Intercultural communication is a discipline that studies communication across different cultures and social groups, or how culture affects communication. It is used to describe the wide range of communication processes and problems that naturally appear within an organization or social context made up of individuals from different religious, social, ethnic, and educational backgrounds. Intercultural communication is sometimes used synonymously with cross-cultural communication. In this sense it seeks to understand how people from different countries and cultures act, communicate and perceive the world around them. Many people in intercultural business communication argue that culture determines how individuals encode messages, what medium they choose for transmitting them, and the way messages are interpreted.
With regard to intercultural communication proper, it studies situations where people from different cultural backgrounds interact. Aside from language, intercultural communication focuses on social attributes, thought patterns, and the cultures of different groups of people. It also involves understanding the different cultures, languages and customs of people from other countries. Intercultural communication plays a role in social sciences such as anthropology, cultural studies, linguistics, psychology and communication studies. Intercultural communication is also referred to as the base for international businesses. There are several cross-cultural service providers around who can assist with the development of intercultural communication skills. Research is a major part of the development of intercultural communication skills.
Identity and culture are also studied within the discipline of communication to analyze how globalization influences ways of thinking, beliefs, values, and identity, within and between cultural environments. Intercultural communication scholars approach theory with a dynamic outlook and do not believe culture can be measured nor that cultures share universal attributes. Scholars acknowledge that culture and communication shift along with societal changes and theories should consider the constant shifting and nuances of society.
The study of intercultural communication requires intercultural understanding, which is defined as an ability to understand and value cultural differences. Language is and example of an important cultural component that is linked to intercultural understanding.
Areas of Interest
Cross-cultural business communication
Cross-cultural business communication is very helpful in building cultural intelligence through coaching and training in cross-cultural communication management and facilitation, cross-cultural negotiation, multicultural conflict resolution, customer service, business and organizational communication. Cross-cultural understanding is not just for incoming expats. Cross-cultural understanding begins with those responsible for the project and reaches those delivering the service or content. The ability to communicate, negotiate and effectively work with people from other cultures is vital to international business.
Important points to consider:
- Develop cultural sensitivity
- Anticipate the meaning the receiver will get.
- Careful encoding
- Use words, pictures, and gestures.
- Avoid slang, idioms, regional sayings.
- Selective transmission
- Build relationships, face-to-face if possible.
- Careful decoding of feedback
- Get feedback from multiple parties.
- Improve listening and observation skills.
- Follow-up actions
There is a connection between a person's personality traits and the ability to adapt to the host-country's environment—including the ability to communicate within that environment.
Two key personality traits are openness and resilience. Openness includes traits such as tolerance for ambiguity, extrovertedness, and open-mindedness. Resilience includes having an internal locus of control, persistence, tolerance for ambiguity, and resourcefulness.
These factors, combined with the person's cultural and racial identity and level of preparedness for change, comprise that person's potential for adaptation.
There are common conceptualizations of attributes that define collectivistic and individualistic cultures. Operationalizing the perceptions of cultural identities works under the guise that cultures are static and homogeneous, when in fact cultures within nations are multi-ethnic and individuals show high variation in how cultural differences are internalized and expressed.
Globalization plays a central role in theorizing for mass communication, media, and cultural communication studies. Intercultural communication scholars emphasize that globalization emerged from the increasing diversity of cultures throughout the world and thrives with the removal of cultural barriers. The notion of nationality, or the construction of national space, is understood to emerge dialectically through communication and globalization.
The problems in intercultural communication usually come from problems in message transmission. In communication between people of the same culture, the person who receives the message interprets it based on values, beliefs, and expectations for behavior similar to those of the person who sent the message. When this happens, the way the message is interpreted by the receiver is likely to be fairly similar to what the speaker intended. However, when the receiver of the message is a person from a different culture, the receiver uses information from his or her culture to interpret the message. The message that the receiver interprets may be very different from what the speaker intended.
Nonverbal communication has been shown to account for between 65% and 93% of interpreted communication. Minor variations in body language, speech rhythms, and punctuality often cause mistrust and misperception of the situation among cross-cultural parties. This is where nonverbal communication can cause problems with intercultural communication. Misunderstandings with nonverbal communication can lead to miscommunication and insults with cultural differences. For example, a handshake in one culture may be recognized as appropriate, whereas another culture may recognize it as rude or inappropriate.
Effective communication depends on the informal understandings among the parties involved that are based on the trust developed between them. When trust exists, there is implicit understanding within communication, cultural differences may be overlooked, and problems can be dealt with more easily. The meaning of trust and how it is developed and communicated vary across societies. Similarly, some cultures have a greater propensity to be trusting than others.
