Introduction To Intercultural Communication Education Essay

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Edward T. Hall links culture and communication thanks to a distinction between the different contexts in a culture. He identified two contexts in cultures that are going to be described thereafter. But before, it is necessary to give a definition of the word 'context': it is an 'unwritten or tacit 'text' surrounding the spoken text' (Plumb, 2008, p. 201).

The first one is the low-context cultures concept. In these cultures, the way of communicating is direct and the information that the message has to convey is explicit and verbalized. The main reason why these cultures use this type of communication is because they want everyone to have the possibility to understand and to receive the information; even those who are not part of the group. The rotation in membership is high and the time is highly constructed; particularly during meetings.

The second one is the high-context cultures concept. These are at the opposite side of the first one. The communication depends on the situation but also on the person. The messages are internalized and implicit; so, if a person is not able to handle the codes (signs and body language) lying behind the verbal language, he/she won't understand the messages and will communicate inefficiently. That means that these cultures make a clear distinction between the ingroup and the outgroup. It implies a high level of commitment and the time is highly flexible to the members' needs.

Hall (1977 cited in Lustig & Koester 2006, p. 111) based his work on the fact that some cultures are more likely to use high- or low-context messages and some are more likely to use both.

For example, once I had a group work to do with classmates from Sweden and France. We are attending the same program and we expect each other to know the subject we had to work on. So, we used high-context level; there was no need to detail what we wanted to say because we were able to understand the nonverbal codes. It was not the case when we had to work together at the very beginning of the program because we knew little about the first course topic and so we had to use low-context messages and detail everything we had to say.

In my opinion, I think that a leader needs to be able to juggle with both high- and low-context communication depending on the situation they are in and the cultures they are facing; in order to adapt him/her and to avoid misunderstanding.

Chronemics and proxemics as elements of non-verbal communication:

Lustig and Koester (2006, pp. 215-229) explain that in intercultural, nonverbal communication, several channels are used to deliver a message. Only two of them are going to be explained here: the 'space' and the 'time' channels.

First, the perception of space, also called 'proxemics' by Hall (1977 cited in Lustig & Koester 2006, p. 224) is the study of the differences in the use of space in different cultures; more precisely, the personal space. Differences in relationships and in communicational behaviors are necessary to define four spatial zones (Hall 1977 cited in Lustig & Koester 2006, p. 211): 'intimate distance', 'personal distance', 'social distance' and 'public distance'. Those distances vary across cultures.

I experienced these distances this year, meeting people from all around the world. For example, I'm from Belgium and I don't feel comfortable when people are very close to me when talking (maybe I am an exception according to where I come from). I was taking small steps back when a Spanish girl came to talk to me. I now understand why she was so close and I think that it doesn't matter anymore because I understood why she was acting like that and I could adapt myself.

The second channel is the study of time which is called 'chronemics'. Lustig and Koester (2006, pp. 223-227) examine it from two points of view. On one hand, they use the time orientation; which can be divided in three cultural orientations. The 'past-oriented cultures' where people use old methods to face problem in their present life and have a great respect for tradition, family and ancestors; the 'present-oriented cultures' where the focus is put on immediate pleasure and on the fact that life is controlled by destiny or chance; and the 'future-oriented cultures' where the emphasis is put only on activities that have possible future benefits. On the other hand, they also use three time systems; those are the implicit rules. The first is the 'technical' one which is scientific measurements. The second is the 'formal' one which describes and includes the units of time. The last time system is the 'informal' one which defines how time is used. This last system is defined by how much it is 'monochronic', that is time is structured and everything is planned one by one; or 'polychronic', time is structured but is at the same time flexible and relationships have priority on appointments (Lustig & Koester 2006, p. 226).

As I said in the time assignment we had to prepare, I couldn't put myself in only one time orientation. The past experiences are important because they have made me become who I am in the present, where I like taking each day as it comes; however the important things I do right now have potential positive consequences on my future. For example, I have a great respect for my grand-parents: they left their countries to come and work in Belgium in order to have a better life and I don't forget that in the present. Indeed, I am thankful because it gave me the opportunity to learn and to go to university. I'm attending a leadership program in Sweden and I really enjoy it but at the same time I think about my future: it will help me to find a good job and to have a good life. Regarding the time systems, I think that I am both monochronic and polychronic depending on the situation; work or relationships.

