.9 Prejudice and Discrimination
Prejudice is an unfounded attitude toward an outgroup based on a comparison with one's ingroup. In other words it is a negative attitude toward a cultural group based on little or no experience. Prejudice is prejudging, without knowledge or examination of the available information. Whereas stereotypes tell us what a group is like, prejudice tells us how we are likely to feel about that group. It often consists of judgments made about an individual based on assumptions about the outgroups that individual is presumed to represent. Some prejudices consist of the irrational suspicion or hatred of a particular group or religion. For instance, a prejudiced individual might say, "African Americans aren't as smart as other Americans". Or, "Asian Americans study all of the time, and always get the highest grades in my classes". These are prejudices. They can create avoidance and interpersonal conflict - and prevent effective communication between culturally different individuals.
Why are people prejudiced? One answer might be that prejudice fills 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 be accepted and liked by their cultural groups, and if they need to reject members of another group to do so, then prejudice serves a certain function. Another function is the ego-defensive function, whereby people may hold certain prejudices because they don't want to admit certain things about themselves. For example, part of belonging to some religious groups might require holding certain prejudices against other religious groups.
It is also helpful to think about different kinds of prejudice. The most blatant prejudice is easy to see but is less common today. It is more difficult, however, to pinpoint less obvious forms of prejudice. For example, "tokenism" is a kind of prejudice shown by people who do not want to admit they are prejudiced. They go out of their way to engage in unimportant but positive intergroup behaviors - showing support for other people's programs or making statements like "I'm not prejudiced" to persuade themselves and others that they are not prejudiced. "Arms-length" prejudice is when people engage in friendly, positive behavior toward members of another group in public and semiformal situations (casual friendships at work, interactions in large social gatherings or at lectures) but avoid closer contact (dating, attending intimate social gatherings).
With a negative attitude toward an outgroup is translated into action, the resulting behavior is called discrimination, defined as the process of treating individuals unequally on the basis of their ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, or other characteristics. Prejudice is an attitude, while discrimination is overt behavior 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 a cultural group (sexism, ageism, elitism). If one belongs to a more powerful group and holds prejudices toward another, less powerful, group, resulting actions toward members of that group are based on an "ism" and so can be called discrimination.
As a result of past discrimination, particularly discrimination against African Americans, affirmative action programs were established. Affirmative action is a policy or a program that seeks to compensate for past discrimination through active measures to ensure equal opportunity, particularly in education and employment. Affirmative action gives preference to individuals or groups that have experienced discrimination in order to correct for this discrimination. For example, there were no African-American firefighters in Miami Beach, Florida, before 1968. Affirmative action policies required the city government to give preference to hiring African-American firefighters over other equally qualified firefighters until the proportion of African Americans in the city's fire department matched the general population.
Racism categorizes individuals on the basis of their external physical traits, such as skin color, hair, facial structure, and eye shape, leading to prejudice and discrimination. Race is a social construction - an attempt to give social meaning to physical differences. Race is biologically meaningless because biological variations blend from one racial category to another.
Richard LaPiere, a Stanford University sociologist, conducted a much-cited study of prejudice and discrimination in the early 1930s. He traveled 10000 miles by car with a young Chinese couple, stopping at 250 hotels and restaurants. At that time many North Americans had a high degree of prejudice against Asians. They were refused service only once, by the proprietor of a motel in a California town who exclaimed: "No, I don't take Japs!" As a follow-up LaPiere wrote to the 250 hotels and restaurants to ask: "Will you accept members of the Chinese race as guests in your establishment? "Ninety percent replied that they would refuse to serve the Chinese. LaPiere's findings were interpreted as evidence of the difference between an attitude (defined as a relatively enduring belief by an individual that predisposes action) and overt behavior, like discrimination.
LaPiere's study was later replicated by Kutner, Wilkins and Yarrow (1952) who arranged for an African-American woman, accompanied by two European American friends, to request service at eleven restaurants. All admitted the interracial party of three, but all later refused to make reservations over the telephone.
Discrimination may be interpersonal, collective, and institutional. In recent years, interpersonal racism seems to be much more subtle and indirect but still persistent. Institutionalized or collective discrimination - whereby individuals are systematically denied equal participation or rights in informal and formal ways - also persists.