The following types of theories can be distinguished in different strands: focus on effective outcomes, on accommodation or adaption, on identity negotiation and management, on communication networks, on acculturation and adjustment.
Social engineering effective outcomes
- Cultural convergence
- In a relatively closed social system in which communication among members is unrestricted, the system as a whole will tend to converge over time toward a state of greater cultural uniformity. The system will tend to diverge toward diversity when communication is restricted.
- Communication accommodation theory
- This theory focuses on linguistic strategies to decrease or increase communicative distances.
- Intercultural adaption
- Intercultural adaptation involves learned communicative competence. Communicative competence is defined as thinking, feeling, and pragmatically behaving in ways defined as appropriate by the dominant mainstream culture. Communication competence is an outcomes based measure conceptualized as functional/operational conformity to environmental criteria such as working conditions. Beyond this, adaptation means "the need to conform" to mainstream "objective reality" and "accepted modes of experience".
- Co-cultural theory
- In its most general form, co-cultural communication refers to interactions among underrepresented and dominant group members. Co-cultures include but are not limited to people of color, women, people with disabilities, gay men and lesbians, and those in the lower social classes. Co-cultural theory, as developed by Mark P. Orbe, looks at the strategic ways in which co-cultural group members communicate with others. In addition, a co-cultural framework provides an explanation for how different persons communicate based on six factors.
Identity negotiation or management
- Networks and outgroup communication competence
- Intracultural versus intercultural networks
- Networks and acculturation
Acculturation and adjustment
- Communication acculturation
- This theory attempts to portray "cross-cultural adaptation as a collaborative effort in which a stranger and the receiving environment are engaged in a joint effort."
- Anxiety/Uncertainty management
- When strangers communicate with hosts, they experience uncertainty and anxiety. Strangers need to manage their uncertainty as well as their anxiety in order to be able to communicate effectively with hosts and then to try to develop accurate predictions and explanations for hosts' behaviors.
- Assimilation, deviance, and alienation states
- Assimilation and adaption are not permanent outcomes of the adaption process; rather, they are temporary outcomes of the communication process between hosts and immigrants. "Alienation or assimilation, therefore, of a group or an individual, is an outcome of the relationship between deviant behavior and neglectful communication."
- Meaning of meanings theory – "A misunderstanding takes place when people assume a word has a direct connection with its referent. A common past reduces misunderstanding. Definition, metaphor, feedforward, and Basic English are partial linguistic remedies for a lack of shared experience."
- Face negotiation theory – "Members of collectivistic, high-context cultures have concerns for mutual face and inclusion that lead them to manage conflict with another person by avoiding, obliging, or compromising. Because of concerns for self-face and autonomy, people from individualistic, low-context cultures manage conflict by dominating or through problem solving"
- Standpoint theory – An individual's experiences, knowledge, and communication behaviors are shaped in large part by the social groups to which they belong. Individuals sometimes view things similarly, but other times have very different views in which they see the world. The ways in which they view the world are shaped by the experiences they have and through the social group they identify themselves to be a part of. "Feminist standpoint theory claims that the social groups to which we belong shape what we know and how we communicate. The theory is derived from the Marxist position that economically oppressed classes can access knowledge unavailable to the socially privileged and can generate distinctive accounts, particularly knowledge about social relations."
- Stranger theory – At least one of the persons in an intercultural encounter is a stranger. Strangers are a 'hyperaware' of cultural differences and tend to overestimate the effect of cultural identity on the behavior of people in an alien society, while blurring individual distinctions.
- Feminist genre theory – Evaluates communication by identifying feminist speakers and reframing their speaking qualities as models for women's liberation.
- Genderlect theory – "Male-female conversation is cross-cultural communication. Masculine and feminine styles of discourse are best viewed as two distinct cultural dialects rather than as inferior or superior ways of speaking. Men's report talk focuses on status and independence. Women's support talk seeks human connection."
- Cultural critical studies theory – The theory states that the mass media impose the dominant ideology on the rest of society, and the connotations of words and images are fragments of ideology that perform an unwitting service for the ruling elite.
- Marxism – aims to explain class struggle and the basis of social relations through economics.
Intercultural communication is competent when it accomplishes the objectives in a manner that is appropriate to the context and relationship. Intercultural communication thus needs to bridge the dichotomy between appropriateness and effectiveness: Proper means of intercultural communication leads to a 15% decrease in miscommunication.