I think that a leader has to be aware that the personal space differs from one culture to another: the leader has to be able to adapt him/her to this space. The adaptive capacity is one of the most important characteristic for a leader according to Bennis and Thomas (2007, p. 91); they also speak about 'crucibles' (Bennis & Thomas 2007, p. 4) that are past events which lead them to learn and grow and are at the center of the leadership development. Moreover, a leader needs to have a vision about a future state that has to be reached and shared. So, as conclusion, I can say that a leader has to be able to combine the three time orientations; taking into account the past events that shaped his/her behaviors in the present and still has a vision about the future. What about the time systems and the personal space, I think that a leader has to adapt those systems according to the situation and the persons.

Sojourner and the concept of the stranger:

Gullekson and Vancouver (2010, p. 315) defined a sojourner as 'individuals who temporarily reside in a foreign place for activities such as work and education'. They also argue (Gullekson & Vancouver 2010, p. 315) that those sojourners are going to face several differences between their own culture and the foreign culture. Moreover, sojourners have to adjust themselves to the host culture but the differences can lead to several problems. The success or failure of the sojourn heavily depends on the adjustment made.

Indeed, the process of cultural adjustment tends to follow a U-curve (Lysgaard 1955 cited in Schneider & Barsoux 2003, p. 188) with three important phases: the 'honeymoon', the 'morning after' and the 'happily ever after' (Schneider and Barsoux 2003, p. 188). The first phase is characterized by optimism and enthusiasm because sojourners prepared the travel before and they see everything as exciting. The second one makes the sojourners feel the differences in cultures as annoying and blurred. This phase is also called 'culture shock' (identity crisis) and can be experienced when the sojourners return in their home culture. In those two first phases, the sojourners are more passive but then, they are beginning a reaction process and become more active in order to understand the differences and to reach the third phase; which is the gradual adjustment. It is made through improving their knowledge about, on one hand the host culture and, on the other hand the language. Therefore, the sojourners feel like belonging to the host culture but still being themselves.

The sojourner can thus be linked to the concept of the stranger. A stranger is defined by Lustig and Koester (2006, p. 259) as 'someone whom you do not know and who is therefore unfamiliar to you'. When sojourners arrive in the host country, they feel and are seen as strangers because they have not yet experienced the process of cultural adjustment.

During these three months of my Erasmus program, I have already experienced the 'honeymoon' phase and the 'culture shock'. I think that right now, I am in the adjustment process. When I arrived I felt excitement about the new culture, the new environment and the new language I was about to learn and discover. After around one and a half month, I felt home sick and I was confused about what I was doing here but then I took the time to improve my knowledge about the Swedish culture; by visiting different places and by asking questions to Swedish roommates or classmates. I really now feel comfortable living here and I enjoy it but I am a little be scared to go home because I know that I'll miss a lot of things from here.

For a leader, being a sojourner in a foreign country can have advantages and impact positively the outcome of working with a multicultural team. By working abroad, the leader will be exposed to new cultures and will thus develop understanding and knowledge about the norms, values and beliefs about the cultures (Crowne 2008, p. 393). Thanks to this, the leader will be able to choose and apply appropriate tools in intercultural encounters and, more important, he/she will be able to adapt them according to the situation (Johnson & al 2006 cited in Crowne 2008, p. 393). The leader will thus develop his/her cultural intelligence and it will lead to positive outcomes when managing a multicultural team.

Part 3: Individual: The research area of Intercultural Communication

Sackmann and Phillips (2004) analyzed the evolution of the area of Intercultural Communication thanks to three types of researches (Boyacigiller & al. cited in Sackmann & Phillips 2004, p. 372). The first perspective emerged after the World War II, when the US began to export, and was called the 'Cross-national Comparison' (Sackmann & Phillips 2004, p. 372). In this perspective, researchers wanted to find universal management dimensions that could be used in every country. Moreover, the individual culture was related to the national culture. Then, the research area changed and took a new perspective which is the 'Intercultural Interaction' perspective (Sackmann &Phillips 2004, p. 374). The assumption was that culture was constructed thanks to interactions between partners. New realities appeared; such as evolution in technology, in communication, in politics, in economics and in societies that led to a new stream of research: the 'Multiple Cultures' perspective (Sackmann & Phillips 2004, p. 378). In this perspective, culture is viewed as socially built and collective because a group of people exists with shared common beliefs and assumptions. Moreover, this perspective admitted that people could have more than one culture. As conclusion, one can say that the evolution in the research area followed the changes in work contexts.