How might one explain the greater degree of prejudice than discrimination? The simple explanation is that it is more difficult to refuse people service face-to-face than by letter or telephone. Further, the Chinese couple was well dressed (as was the African-American woman) and accompanied by one or more European Americans. The hotel clerks were likely to have judged the Chinese couple by the quality of their clothing and their baggage. These nonverbal characteristics were not involved when the communication channel was by letter or telephone. Thus the communication context of the face-to-face visit was unlike that of the letter or telephone request.
Another barrier to intercultural communication is stereotypes, which develop as part of our everyday thought processes. Stereotypes are widely held beliefs about a group of people and are a form of generalization - a way of categorizing and processing information we receive about others in our daily life. They may be both positive and negative. The example of a negative one is the following: some people hold the stereotype that all attractive people are also smart and socially skilled. They 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, whatever group characteristic we focus on (race, gender, sexual orientation).
Why do we hold stereotypes? One reason is that stereotypes help us know what to expect from and how to react to others. We pick up stereotypes in different ways. The media, for example, tend to portray cultural groups in stereotypic ways - older people as needing help, or Asian Americans or African Americans as followers or background figures for Whites. We may even learn stereotypes in our family. Stereotypes often operate at an unconscious level and are so persistent, people have to work at rejecting them. This process involves several steps: 1) recognizing the negative stereotypes (we all have them), and 2) obtaining individual information that can counteract the stereotype.
2.Building Intercultural Skills
1. Understand the relationship between identity and history. How does history help you understand who you are?
2. What do you consider to be your identity? Describe your cultural identity. What is the most important part of your identity to you?
3. Which kinds of history are most important in your identity?
4. Develop sensitivity to other people's histories. Aside from where "Where are you from?" What questions might strangers ask that can be irritating to some people?
5. What do you leave out when you tell the story of your identity?
6. Talk to members of your own family to see how they feel about your family's history. Find out how the family history influence the way they think about who they are. Do they wish they knew more about your family? What things has your family continued to do that your forebears probably also did?
7. List some of the stereotypes that foreigners have about Russians and Americans. Where do these stereotypes come from? How do they develop? How do these stereotypes influence communication between Americans / Russians and people from other countries?
8. Notice how different cultural groups are portrayed in the media. If there are people of colour or other minority groups represented. What roles do they play?
9. Notice how diverse your friends are. Do you have friends from different age groups? From different ethnic groups? Do you have friends with disabilities? Whose first language is not Russian? Think about why you have / don 't have diverse friends and what you can learn from seeing the world through their "prescription lenses".
10. Become more aware of your own communication in intercultural encounters. Think about the message you are sending, verbally and nonverbally. Think about your tone of voice, gestures, eye contact. Are you sending the messages you want to send?
11. Look for advertisements in popular newspapers and magazines. Analyze the ads to see if you can identity the societal values that they appeal to.
12. What stereotypes do you believe in?
The Concepts of Culture and Communication
Intercultural Communication is the exchange of information between individuals who are unalike culturally. This definition implies that two or more individuals may be unalike in their national culture, ethnicity, age, gender, or in other ways that affect their interaction. Their dissimilarity means that effective communication between them is particularly difficult. The cultural unalikeness of the individuals who interact is the unique aspect of intercultural communication. One type of difference occurs when the two or more participants in a communication situation each have a different national culture. If the two communication participants differ in age, - one individual is a teenager and the other is a parent, the younger person has been socialized into a somewhat different culture than the adult. For example, while discussing rap music, which the parent regards as just loud noise and inferior to classical music. The teenager feels that rap is a meaningful expression of contemporary culture. This information exchange among individuals who differ in age also is intercultural communication because the teenager and the parent have somewhat different cultures.
Similarly, information exchange between individuals who differ in religion, ethnicity, disability status, health, or in other characteristics can be affected by their cultural or subcultural differences. Now consider two individuals who differ in their socioeconomic status.