- Appropriateness: Valued rules, norms, and expectations of the relationship are not violated significantly.
- Effectiveness: Valued goals or rewards (relative to costs and alternatives) are accomplished.
Competent communication is an interaction that is seen as effective in achieving certain rewarding objectives in a way that is also related to the context in which the situation occurs. In other words, it is a conversation with an achievable goal that is used at an appropriate time/location.
Intercultural communication can be linked with identity, which means the competent communicator is the person who can affirm others' avowed identities. As well as goal attainment is also a focus within intercultural competence and it involves the communicator to convey a sense of communication appropriateness and effectiveness in diverse cultural contexts.
Ethnocentrism plays a role in intercultural communication. The capacity to avoid ethnocentrism is the foundation of intercultural communication competence. Ethnocentrism is the inclination to view one's own group as natural and correct, and all others as aberrant.
People must be aware that to engage and fix intercultural communication there is no easy solution and there is not only one way to do so. Listed below are some of the components of intercultural competence.
- Context: A judgment that a person is competent is made in both a relational and situational context.This means that competence is not defined as a single attribute, meaning someone could be very strong in one section and only moderately good in another. Situationally speaking competence can be defined differently for different cultures. For example, eye contact shows competence in western cultures whereas, Asian cultures find too much eye contact disrespectful.
- Appropriateness: This means that your behaviours are acceptable and proper for the expectations of any given culture.
- Effectiveness: The behaviours that lead to the desired outcome being achieved.
- Knowledge: This has to do with the vast information you have to have on the person's culture that you are interacting with. This is important so you can interpret meanings and understand culture-general and culture-specific knowledge.
- Motivations:This has to do with emotional associations as they communicate interculturally. Feelings which are your reactions to thoughts and experiences have to do with motivation. Intentions are thoughts that guide your choices, it is a goal or plan that directs your behaviour. These two things play a part in motivation.
Basic tools for improvement
The following are ways to improve communication competence:
- Display of interest: showing respect and positive regard for the other person.
- Orientation to knowledge: Terms people use to explain themselves and their perception of the world.
- Empathy: Behaving in ways that shows you understand the world as others do.
- interaction management: A skill in which you regulate conversations.
- Task role behaviour: initiate ideas that encourage problem solving activities.
- Relational role behaviour: interpersonal harmony and mediation.
- Tolerance for ambiguity: The ability to react to new situations with little discomfort.
- Interaction posture: Responding to others in descriptive, non-judgmental ways.
- Proficiency in the host culture language: understanding the grammar and vocabulary.
- Understanding language pragmatics: how to use politeness strategies in making requests and how to avoid giving out too much information.
- Being sensitive and aware to nonverbal communication patterns in other cultures.
- Being aware of gestures that may be offensive or mean something different in a host culture rather than your own home culture.
- Understanding a culture's proximity in physical space and paralinguistic sounds to convey their intended meaning.
- Tolerating high levels of uncertainty.
- Engaging in divergent and systems-level thinking.
Verbal communication consist of messages being sent and received continuously with the speaker and the listener, it is focused on the way messages are portrayed. Verbal communication is based on language and use of expression, the tone in which the sender of the message relays the communication can determine how the message is received and in what context.
Factors that affect verbal communication:
- Tone of voice
- Use of descriptive words
- Emphasis on certain phrases
- Volume of voice
The way a message is received is dependent on these factors as they give a greater interpretation for the receiver as to what is meant by the message. By emphasizing a certain phrase with the tone of voice, this indicates that it is important and should be focused more on.
Along with these attributes, verbal communication is also accompanied with non-verbal cues. These cues make the message clearer and give the listener an indication of what way the information should be received.
Example of non-verbal cues
- Facial expressions
- Hand gestures
- Use of objects
- Body movement
In terms of intercultural communication there are language barriers which are effected by verbal forms of communication. In this instance there is opportunity for miscommunication between two or more parties. Other barriers that contribute to miscommunication would be the type of words chosen in conversation. Due to different cultures there are different meaning in vocabulary chosen, this allows for a message between the sender and receiver to be misconstrued.
Nonverbal communication is behavior that communicates without words—though it often may be accompanied by words. Minor variations in body language, speech rhythms, and punctuality often cause differing interpretations of the situation among cross-cultural parties.
Kinesic behavior is communication through body movement—e.g., posture, gestures, facial expressions and eye contact. The meaning of such behavior varies across countries.
Occulesics are a form of kinesics that includes eye contact and the use of the eyes to convey messages.