According to Soderberg and Holden (2002), organizations have to think differently about management in a globalized world and business. They have to understand that the workforce is now composed by people with various identities and cultural backgrounds. This understanding has been first analyzed by two pioneers: Adler and Hofstede. They argued that HRM was the first branch in organizations with cultural awareness and management skills (Soderberg & Holden 2002, p. 104). Culture can be seen as a barrier with negative impacts or as a resource with a competitive advantage and choosing a negative or a positive point of view, influences the research area. This is why academic research has to think in a different way about international management. Indeed, 'cross cultural management is a form of knowledge work' (Soderberg & Holden 2002, p. 109). Soderberg and Holden (2002) give in this article an alternative to the 'culture as essence' approach thanks to another one which is more constructionist, based on the science of interpretation.

Evolutions and changes in several fields such as technology, communication and so on had a big impact on the concept of culture. These ongoing changes opened the world and everyone has access to anything, everywhere in the world. Those had a huge impact on organizations; the globalization led to new realities in dealing with people from different cultures. The research area in intercultural communication has evolved after having noticed these changes in the work context (Sackmann & Phillips 2004, p. 384). However, one issue is still relevant in order to improve the research area: the diversity management. It is necessary to be aware that diversity is a resource (Schneider & Barsoux 1997 cited in Söderberg & Holden 2002, p. 105) and not a barrier; such as many authors emphasized. Some of them assert that diversity can become a competitive advantage (Söderberg & Holden 2002, p. 105).

One important issue is to be aware of the positive aspect of diversity which is not enough emphasized in both articles. It creates value if correctly managed. I found one article from DiStefano and Maznevski (2000) which improved the analysis of diversity as a resource. It also analyzed multicultural teams and how they work efficiently in order to achieve that positive goal. Moreover, Yoshikawa (1987 cited in Jensen 2003, p. 5) argued that 'the goal for a communication is not to eliminate differences, but to use the dynamics that arise through the meeting'.

There are various reasons to explain why it is necessary to focus on multicultural teams. Differences are valuable thanks to several motives; those can lead the teams to have more creativity, to produce more alternatives in problem resolution and to be more innovative (DiStefano & Maznevski 2000, p. 45; Schneider & Barsoux 2003, p. 217). Depending on how the teams are managed, multicultural teams can either be less, equally or more performing than the homogeneous ones (DiStefano & Maznevski 2000, p. 46). These teams are respectively called 'destroyers', 'equalizers' and 'creators' by DiStefano & Maznevski (2000, pp.47-48). The first category is composed by teams' members whose behaviors are led by negative stereotypes and no discussion is taking place; they destroy value. In the second one, the teams remove the differences and they perform with poorness; just enough to survive. On the contrary, the last category encompasses the teams which create value through an efficient management of synergies and a deep understanding of differences.

Let's focus on multicultural teams which create value and gains in productivity (DiStefano & Maznevski 2000; Townsend et al, 1998 cited in Matveev & Milter 2004, p. 105). The challenge with these teams is 'to discover solutions that capture the differences in creative ways so that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole' (De Bettignies cited in Schneider & Barsoux 2003, p. 277). In order to perform highly and also to prevent negative impacts, DiStefano and Maznevski (2000, p. 48) offer three steps or principles to create value: MBI; which means 'mapping', 'bridging' and 'integrating'.

First of all, mapping demands engagement and motivation to understand the differences between cultures; those are also two of the components of cultural intelligence (Plum 2008, pp. 23-29). It consists in creating an outline of the differences that can affect teamwork and relations (DiStefano and Maznevski 2000, pp. 48-50) through ongoing identification, drawing and assessment. This step is important in order to avoid generalizations and stereotypes but is also the most complicated because cultures change and evolve. Plum (2008, pp. 198-215) and Lustig & Koester (2006, pp. 109-131) provides in their book an overview of the categories used for mapping discovered by Hall & Hall, Hofstede and Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner. One essential remark can be said about mapping: it is useful to use a map as guidance but it is even more important to keep in mind that a map is different from the reality and so to be critical.