Culture is defined as the total way of life of people, composed of their learned and shared behavior patterns, values, norms, and material objects. Culture is a very general concept. Nevertheless, culture has very powerful effects on individual behavior, including communication behavior. Not only do nationalities and ethnic groups have cultures (for example, Japanese culture, Mexican culture, African-American culture, etc.), But so do communities, organizations, and other systems. For example, the IBM Corporation has its own culture.
The language (or languages) that an individual speaks is a very important part of cultural identification. A Spanish-surnamed person who is fluent in Spanish is more likely to self-identify as a Latino than a similarly Spanish-surnamed individual who only speaks English. In the past many immigrants to the United States, once they or their children learned English, began to identify with the new culture. This melting pot process assimilated the immigrant cultures and languages into the general culture. Today, immigrants to the United States continue speaking their native tongue for a longer period of time, rejecting English, and thus are more likely to identify with their immigrant culture.
2.1 Cultural Markers
Many people have a culturally identifiable name and, perhaps, a physical appearance that conveys, or at least suggests, their cultural identity. For example, imagine a brown-skinned, dark-haired person named Augusto Torres. He identifies himself as Latino. But many individuals are not so easily identified culturally. Two million people in the United States are culturally mixed and may identify with one or two or with multiple cultures. A person named Susan Lopez might be expected to be Latina, judging only from her last name. "Lopez" actually comes from her adoptive parents, who raised her in the Latino tradition in the Southwest. But Susan's biological father was a European American, and her mother is a Native American. Her physical appearance reflects her biological parentage. However, Susan is culturally Latina, preferring to speak Spanish, enjoying traditional food and music, and displaying other aspects of Latino culture. Here we see that blood ancestry does not dictate an individual's cultural identification.
Many individuals have names that do not fit exactly with their self-perceived cultural identity. For example, consider three communication scholars named Fernando Moret, Miguel Gandert, and Jorge Reina Schement. Can you guess the culture with which each individual identifies? Do you think that their first name or their surname best predicts their cultural identification? In intercultural marriages, if the wife takes her husband's surname, her cultural identity may no longer be conveyed by her married name.
When individuals change their religious or ethnic identity, they often change their name to reflect their new identification. For instance, when the world heavyweight boxer Cassius Clay became a Black Muslim, he changed his name to Mohammed Ali. Likewise, basketball player Kareem Abul-Jabbar was Lew Alcindor before he joined the Muslim faith. Some European immigrants had their names changed by US immigration officials when they were processed through Ellis Island in New York. For example, "Stein" became "Stone", "Schwarz" was often changed to "Black". In many cases, the name change was to an Anglo-Saxon name that was easier to understand in the United States.
2.2 Beliefs, Attitudes, and Values
Culture is stored in individual human beings, in the form of their beliefs, attitudes, values.
Beliefs are an individual's representations of the outside world. Some beliefs are seen as very likely to be true. Others are seen as less probable. Beliefs serve as the storage system for the content of our past experiences, including thoughts, memories. Beliefs are shaped by the individual's culture. When a belief is held by most members of a culture we call it a cultural belief. Culture influences the perceptions and behaviors of the individuals sharing the culture through beliefs, values and norms. They are important building blocks of culture. Not everyone in a society holds exactly the same cultural beliefs. In other words, an individual's culture does not totally determine his / her beliefs. But the members of a society who share a common culture have relatively more similar beliefs than do individuals of different cultures. For instance, most Japanese believe that gift giving is much more important than do people in the United States. West African people believe in magic and in the religious sacrifice of animals more than do individuals in most other cultures.
Attitudes, like beliefs, are internal events and not directly observable by other people. Attitudes are emotional responses to objects, ideas, and people. Attitudes store these emotional responses in the same way that beliefs store the content of past events. People express opinions, observable verbal behavior, and engage in other behaviors, partially on the basis of their attitudes and beliefs. Attitudes and beliefs form a storage system for culture within the individual. Attitudes and beliefs are internal and are not publicly observable. We cannot know your attitudes or your beliefs directly, but we can observe what we say (our expressed opinions) and what we do (our behavior). Many attitudes are based on cultural values. In the United States, freedom is a dominant value. In others, it's just one value among others. The meaning of any value, including freedom, differs across cultures.