Proxemics concern the influence of proximity and space on communication (e.g., in terms of personal space and in terms of office layout). For example, space communicates power in the US and Germany.
Paralanguage refers to how something is said, rather than the content of what is said—e.g., rate of speech, tone and inflection of voice, other noises, laughing, yawning, and silence.
Object language or material culture refers to how we communicate through material artifacts—e.g., architecture, office design and furniture, clothing, cars, cosmetics, and time. In monochronic cultures, time is experienced linearly and as something to be spent, saved, made up, or wasted. Time orders life, and people tend to concentrate on one thing at a time. In polychronic cultures, people tolerate many things happening simultaneously and emphasize involvement with people. In these cultures, people may be highly distractible, focus on several things at once, and change plans often.
Clothing and the way people dress is used as a form of nonverbal communication.
- Bhawuk, D. P. & Brislin, R. (1992). "The Measurement of Intercultural Sensitivity Using the Concepts of Individualism and Collectivism", International Journal of Intercultural Relations(16), 413–36.
- Ellingsworth, H.W. (1983). "Adaptive intercultural communication", in: Gudykunst, William B (ed.), Intercultural communication theory, 195–204, Beverly Hills: Sage.
- Fleming, S. (2012). "Dance of Opinions: Mastering written and spoken communication for intercultural business using English as a second language" ISBN 9791091370004
- Graf, A. & Mertesacker, M. (2010). "Interkulturelle Kompetenz als globaler Erfolgsfaktor. Eine explorative und konfirmatorische Evaluation von fünf Fragebogeninstrumenten für die internationale Personalauswahl", Z Manag(5), 3–27.
- Griffin, E. (2000). A first look at communication theory (4th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill. n/a.
- Gudykunst, William B., & M.R. Hammer.(1988). "Strangers and hosts: An uncertainty reduction based theory of intercultural adaption" in: Kim, Y. & W.B. Gudykunst (eds.), Cross-cultural adaption, 106–139, Newbury Park: Sage.
- Gudykunst, William B. (2003), "Intercultural Communication Theories", in: Gudykunst, William B (ed.), Cross-Cultural and Intercultural Communication, 167–189, Thousand Oaks: Sage.
- Hidasi, Judit (2005). Intercultural Communication: An outline, Sangensha, Tokyo.
- Hogan, Christine F. (2013), "Facilitating cultural transitions and change, a practical approach", Stillwater, USA: 4 Square Books. (Available from Amazon), ISBN 978-1-61766-235-5
- Hogan, Christine F. (2007), "Facilitating Multicultural Groups: A Practical Guide", London: Kogan Page, ISBN 0749444924
- Kelly, Michael., Elliott, Imelda & Fant, Lars. (eds.) (2001). Third Level Third Space – Intercultural Communication and Language in European Higher Education. Bern: Peter Lang.
- Kim Y.Y.(1995), "Cross-Cultural adaption: An integrative theory.", in: R.L. Wiseman (Ed.)Intercultural Communication Theory, 170 – 194, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Messner, W. & Schäfer, N. (2012), "The ICCA™ Facilitator's Manual. Intercultural Communication and Collaboration Appraisal", London: Createspace.
- Messner, W. & Schäfer, N. (2012), "Advancing Competencies for Intercultural Collaboration", in: U. Bäumer, P. Kreutter, W. Messner (Eds.) "Globalization of Professional Services", Heidelberg: Springer.
- McGuire, M. & McDermott, S. (1988), "Communication in assimilation, deviance, and alienation states", in: Y.Y. Kim & W.B. Gudykunst (Eds.), Cross-Cultural Adaption, 90 – 105, Newbury Park, CA: Sage.
- Oetzel, John G. (1995), "Intercultural small groups: An effective decision-making theory", in Wiseman, Richard L (ed.), Intercultural communication theory, 247–270, Thousands Oaks: Sage.
- Spitzberg, B. H. (2000). "A Model of Intercultural Communication Competence", in: L. A. Samovar & R. E. Porter (Ed.) "Intercultural Communication – A Reader", 375–387, Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing.
- Wiseman, Richard L. (2003), "Intercultural Communication Competence", in: Gudykunst, William B (ed.), Cross-Cultural and Intercultural Communication, 191–208, Thousand Oaks: Sage.
- Lustig, M. W., & Koester, J. (2010). Intercultural competence : interpersonal communication across cultures / Myron W. Lustig, Jolene Koester. Boston : Pearson/Allyn & Bacon, c2010
- ^Lauring, Jakob (2011). "Intercultural Organizational Communication: The Social Organizing of Interaction in International Encounters". Journal of Business and Communication. 48.3: 231–55.