Second, bridging to connect ideas and people; this step can be related to the third component of cultural intelligence which is 'intercultural communication' (Plum 2008, p. 29). An effective communication is necessary to do that and to prevent a bad communication (DiStefano & Maznevski 2000, p. 51). DiStefano & Maznevski (2000, pp. 51-54) identified three steps: 'prepare', 'decenter' and 'recenter'. Preparing consists in building the ground and is useful to strengthen motivation and confidence. Decenter implies that team members adapt their behaviors according to the differences mapped in the first step in order to improve the skill of suspending judgments. Recenter means a common ground is built regarding the situation, the goal and the way of communicating. Indeed, the bridging step is confirmed by Matveev (2001 cited in Matveev & Milter 2004, p. 107) who assert that 'managers must be able to communicate and understand clearly what they are trying to accomplish and what their goal is'. The creating value teams are thus able to perform under different norms and to build a new culture which is socially and mutually constructed (Plum 2008, p. 55; Berger & Luckmann 1966 cited in Sackmann & Phillips 2004, p. 378).

The third principle is integrating (DiStefano & Maznevski 2000, pp. 54-58). It implies that the two previous steps are combined in order to produce results. This last principle also includes three steps which are: 'manage participation', 'resolve disagreements' and 'building on ideas'. In order to get the best ideas from each team member, the first step is necessary to manage the participation through a discussion; for example through a teambuilding. After having the ideas, disagreements can arise; so, it is essential to resolve them. A way of avoiding conflicts is done through mapping, bridging correctly and staying task-focused. Nevertheless if personal conflicts still appear, teams have to come back to the 'decenter' step in bridging where a dialogue takes place. However, models are also available for conflict resolution (Schneider & Barsoux 2003, pp. 236-238). The last step is building on ideas; which means that each idea is discussed and no compromises are made.

A conclusion made by DiStefano & Maznevski (2000, p. 58) is that 'teams must evolve' and thus, they have to constantly assess the process put in place; which is unique to every team.

Nowadays, I think that teams in organizations should really pay attention to this research area. Moreover, I think that they are more and more focusing on solving the task with quick results but less on the role/relation dimension because their objective is quick high results. On the contrary, if they take time at the beginning to discuss (thanks to the three principles explained above for example) the 'interactive process through which the task is achieved' (Schneider & Barsoux 2003, p. 220); those teams will be highly efficient. The leader's role is also really important; he/she needs to be cultural intelligent and have intercultural competence in order to apply correctly the processes explained previously and to lead the team to high performances.

As a conclusion, I noticed that most of the researchers put an emphasis on differences and on conflicts resolution but, rather, DiStefano and Maznevski (2000) took another point of view and focused on preventing misunderstandings and conflicts by providing guidelines to use. This can still be an issue because no universal solution can be applied; rather these are some processes and guidelines available. However, those processes have to be adapted according to the situation and take time to happen; the leader's role is involved at this level because he/she has a key skill: the adaptive capacity (Bennis and Thomas 2007, p. 91). Moreover, they are easier to describe in theory than to put into practice. It is thus necessary to pay a great attention on these processes because it is all about intercultural communication in a more and more globalized business world (Söderberg & Holden 2002).

Part 4: Individual: Personal reflection report

According to me, cultural intelligence (CI) is the capacity to adapt oneself in a situation where there are cultural differences and to behave accordingly. It is about being able to communicate in a way that makes oneself understood and to have the ability to build cross-cultural relationships. Those skills are in an ongoing development. The cultural intelligence is composed by three components (Plum 2008, p. 20). The 'intercultural engagement' is the component where the emotional part of oneself is in play. People need the motivation to go beyond these emotions which are culturally led and the engagement by behaving in a learning and open way (Plum 2008, pp. 23-26). The 'cultural understanding' involves the mental part of people which involves a general and specific knowledge (Plum 2008, p. 27). The 'intercultural communication' is the action part and implies verbal and non-verbal communication which needs to be appropriate in each situation (Plum 2008, p. 29).