Values are what people who share a culture regard strongly as good or bad. Values have an evaluative component. They often concern desired goals, such as the values of mature love, world peace. Values also concern ways of behaving that lead to these goals, such as valuing thrift, honesty, or speaking and acting quietly so as not to make noise that disturbs other people. Cultural values involve judgments (they specify what is good or bad) and are normative (they state or imply what should be). For instance, most people in the United States feel that bullfighting is disgusting and cruel. But to many Mexicans and Spaniards it is an important and exciting sport.
2.3 Cultural Clash
A cultural clash is defined as the conflict that occurs between two or more cultures when they disagree about a certain value. A cultural clash may involve strongly held values, such as those concerning religion. Cultural clashes occur frequently in cities, such as Miami, that are composed of a large number of ethnic groups. For example, Suni Muslims immigrated from the Middle East and Pakistan in the 1950s. These people have maintained their culture over the several decades of living in North Miami, resisting assimilation into the dominant general culture. This cultural maintenance of the Suni Muslims, however, frequently leads to the intergenerational cultural clash between youth and their parents. This conflict may center on the degree of individual freedom allowed young women. For instance, a fourteen-year-old asked her parents for permission to go to a shopping mall with her friends. They refused because of the Suni Muslim value that unmarried women should not be seen in public unless chaperoned by parents or older brothers. The adolescent daughter insisted on going to the mall, so her parents chained her to her bed.
As the degree of intercultural difference becomes wider in human communication situations, information exchange is likely to be less effective. Meanings are less likely to be shared as the result of communication exchange. The message intended by the source participant has less probability of being interpreted predictably by the receiver if the two are culturally unalike. The basis for understanding one another narrows as cultural differences increase. For example, marriage advertisements in India might describe a prospective bride as "homely", meaning she is expert in domestic matters, a good cook, and a charming hostess. To someone from the United States, the word "homely" describes an unattractive person.
When each participant in a communication exchange represents a different culture, the likelihood of effective communication is lessened. Communication between unalike individuals does not have to be ineffective. For instance, if the participants can empathize with each other (that is, put themselves in the shoes of the other person), then they may be able to overcome the ineffective communication. Further, the individuals can try to learn about people of different cultures.
2.4 Collectivistic Versus Individualistic Cultures
We define a collectivistic culture as one in which the collectivity's goals are valued over those of the individual. In contrast, an individualistic culture is one in which the individual's goals are valued over those of the collectivity. Individualism-collectivism is perhaps the most important dimension of cultural differences in behavior across the cultures of the world. Japanese culture is an example of a collectivistic culture. Harmony is very important to the Japanese. The collectivistic nature of Japanese culture is evident when observing a typical business office in Tokyo. More than a dozen employees are packed into an office that in the United States might house two or three individuals. The Japanese workers sit at small desks, facing each other, clustered in the middle of the room. Their boss sits among them. Individual privacy is completely lacking; instead, much informal conversation occurs among the office workers as they help each other with various work-related tasks.
The nature of the self is different in an individualistic versus a collectivistic culture. Culture shapes one's self, and thus one's communication, perceptions, and other behavior. In an individualistic culture, the individual perceives himself / herself as independent. In a collectivistic culture, the individual mainly thinks of himself / herself as connected to others. To be independent in one's thinking or actions would be considered selfish, rude, in poor taste. An individual who is not a good team player is punished for breaking the norm on collectivism. Interaction between individuals with these different perceptions of self can easily result in misinterpreting the other's behavior.
Obviously, not everyone in a collectivistic culture is equally collectivistic in thinking and behavior, nor are all of the individuals in an individualistic culture equally individualistic. For example, certain Japanese are task oriented rather than relationship oriented; they are very direct in their speaking style, telling it like it is. There is individual variation within both collectivistic and individualistic cultures, even though the average degree to which individuals are collectivistic-oriented is much greater in a collectivistic society like Japan than in an individualistic culture like the United States.
2.5 What is Communication?
Communication is the process through which participants create and share information with one another as they move toward reaching mutual understanding. Communication is involved in every aspect of daily life, from birth to death. It is universal. Communication is defined as a symbolic process whereby meaning is shared and negotiated. In other words, communication occurs whenever someone attributes meaning to another's words or actions. Because communication is so pervasive, it is easy to take it for granted and even not to notice it. One way to understand the crucial role of communication in all human activities is to consider individuals who have had little or no human communication. Isolates are children who for some reason have grown up without talking to anyone. While physically human, such isolates cannot talk or read and are completely lacking in social relationship skills.