- ^Drary, Tom (April 9, 2010). "3 Tips For Effective Global Communication". Archived from the original on 2010-04-13.
- ^"Intercultural Communication Law & Legal Definition". Definitions.uslegal.com. Retrieved 2016-05-19.
- ^ abcSaint-Jacques, Bernard. 2011. “Intercultural Communication in a Globalized World.” In Intercultural Communication: A Reader, edited by Larry A. Samovar, Richard E. Porter, and Edwin R. McDaniel, 13 edition, 45-53. Boston, Mass: Cengage Learning.
- ^Crofts Wiley, Stephen B. 2004. “Rethinking Nationality in the Context of Globalization.” Communication Theory 14 (1):78–83.
- ^ abSamovar Larry, Porter Richard, McDaniel Edwin, Roy Carolyn. 2006. Intercultural Communication A Reader. Nonverbal Communication. pp13.
- ^Cf. Gudykunst 2003 for an overview.
- ^Kincaid, D. L. (1988). The convergence theory of intercultural communication. In Y. Y. Kim & W. B. Gudykunst (Eds.), Theories in intercultural communication (pp. 280–298). Newbury Park, CA: Sage. p.289
- ^Gudykunst, W. & Kim, Y. Y. (2003). Communicating with strangers: An approach to intercultural communication, 4th ed., 378. New York: McGraw Hill.
- ^Orbe, 1998. p.3
- ^Kim Y.Y.(1995), p.192
- ^Mc.Guire and Mc.Dermott, 1988, p. 103
- ^Griffin (2000), p. 492
- ^Griffin (2000), p. 496
- ^Social group
- ^Collins, P. H. (1990). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman.
- ^Wood, 2005[full citation needed]
- ^Intercultural Communication: Globalization and Social Justice (1 ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc. 2013. ASIN B00DG8M7EU. ISBN 1412927447.
- ^Griffin (2000), p. 497
- ^ abcdef(Lustig & Koester, 2010)
- ^"Facts and Figures". Cultural Candor Inc.
- ^ ab(Intercultural Communication)
- ^Hinde, R. A. (1972). Non-verbal communication; edited by R. A. Hinde. -. Cambridge [Eng.]: University Press, 1972.
- ^Esposito, A. (2007). Verbal and nonverbal communication behaviours [electronic resource] : COST Action 2102 International Workshop, Vietri sul Mare, Italy, March 29–31, 2007 : revised selected and invited papers / Anna Esposito ... [et al.] (eds.). Berlin ; New York : Springer, c2007.
- ^Scollon, R., & Scollon, S. K. (2001). Intercultural communication : a discourse approach / Ron Scollon and Suzanne Wong Scollon. Malden, MA : Blackwell Publishers, 2001
All communication is cultural -- it draws on ways we have learned to speak and give nonverbal messages. We do not always communicate the same way from day to day, since factors like context, individual personality, and mood interact with the variety of cultural influences we have internalized that influence our choices. Communication is interactive, so an important influence on its effectiveness is our relationship with others. Do they hear and understand what we are trying to say? Are they listening well? Are we listening well in response? Do their responses show that they understand the words and the meanings behind the words we have chosen? Is the mood positive and receptive? Is there trust between them and us? Are there differences that relate to ineffective communication, divergent goals or interests, or fundamentally different ways of seeing the world? The answers to these questions will give us some clues about the effectiveness of our communication and the ease with which we may be able to move through conflict.
The challenge is that even with all the good will in the world, miscommunication is likely to happen, especially when there are significant cultural differences between communicators. Miscommunication may lead to conflict, or aggravate conflict that already exists. We make -- whether it is clear to us or not -- quite different meaning of the world, our places in it, and our relationships with others. In this module, cross-cultural communication will be outlined and demonstrated by examples of ideas, attitudes, and behaviors involving four variables:
- Time and Space
- Fate and Personal Responsibility
- Face and Face-Saving
- Nonverbal Communication
As our familiarity with these different starting points increases, we are cultivating cultural fluency -- awareness of the ways cultures operate in communication and conflict, and the ability to respond effectively to these differences.
Time and Space
Time is one of the most central differences that separate cultures and cultural ways of doing things. In the West, time tends to be seen as quantitative, measured in units that reflect the march of progress. It is logical, sequential, and present-focused, moving with incremental certainty toward a future the ego cannot touch and a past that is not a part of now. Novinger calls the United States a "chronocracy," in which there is such reverence for efficiency and the success of economic endeavors that the expression "time is money" is frequently heard. This approach to time is called monochronic -- it is an approach that favors linear structure and focus on one event or interaction at a time. Robert's Rules of Order, observed in many Western meetings, enforce a monochronic idea of time.
