Barriers to Cross-Cultural Communication

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Cross-Cultural Communication Assignment

Introduction

 

“Culture is a way of thinking and living whereby one picks up a set of attitudes, values, norms and beliefs that are taught and reinforced by other members of the group (Cross Cultural Communication, n.d.). These foundational assumptions and solutions to the issues is a shared system are bequeath from generation to generation in order to remain prevalent. A specific culture consists of unwritten rules, principles and laws that govern how members interact with one another and those outside the group. Members of a culture are identified by a similarities such as religion, geography, race or ethnicity (Cross Cultural Communication, n.d.).

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Cross-cultural communication is the process of communication between people who interpret the information conveyed different as a result of their cultural context (Intercultural Communication, n.d.) With the exponential growth in global integration through globalization, the importance of understanding cross-cultural communication is pivotal to effective communication. Consequently, insensitivity to the challenges that arise during intercultural communication may lead to conflicts as when the sender sends the message to receiver, several things interfere to block the message from being received clearly. Therefore, it is critical to understand the barriers to clear cross-cultural communication and the techniques and strategies that can be employed to break down these barriers between two cross-cultural parties.

 

Barriers to Cross-Cultural Communication

 

Cultural barriers:

Effective cross-cultural communication with people who across cultures is quite challenging. “Culture is the pattern of taken-for-granted assumptions about how a given collection of people should think, act, and feel as they go about their daily affairs” (Tayeb, 1998).

From the above definition, it can be implied that culture gives people a specific way of deciphering things of outside world. If two people from different cultural backgrounds are communicating, they both may interpret the meaning of word differently, even if the conversation is in the same language because the same words can have different meanings in their respective cultures. Eg: Individuals from one culture may express their feelings in loud manner such as crying, anger, frustration, yelling etc. While another person from a different culture may keep their feelings hidden.

According to (Myron W. Lustig, 2001), High Context culture predominantly depends on the specific program of people’s thought to transfer information, such as many oral traditions, unspoken values and society generally accepted patterns of behavior. Contrastingly, Low Context culture, highlights the motive and logic, which is based on rationality to comprehend with the decision to use the reasonable technique, transfer information clearly through language, and regard the implicit expression way as ambiguous thinking or lack of courtesy.

 

Causes of cultural barriers:

 

Signs and symbols:

Non-verbal communication involves signs, symbols and even unconscious movements such as body language. Cultural and ethical values of a social group play a pivotal role in a person’s non-verbal communication such as hand gestures, winking and physical distance and their meaning. Each gesture and symbol has differing meanings in different cultures. For example, in certain cultures, eye contact is the most critical aspect of a conversation as improper eye contact may signal lack of self-confidence such as Spain. On the contrary, other cultures may find direct eye contact during conversations as rude or disrespectful, such as in China. Further, physical touch with a stranger is strictly prohibited in some cultures such as China or Japan. However, hug and handshake are normal for western societies while e having healthy conversation with others. Consequently, gestures often cause barriers to effective intercultural communication.

 

Misunderstanding

Misunderstanding and misconception is often the prime hinderance to effective communication in a multicultural environment. This is a fundamental issue amongst individuals with varying social backgrounds who each have different beliefs. The unique nature of each individual and each society results in uneasiness and instability which leads to misunderstanding occurring.

Norms and Roles

Norms are defined as the he informal rules that govern behaviour in groups and societies (Social Norms, 2011)Individuals explain the rules for themselves with the expectation that others will follow suit.  People working in a globalized world tend to often neglect and comprehend the standards of other cultures standards and needs. Roles are defined as a set of standards in a specific gathering with a distinctive culture. Roles are designated to different demographics such as men, women, married couples etc. These roles shift from culture to culture and a lack of understanding within a multicultural environment may lead to ineffective cross-communication as the message from the send to the receiver may be interfered.

Beliefs and Values

Everyone has their own set of beliefs, attitudes and values. In an increasingly integrated inter-cultural world, each member of a team has their own convictions, beliefs and values which are shaped by their own personal way of life. Consequently, failure to understand the differing beliefs and values will prevent effective cross-cultural communication. . For example, some cultures consider marriage as a sacred institution and afraid of getting divorced because it is seem as bad omen. Furthermore, countries such as India, Pakistan are more religious and hold many religious ideals which are not rare in western countries.