Communication is also a process involving several components: people who are communicating, a message that is being communicated (verbal or nonverbal), a channel through which the communication takes place, and a context. What are the main elements in the communication process through which participants create and share information with one another in order to reach a mutual understanding. Communication is receiver-oriented. Human communication is never perfectly effective. The receiver usually does not decode a message into exactly the same meaning that the source had in mind when encoding the message. A code is a classification such as a language used by individuals to categorize their experience and to communicate it to others. Decoding is the process by which the physical message is converted into an idea by the receiver.Encoding is the process by which an idea is converted into a message by a source. Noise can interfere with the transmission of a message. Noise is anything that hinders the communication process among participants. Perhaps the symbol that was communicated was interpreted differently by the receiver than by the source. When the source and the receiver do not share a common value regarding the message content, effective communication is unlikely to occur, leading to conflict. The more dissimilar the source and receiver, the more likely that their communication will be ineffective. A source is the individual who originates a message by encoding an idea into a message. A receiver is the individual who decodes a communication message by converting it into an idea. A channel is the means by which a message is transmitted from its origin to its destination. Feedback is a message about the effects of a previous message that is sent back to the source. So communication is symbolic. That is, the words we speak and the gestures we make have no meaning in themselves; rather, they achieve significance. When we use symbols, such as words and gestures, to communicate, we assume, that the other person shares our symbol system. If we tell someone to "sit down", we assume that the individual knows what these two words (symbols) mean. Also, these symbolic meanings are conveyed both verbally and nonverbally. Thousands of nonverbal behaviors - gestures, postures, eye movements, facial expressions - involve shared meaning.
Communication is dynamic. This means that it is not a single event but is ongoing, so that communicators are at once both senders and receivers. When we are communicating with another person, we take in messages through our senses of sight, smell, hearing - and these messages do not happen one at a time, but rather simultaneously. When we are communicating, we are creating, maintaining, or sharing meaning. This implies that people are actively involved in the communication process. Technically, one person cannot communicate alone - talking to yourself while washing your car does not qualify as communication.
Communication does not have to be intentional. Some of the most important communication occurs without the sender knowing a particular message has been sent. During business negotiations, an American businessman in Saudi Arabia sat across from his Saudi host showing soles of his feet (an insult in Saudi society), inquired about the health of his wife (an inappropriate topic), and turned down the offer of a tea (a rude act). Because this triaple insult, the business deal was never completed.
2.6 Initial Contact and Uncertainty among Strangers
An interpersonal communication process must have a starting place, and getting a conversation underway with a complete stranger is particularly difficult. Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese set forth a theory of uncertainty reduction that takes place in initial communication between strangers. When two individuals encounter one another for the first time, they face a high degree of uncertainty due to their lack of information about each other. This uncertainty is especially high when the two individuals do not share a common culture. If they at least share a common language and have certain common interests, they can begin talking. Their discourse then allows them to share meanings and to decrease their uncertainty gradually as they get better acquainted. We do not build an intimate interrelationship suddenly. The process typically proceeds through a series of stages over time.
Uncertainty is an individual's inability to predict or to understand some situation due to a lack of information about alternatives. The antidote for uncertainty is information, defined as a difference in matter-energy that affects uncertainty in a situation where a choice exists among a set of alternatives. As an individual gains information about another person, uncertainty is reduced, and the situation becomes more predictable. Uncertainty is unpleasant, and individuals generally seek to reduce it. In order to communicate with another person in a smooth and understandable process, one must be able to predict how the other person will behave, what the individual will say next, and how the person will react to one's remarks.
How does one obtain information in order to start a conversation with a complete stranger? In some cases, a mutual acquaintance may provide certain information about the stranger. Once a conversation gets underway between strangers, the degree of uncertainty is reduced, so that the further communication is facilitated. Notice that a conversation between strangers in the United States usually begins with many questions being asked that demand short answers (such as questions dealing with one's occupation, hometown). As two people get acquainted, the number of questions decreases, the number of statements increases, and they become longer. Uncertainty is being reduced.