In the East, time feels like it has unlimited continuity, an unraveling rather than a strict boundary. Birth and death are not such absolute ends since the universe continues and humans, though changing form, continue as part of it. People may attend to many things happening at once in this approach to time, called polychronous. This may mean many conversations in a moment (such as a meeting in which people speak simultaneously, "talking over" each other as they discuss their subjects), or many times and peoples during one process (such as a ceremony in which those family members who have died are felt to be present as well as those yet to be born into the family).
A good place to look to understand the Eastern idea of time is India. There, time is seen as moving endlessly through various cycles, becoming and vanishing. Time stretches far beyond the human ego or lifetime. There is a certain timeless quality to time, an aesthetic almost too intricate and vast for the human mind to comprehend. Consider this description of an aeon, the unit of time which elapses between the origin and destruction of a world system: "Suppose there is a mountain, of very hard rock, much bigger than the Himalayas; and suppose that a man, with a piece of the very finest cloth of Benares, once every century should touch that mountain ever so slightly -- then the time it would take him to wear away the entire mountain would be about the time of an Aeon."
Differences over time can play out in painful and dramatic ways in negotiation or conflict-resolution processes. An example of differences over time comes from a negotiation process related to a land claim that took place in Canada. First Nations people met with representatives from local, regional, and national governments to introduce themselves and begin their work. During this first meeting, First Nations people took time to tell the stories of their people and their relationships to the land over the past seven generations. They spoke of the spirit of the land, the kinds of things their people have traditionally done on the land, and their sacred connection to it. They spoke in circular ways, weaving themes, feelings, ideas, and experiences together as they remembered seven generations into the past and projected seven generations forward.
When it was the government representatives' chance to speak, they projected flow charts showing internal processes for decision-making and spoke in present-focused ways about their intentions for entering the negotiation process. The flow charts were linear and spare in their lack of narrative, arising from the bureaucratic culture from which the government representatives came. Two different conceptions of time: in one, time stretches, loops forward and back, past and future are both present in this time. In the other, time begins with the present moment and extends into the horizon in which the matters at hand will be decided.
Neither side felt satisfied with this first meeting. No one addressed the differences in how time was seen and held directly, but everyone was aware that they were not "on the same page." Each side felt some frustration with the other. Their notions of time were embedded in their understandings of the world, and these understandings informed their common sense about how to proceed in negotiations. Because neither side was completely aware of these different notions of time, it was difficult for the negotiations to proceed, and difficult for each side to trust the other. Their different ideas of time made communication challenging.
This meeting took place in the early 1990s. Of course, in this modern age of high-speed communication, no group is completely disconnected from another. Each group -- government and First Nations representatives -- has had some exposure to the other's ideas of time, space, and ideas about appropriate approaches to negotiation. Each has found ways to adapt. How this adaptation takes place, and whether it takes place without one side feeling they are forced to give in to the other, has a significant impact on the course of the negotiations.
It is also true that cultural approaches to time or communication are not always applied in good faith, but may serve a variety of motives. Asserting power, superiority, advantage, or control over the course of the negotiations may be a motive wrapped up in certain cultural behaviors (for example, the government representatives' detailed emphasis on ratification procedures may have conveyed an implicit message of control, or the First Nations' attention to the past may have emphasized the advantages of being aware of history). Culture and cultural beliefs may be used as a tactic by negotiators; for this reason, it is important that parties be involved in collaborative-process design when addressing intractable conflicts. As people from different cultural backgrounds work together to design a process to address the issues that divide them, they can ask questions about cultural preferences about time and space and how these may affect a negotiation or conflict-resolution process, and thus inoculate against the use of culture as a tactic or an instrument to advance power.
Any one example will show us only a glimpse of approaches to time as a confounding variable across cultures. In fact, ideas of time have a great deal of complexity buried within them. Western concepts of time as a straight line emanating from no one in particular obscure the idea that there are purposive forces at work in time, a common idea in indigenous and Eastern ways of thought. From an Eastern or indigenous perspective, Spirit operates within space and time, so time is alive with purpose and specific meanings may be discerned from events. A party to a negotiation who subscribes to this idea of time may also have ideas about fate, destiny, and the importance of uncovering "right relationship" and "right action." If time is a circle, an unraveling ball of twine, a spiral, an unfolding of stories already written, or a play in which much of the set is invisible, then relationships and meanings can be uncovered to inform current actions. Time, in this polychronic perspective, is connected to other peoples as well as periods of history.