After having read the Elisabeth Plum's book, one question came into my mind and I wrote it in my logbook: 'are people who grew up in multicultural families more likely to be more cultural intelligent?' We had the opportunity to discuss that question during the class with Yael Tagerud and many people had different opinions about the answer. Some of them argued that cultural intelligence was something personal and not influenced by the family and others (like me) thought that it influences people awareness about differences in cultures. We proposed to make a comparison between someone who grew up in a homogenous family and someone in a heterogeneous family with both high level of awareness and it has been said that the one who grew up with more than one culture has an advantage because of everyday life experiences, the ability to reflect about behaviors and familiarity with norms and values. This is called 'cultural exposure' (Crowne 2008, p. 393).

Before attending this class, I had never thought whether I was cultural intelligent or not, even if I grew up in a multi-cultural family. Taking the question I wrote into account I think that my level of awareness is high because I was educated in a way that I had to be aware about the differences between cultures, I had to be curious about foreign countries and not to judge too quickly so to say, to be tolerant. I always had the curiosity and the motivation to go and explore a new culture; the engagement component of CI.

Moreover, I am aware that different cultures mean different behaviors, reactions and emotions but my level of understanding was low before attending this class. It helped me to improve this component of CI and made me even more aware that is necessary to go deeper in the cultural knowledge and in analyzing intercultural encounters. For example, during the second group work I had to do at the beginning of this year, we had an issue with a Swiss girl who left the group after a misunderstanding about changes that we made. We did not take the time to understand her point of view and moved on with the work. Now that I think about it and to look at it from the outside, I would have done things differently, trying to have a dialogue with her in order to understand her behavior and find a solution. Next time if a intercultural conflict arise, I will try to explore the person more deeply in order to understand why he/she react in a certain way by having a dialogue, asking question and observe the verbal and non-verbal communication. This small assessment leads my essay to the last component of cultural intelligence.

The last component is called the intercultural communication: it is the dimension that I have the most developed during the course. The metaphor of the iceberg (Helde 2012, p. 21) can be applied to this component: it is a basic in communication. Indeed, only 10 percent of the iceberg is visible and people tend to generalize the part that is seen into a whole. However, the whole that we apply to cultures can be wrong because people have different interpretations of what has been said. It is the 90 percent of the iceberg which is under the surface (invisible) and implies norms, experiences, values and world view. It is thus necessary to be aware that the message that one wants to communicate can be interpreted in different ways and can lead to misunderstanding. This dimension implies verbal and non-verbal communication; which we interpret differently. I have learned that is necessary to avoid applying certain aspects of my own culture in order to build a common basis in intercultural encounters. Moreover, the conversation has to take place at a meta-level and several communication tools are available to improve this. It is necessary to go beyond the regular practices and to be persistent; which means to analyze the actual situation, to evaluate thanks to feedback and to adjust it (Plum 2008, pp. 237-238). I now take all these points into account when I am working in a multicultural team.

A way for me to increase my cultural intelligence was to attend this Erasmus program in Sweden because as Crowne (2008, p. 394) found, 'individuals who have been abroad have higher levels of cultural intelligence'. By being exposed, I experienced the culture and developed understanding and became familiar to the Swedish culture.

Moreover, I would like to develop my understanding and my communication dimensions. As a future leader, it is necessary to have the ability and the awareness to observe, listen and understand people from other cultures. In order to improve this dimension, I will increase my knowledge by reading, asking questions and observing; in other words, by exploring.

However, I think it is even more important to improve the intercultural communication dimension because a (multicultural team) leader has to create shared meanings, shared goals and shared rules; which mean that a leader has to build a common ground in order to work efficiently (Bennis & Nanus 2004, p. 40) thanks to, for example, a teambuilding. So, a new common culture is needed in a multicultural team. As Hall (1959 cited in Helde 2012, p. 12) said, 'Culture is communication and communication is culture'; culture and communication are indivisible, are linked. A leader has to communicate in order to understand others and be understood but has also to create shared meaning through communication (Bennis & Nanus 2004, p. 102). It is important to keep in mind that culture is mutually constructed in order to exist; so, when a common ground is built, it leads to a new culture in the group.

Another important point for a leader to keep in mind is that, as I said previously, it is necessary to be aware that people from different cultures have different interpretations and to be able to adapt the communication styles. In order to find out what is under the surface of the iceberg (Helde 2012, p. 21), a leader needs to be an active listener and explore through questioning. Improvement will be gained through practicing in everyday life situation. In order to develop leaders' cultural intelligence, organizations should train them and send them abroad to be exposed to different cultures (Crowne 2008, p. 397).