*When you write to or speak with someone from another culture, you encode your message using the assumptions of your own culture. However, members of your audience decode your message according to the assumptions of their culture, so your meaning may be misunderstood. The greater the difference between cultures, the greater the chance for misunderstanding. You can improve your intercultural sensitivity and expedite cross-cultural communication by recognizing and accommodating four main types of cultural differences: contextual, ethical, social, and nonverbal.
*People assign meaning to a message according to cultural context: physical cues, environmental stimuli, and implicit understanding that convey meaning between two members of the same culture. In a high-context culture, people rely less on verbal communication and more on the context of nonverbal actions and environmental setting to convey meaning. In a low-context culture, people rely more on verbal communication and less on contextual cues.In lower-context cultures, businesspeople try to reach decisions as quickly and efficiently as possible. They are concerned with reaching an agreement on the main points, leaving the details to be worked out later by others. However, this approach would backfire in higher-context cultures because there executives assume that anyone who ignores the details is untrustworthy.Cultures differ in their tolerance for disagreement when solving problems. Low-context businesspeople typically enjoy confrontation and debate, but high-context businesspersons shun such tactics. Members of low-context cultures see their negotiating goals in economic terms. To high-context negotiators, immediate economic gains are secondary to establishing and maintaining long-term relationships.
*Nonverbal communication is a reliable way to determine meaning, but that reliability is valid only when the communicators belong to the same culture. The simplest hand gestures change meaning across cultures, so interpreting nonverbal elements according to your own culture can be dangerous. Consider the concept of personal space. People in Canada and the United States usually stand about five feet apart during a business conversation. However, this distance is uncomfortably close for people from Germany or Japan and uncomfortably far for Arabs and Latin Americans. Gestures help members of a culture clarify confusing messages, but differences in body language can be a major source of misunderstanding during intercultural communication. Dont assume that someone from another culture who speaks your language has mastered your cultures body language. People from different cultures may misread an intentional nonverbal signal, overlook the signal entirely, or assume that a meaningless gesture is significant. Recognizing cultural differences helps you avoid sending inappropriate signals and helps you correctly interpret the signals from othersan important step toward improving intercultural sensitivity.
*When communicating across cultures, your effectiveness depends on maintaining an open mind. Unfortunately, many people lapse into ethnocentrism. They lose sight of the possibility that their words and actions can be misunderstood, and they forget that they are likely to misinterpret the actions of others.When you first begin to investigate the culture of another group, you may attempt to understand the common tendencies of that groups members by stereotypingpredicting individuals behavior or character on the basis of their membership in a particular group or class. Unfortunately, when ethnocentric people stereotype, they tend to do so on the basis of limited, general, or inaccurate evidence. In order to overcome ethnocentrism, follow a few simple suggestions:Acknowledge and accept distinctions. Dont ignore differences between another persons culture and your own. Avoid assumptions. Dont assume that others will act the same way you do, that they will operate from the same assumptions, or that they will use language and symbols the same way you do. Avoid judgments. When people act differently, dont conclude that they are in error, that their way is invalid, or that their customs are inferior to your own.
*Once you can recognize cultural elements and overcome ethnocentrism, youre ready to focus directly on your intercultural communication skills. To communicate more effectively with people from other cultures, you need to study those cultures, overcome language barriers, and develop effective intercultural communication skills, both written and oral.
*Once you can recognize cultural elements and overcome ethnocentrism, youre ready to focus on your intercultural communication skills. To communicate more effectively with people from other cultures, study other cultures, overcome language barriers, and develop intercultural communication skills, both written and oral. Use the following to communicate more effectively: Assume differences until similarity is proved. Dont assume that others are more similar to you than they actually are. Take responsibility for communication.Dont assume its the other persons job to communicate with you. Withhold judgment.Learn to listen to the whole story and accept differences in others without judging them. Show respect.Learn how respect is communicated in various cultures (through gestures, eye contact, and so on). Empathize.Before sending a message, put yourself in the receivers shoes. Imagine the receivers feelings and point of view. Tolerate ambiguity.Learn to control your frustration when placed in an unfamiliar or confusing situation.
*Cultural context also influences legal and ethical behavior. For example, because low-context cultures value the written word, written agreements are binding. High-context cultures put less emphasis on the written word and consider personal pledges more important than contracts. They also tend to view law with flexibility; low-context cultures value the letter of the law.As you conduct business around the world, youll find that legal systems differ from culture to culture. These differences can be particularly important if your firm must communicate about a legal dispute in another country.When communicating across cultures, keep your messages ethical by applying four basic principles: Actively seek mutual ground. Send and receive messages without judgment. Send messages that are honest. Show respect for cultural differences.