Stereotyping

Stereotyping is over-generalizing characteristics about a demographic (Stereotype, n.d.). Incomplete information about a general population leads to unintelligent decisions and insensitivity amongst cross-cultural communication. Social generalizations misrepresent or overgeneralize what we think and see about people which results in undue tension and nervousness. Ultimately, generalizations are a direct result of a lack of understanding and knowledge of the person or a group of people. Stereotyping people and/or group of people are the real purposes behind distinction of sentiments about the inverse culture and directly causes miscommunication. For example, there is an overwhelming belief in America that Australia is filled with deadly spiders, when in fact 98% of the population live on the coast where there is low activity of deadly spiders.

 

Ethnocentrism

Ethnocentrism is considering one’s own culture and conduct as the benchmark against other various gatherings. An individual’s own social identity accidentally makes people feel that their way of life, their attitudes and beliefs is unmistakable. Often creating an “us” vs “them” mentality. Ethnocentrism leads to an increase level of uneasiness and tension across people with differing cultural backgrounds. There are intense examples of ethnocentrism that pose severe shared harms, such as racism. Ethnocentrism effects the clarification of message and promotes hostility. Consequently, cross-cultural colleagues face a wide array of challenges as a result of ethnocentrism.

Language barriers:

Without language, there will be no communication means words are necessary to do conversations. Language difference greatly affect the process of cross-culture communication because translation can mislead the communicators and stop the message from being sent. (Mishra, 2009)

Causes of language barriers:

Difference in spoken language:

If those involved in the conversations do not understand each other’s language, they will not be able to share their thoughts and messages properly and effectively. For example, a English speaker trying to communicate with someone who only speaks Spanish.

Clarity of speech:

The receiver can only understand the meaning of message, if the sender speaks loudly and clearly. Often, it’s difficult to effectively comprehend the message of people of who speak softly and mumble.

Literacy and Grammatical Ability:

People who have an extensive vocabulary and great command on a particular language. Ineffective communication can occur when they try to talk with individuals who are not as well versed with difficult vocabulary because they cannot comprehend the proper meaning of their words. Individuals often get confused with the nuances of grammar and spelling of words, which are huge barriers to effective written communication.  Eg. If a person writes Through as though, spelling checker cannot pick it up because though is a correct word but changes the entire meaning of whole sentence. This causes ambiguity in a written message.

Use of slang, jargon and ambiguous words:

If the sender is using slang of their own language, then the receive, from other culture may experience difficulties in effectively comprehending the proper meaning of the message. In addition, if people are using jargons and ambiguous words, they will not be able to effectively communicate. For example, doctors, lawyers and scientists have their own technical language related to their field such as if a scientist uses Homo sapiens (scientific name of human) instead of human being in with people who are of different filed, this can act as barrier to effective communication.

How communication barriers can be surmounted?

The ability to effectively communicate cross-culturally empowers groups to accomplish goals while being sensitive to the other parties’ values, standards and convictions. In a modern globalized world, people need to create cross – cultural capability in order to the aforementioned barriers to effective cross-cultural communication.

Improving the Cross-Cultural Competence:

“Cross-cultural competence is described as the ability understand people from different cultures and engage with them effectively (RASMUSSEN, 2018). This ability is supported by information, abilities and state of mind. Improving the cross-cultural competence can be segmented into three groups. These segments promote diverse orderly cross cultural communication would be intercultural sensitivity, intercultural awareness and intercultural adroitness (Welch and Welch, 2008). The affectionate aspect of cross-cultural communication is known as intercultural sensitivity. This segment is developed in order to train individuals with the ability to appreciate other cultures’ differences. Through the development of intercultural sensitivity, an individual is able to grasp self-concept, neutrality & self-possession (Welch and Welch, 2008. The cognitive aspect (also known as intercultural awareness) focuses on an individual’s understanding implicit conventions that regulate people’s behavior within a culture (Linghui and Koveos, 2008). The behavioral aspect of cross-cultural communication depicts multicultural awareness and skill. Developing this skill focuses on developing social etiquettes and self-expression (Dues and Brown, 2003).

The cross- cultural competence could be improved through the following methods:

Cross cultural knowledge training

Improving any skill or perception begins with understanding and accepting the fact that there is a gap. Therefore, individuals and in particular employees need to concede that there is differences between societies and that these differences include values, beliefs and convictions. Therefore, employees need fundamental intercultural training which allows them to be aware and mindful of the differences in cultures. Learning key phrases, beliefs, and other cultural sensitivities promote more effective intercultural communication between two parties. Further, a better understanding of different cultures should also help overcome ethnocentrism barriers. E.g workplace seminars, online trainings and workshops can be conducted to train employees to work in diverse environment.