This is why a polychronic perspective is often associated with a communitarian starting point. The focus on the collective, or group, stretching forward and back, animates the polychronic view of time. In more monochronic settings, an individualist way of life is more easily accommodated. Individualists can more easily extract moments in time, and individuals themselves, from the networks around them. If time is a straight line stretching forward and not back, then fate or destiny may be less compelling. (For more on this, see the essay on Communication Tools for Understanding Cultural Difference.)
Fate and Personal Responsibility
Another important variable affecting communication across cultures is fate and personal responsibility. This refers to the degree to which we feel ourselves the masters of our lives, versus the degree to which we see ourselves as subject to things outside our control. Another way to look at this is to ask how much we see ourselves able to change and maneuver, to choose the course of our lives and relationships. Some have drawn a parallel between the emphasis on personal responsibility in North American settings and the landscape itself. The North American landscape is vast, with large spaces of unpopulated territory. The frontier mentality of "conquering" the wilderness, and the expansiveness of the land stretching huge distances, may relate to generally high levels of confidence in the ability to shape and choose our destinies.
In this expansive landscape, many children grow up with an epic sense of life, where ideas are big, and hope springs eternal. When they experience setbacks, they are encouraged to redouble their efforts, to "try, try again." Action, efficacy, and achievement are emphasized and expected. Free will is enshrined in laws and enforced by courts.
Now consider places in the world with much smaller territory, whose history reflects repeated conquest and harsh struggles: Northern Ireland, Mexico, Israel, Palestine. In these places, there is more emphasis on destiny's role in human life. In Mexico, there is a legacy of poverty, invasion, and territorial mutilation. Mexicans are more likely to see struggles as inevitable or unavoidable. Their fatalistic attitude is expressed in their way of responding to failure or accident by saying "ni modo" ("no way" or "tough luck"), meaning that the setback was destined.
This variable is important to understanding cultural conflict. If someone invested in free will crosses paths with someone more fatalistic in orientation, miscommunication is likely. The first person may expect action and accountability. Failing to see it, they may conclude that the second is lazy, obstructionist, or dishonest. The second person will expect respect for the natural order of things. Failing to see it, they may conclude that the first is coercive or irreverent, inflated in his ideas of what can be accomplished or changed.
Face and Face-Saving
Another important cultural variable relates to face and face-saving. Face is important across cultures, yet the dynamics of face and face-saving play out differently. Face is defined in many different ways in the cross-cultural communication literature. Novinger says it is "the value or standing a person has in the eyes of others...and that it relate[s] to pride or self-respect." Others have defined it as "the negotiated public image, mutually granted each other by participants in [communication]." In this broader definition, face includes ideas of status, power, courtesy, insider and outsider relations, humor, and respect. In many cultures, maintaining face is of great importance, though ideas of how to do this vary.
The starting points of individualism and communitarianism are closely related to face. If I see myself as a self-determining individual, then face has to do with preserving my image with others and myself. I can and should exert control in situations to achieve this goal. I may do this by taking a competitive stance in negotiations or confronting someone who I perceive to have wronged me. I may be comfortable in a mediation where the other party and I meet face to face and frankly discuss our differences.
If I see my primary identification as a group member, then considerations about face involve my group. Direct confrontation or problem-solving with others may reflect poorly on my group, or disturb overall community harmony. I may prefer to avoid criticism of others, even when the disappointment I have concealed may come out in other, more damaging ways later. When there is conflict that cannot be avoided, I may prefer a third party who acts as a shuttle between me and the other people involved in the conflict. Since no direct confrontation takes place, face is preserved and potential damage to the relationships or networks of relationships is minimized.
Nonverbal communication is hugely important in any interaction with others; its importance is multiplied across cultures. This is because we tend to look for nonverbal cues when verbal messages are unclear or ambiguous, as they are more likely to be across cultures (especially when different languages are being used). Since nonverbal behavior arises from our cultural common sense -- our ideas about what is appropriate, normal, and effective as communication in relationships -- we use different systems of understanding gestures, posture, silence, spacial relations, emotional expression, touch, physical appearance, and other nonverbal cues. Cultures also attribute different degrees of importance to verbal and nonverbal behavior.