The degree of uncertainty between two strangers is greatest, of course, when they come from different cultural backgrounds. You do not even know if you share a common language with the other person. What if the other person does not speak your language? In what language should you begin the conversation? When meeting a business counterpart from another culture, should you kiss, bow, or shake hands? These uncertainties are all inhibitors to beginning a conversation with a cultural stranger.
2.7 Interpersonal and Intrapersonal Communication
Communication is fundamentally intrapersonal. Intrapersonal communication is information exchange that occurs inside of one person. It is the process of selecting and interpreting symbols to represent thoughts, perceptions, or physical reality. In contrast, interpersonal communication involves the face-to-face exchange of information between two or more people. Interpersonal communication is the process of exchanging mutually understood symbols. You communicate with yourself (intrapersonal) as well as with others (interpersonal).
Language allows humans to perceive reality symbolically. Words and their meanings allow people to be human beings. Humans use symbols as mental events to represent physical reality, as well as their hopes and dreams. If a person did not engage in thinking processes, that person could not learn to communicate using symbols. We use both signs and symbols to communicate. For example, when we turn and go into another room in the process of communication, this action is called a nonverbal sign. A sign is a physical event or action that directly represents something else. The words we exchange are symbols.
Language is a key influence in intercultural communication. It is the use of vocalized sounds, or written symbols representing these sounds or ideas, in patterns organized by grammatical rules in order to express thoughts and feelings. People of a particular nation or ethnic group who share a language usually share a common history and a set of traditions. Speaking a particular language gives an individual a cultural identification. If the language of a cultural group disappears, the members of the cultural group find it difficult or impossible to maintain their culture, and they will be assimilated into another language / culture. An example is the Irish people, who lost their language (Celtic), and have become assimilated, at least in part, into English culture.
Intercultural communication also begins with intrapersonal communication and ways of thinking. Levels of meaning suggest that meaning is assigned to messages during the decoding process, rather than residing in messages to be discovered. Based on our experiences, we develop attitudes, beliefs, and values that then influence the meanings we assign. Our culture accounts for a very large portion of what we experience and how we interpret the experience.
Intercultural communication depends on an understanding of the belief system of the other person. Cultural belief systems serve as message filters that determine, to a certain degree, the meaning each person assigns to messages and how events are perceived. The notion of cultural-ways-of-thinking is used here in a broad sense to include religions, countries, cultures, belief systems. Understanding different cultural ways of thinking allows us to understand and predict the ways in which individuals from a given culture will respond to specific intercultural interactions. To understand communication and how it works, we need to understand what happens within people's internal thinking processes.
The meanings of a message are interpreted through a process in which the message content is interfaced with an individual's feelings, prior experiences, cultural values. David Berlo, a communication scholar at Michigan State University, stated: "Words don't mean, meanings are in people". He meant that the meaning of a word exists only within the people who use words, not in some other location such as in the word itself. The written symbols for the word can be expressed with ink on paper, and definitions of words can be compiled in a dictionary, but the meaning is neither in the ink nor in the dictionary. When a human who shares the meaning of that particular written code reads the dictionary definition, that person can construct a meaning for the word in question.
Communication helps people create meaning rather than just transmit meaning. It is a process of creating meaning for the messages received from other people. Humans are sense-makers. They decode communication messages in ways that make sense to them, thus forming perceptions that guide their behavior. The essence of intrapersonal communication is the process through which an individual creates meaning for himself out of the information in a message. Much communication is intentional, that is, the source individual is trying to convey a particular meaning to the receiver individual. In this case clear messages are desired in order to have the intended effect on the receiver. In certain situations, however, ambiguous communication may be appropriate, such as in diplomacy, business negotiations, and on romantic occasions.
When the two or more participants in a communication process come from different cultures, it is less likely that the attempt to convey a meaning will be effective. The importance of "meanings are in people" for intercultural communication is that people construct meanings from their language, attitudes, and their interpersonal and cultural knowledge and experience. An individual's culture shapes the meaning given to a word or other symbol.