Low-context cultures like the United States and Canada tend to give relatively less emphasis to nonverbal communication. This does not mean that nonverbal communication does not happen, or that it is unimportant, but that people in these settings tend to place less importance on it than on the literal meanings of words themselves. In high-context settings such as Japan or Colombia, understanding the nonverbal components of communication is relatively more important to receiving the intended meaning of the communication as a whole.
Some elements of nonverbal communication are consistent across cultures. For example, research has shown that the emotions of enjoyment, anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and surprise are expressed in similar ways by people around the world. Differences surface with respect to which emotions are acceptable to display in various cultural settings, and by whom. For instance, it may be more social acceptable in some settings in the United States for women to show fear, but not anger, and for men to display anger, but not fear. At the same time, interpretation of facial expressions across cultures is difficult. In China and Japan, for example, a facial expression that would be recognized around the world as conveying happiness may actually express anger or mask sadness, both of which are unacceptable to show overtly.
These differences of interpretation may lead to conflict, or escalate existing conflict. Suppose a Japanese person is explaining her absence from negotiations due to a death in her family. She may do so with a smile, based on her cultural belief that it is not appropriate to inflict the pain of grief on others. For a Westerner who understands smiles to mean friendliness and happiness, this smile may seem incongruous and even cold, under the circumstances. Even though some facial expressions may be similar across cultures, their interpretations remain culture-specific. It is important to understand something about cultural starting-points and values in order to interpret emotions expressed in cross-cultural interactions.
Another variable across cultures has to do with proxemics, or ways of relating to space. Crossing cultures, we encounter very different ideas about polite space for conversations and negotiations. North Americans tend to prefer a large amount of space, perhaps because they are surrounded by it in their homes and countryside. Europeans tend to stand more closely with each other when talking, and are accustomed to smaller personal spaces. In a comparison of North American and French children on a beach, a researcher noticed that the French children tended to stay in a relatively small space near their parents, while U.S. children ranged up and down a large area of the beach.
The difficulty with space preferences is not that they exist, but the judgments that get attached to them. If someone is accustomed to standing or sitting very close when they are talking with another, they may see the other's attempt to create more space as evidence of coldness, condescension, or a lack of interest. Those who are accustomed to more personal space may view attempts to get closer as pushy, disrespectful, or aggressive. Neither is correct -- they are simply different.
Also related to space is the degree of comfort we feel moving furniture or other objects. It is said that a German executive working in the United States became so upset with visitors to his office moving the guest chair to suit themselves that he had it bolted to the floor. Contrast this with U.S. and Canadian mediators and conflict-resolution trainers, whose first step in preparing for a meeting is not infrequently a complete rearrangement of the furniture.
Finally, line-waiting behavior and behavior in group settings like grocery stores or government offices is culturally-influenced. Novinger reports that the English and U.S. Americans are serious about standing in lines, in accordance with their beliefs in democracy and the principle of "first come, first served." The French, on the other hand, have a practice of resquillage, or line jumping, that irritates many British and U.S. Americans. In another example, immigrants from Armenia report that it is difficult to adjust to a system of waiting in line, when their home context permitted one member of a family to save spots for several others.
These examples of differences related to nonverbal communication are only the tip of the iceberg. Careful observation, ongoing study from a variety of sources, and cultivating relationships across cultures will all help develop the cultural fluency to work effectively with nonverbal communication differences.
Each of the variables discussed in this module -- time and space, personal responsibility and fate, face and face-saving, and nonverbal communication -- are much more complex than it is possible to convey. Each of them influences the course of communications, and can be responsible for conflict or the escalation of conflict when it leads to miscommunication or misinterpretation. A culturally-fluent approach to conflict means working over time to understand these and other ways communication varies across cultures, and applying these understandings in order to enhance relationships across differences.
 Many of these ideas are discussed in more detail in LeBaron, Michelle. Bridging Cultural Conflicts. A New Approach for a Changing World. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2003.
 Novinger, Tracy. Intercultural Communication. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2001, P. 84.
 Conze, Edward. Buddhism: Its Essence and Development. New York: HarperCollins, 1951, p. 49.
 For more about correspondences between landscape and national psyches, see: Novinger, Tracy. Intercultural Communication. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2001.
 Novinger, p. 31
 Okun, Barbara F., Fried, Jane, Okun, Marcia L. Understanding Diversity. A Learning as Practice Primer. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing, 1999, pp. 59-60.
 Ibid., p. 78.
 Novinger, p. 65.
 Ibid., p. 67.
 Ibid., pp. 68-69.
 Ibid., p. 68.
Use the following to cite this article:
LeBaron, Michelle. "Cross-Cultural Communication." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: July 2003 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/cross-cultural-communication>.