Language Training

Language barriers are often the most common issues experienced in multicultural groups. Therefore, providing language training should be given for individuals so that there is more of a chance of effectively communicating in a cross-cultural environment. For example, when an American company is conducting business with a Chinese company, it may be beneficial for those American Representatives to learn and understand the basic greeting and phrases in Mandarin and/or Cantonese. However, the ease and access of mobile translators are helping to overcome language barriers.

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Keep your personal beliefs personal:

Each person has his/ her own religious or other beliefs. Consequently, it is vital to respect and not judge one another’s beliefs and not impose one’s own values, attitudes and beliefs.

Building trust across cross culture:

Trust is built through helping to solve someone’s problems and/or predicaments. Therefore, if people from different cultures/backgrounds can build and earn trust amongst each other and appreciate the differences, a healthy relationship may be formed which will play a critical role in developing effective cross-cultural communication

Avoid using jargons and slangs:

The communicator should understand and appreciate their environment so that they can acoid using jargon or slang that may confuse or alienate others. If this is unavoidable or accidental, the sender of the message should clarify and explain what the jargon or slang means.

Ultimately, cross-cultural communication barriers form major obstacles between two different parties which have differing cultural backgrounds. Without working towards removing and overcoming these barriers, cross-cultural communication becomes hindered. Even if one is not fluent in the language, an understanding and respect of differing cultural values and beliefs will help in understanding the mindset and emotional disposition of the people (How to Overcome Cross Cultural Communication Barriers, n.d.).

Hofstede’s Six-Dimension Theory

Hofstede’s most prominent commitment to the field of Intercultural Communication is his Six-Dimension Theory.  The following are the different dimensions to Hofstede’s cross-cultural theory.

Large vs. small power distance.

This dimension focuses on how social inequalities from below, rather than above, looking at the extent to which different environments accept power differentials (Anastasia, 2015). Ultimately, there is always going to be power differentials in any society, however the degree of the inequalities contrast from one society to another. Some key characteristics of high power distance societies are their autocratic and hierarchical nature where as low power distance societies tend to have a decentralized and participative approach to decision making.

Individualism vs. collectivism

This facet is a bi-polar scale, depicting the relationships and level of connections individuals have towards remaining in groups. In independent societies, individuals’ self-interests are the dominating factor, as there is a primary focus on themselves and those directly around them such as close family members. Relationships are built on a contractual basis, whereby a scorecard/profit and loss mentality is employed when building relationships. On the other hand, collectivistic cultures behavior focuses around keeping social harmony with their members. There is a focus on sharing resources and selflessness in order to benefit the collective group due to a desire to conform to the social norms (Anastasia, 2015).

Masculinity vs. femininity

This aspect analyzes the roles gender plays within the community, by examining the sociological viewpoints rather than the natural ones. The prevalent qualities on the masculine scale are rivalry, clear distinct gender roles with men being more decisive, judicious and focused. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the feminist society focuses on connections with overlapping social gender roles. There is an emphasis on intangible forms of success (Anastasia, 2015).

Strong vs. weak uncertainty avoidance

“This dimension determines the extent which the members belonging to a society are capable of coping with future uncertainty without going through stress.” (Anastasia, 2015).Weak uncertainty avoidance cultures are characterized by risk taking activities, flexibility and understanding of differing opinions. Contrastingly, a strong uncertainty avoidance environment is characterized by a tendency to avoid risk, strict adherence to standard operating procedures and promotions being determined by seniority. Eg: in Latin and Central European nations, they focus on maintain a strategic gap from the questionable future through innovation,laws, and by convictions. Contrastingly, social orders like the Nordic, North American, and majority of Asian nations, embrace the unknown, taking every day as it comes (Anastasia, 2015).

Long Term vs Short Term Orientation

Confucian dynamism is central to this dimension. “Confucian Dynamism is national culture dimension which describes the extent to which individuals within the culture focus on the short-term and immediate consequences versus take a long-term focus” (What is Confucian Dynanism, n.d.). Long term orientation (high Confucian value) focuses on the future with an emphasis on persistence and perseverance. Further, economic growth is an indicator of success. Short term orientation (low Confucian value) leans towards the past and present with an emphasis on traditions. There is an emphasis on stability and having a conventional mindset (Anastasia, 2015).

Indulgence vs Restraint

The final dimension analyzes happiness. A culture that allows indulgence allows “for comparatively free gratification of natural and basic human drives pertaining to indulging in fun.” (Anastasia, 2015)A society’s quality of restraint demonstrates the need to reserve gratification and the level of control social norms have on society (Anastasia, 2015).

Limitations of Hofstede’s Six-Dimension Theory

Whilst Hofstede’s theory is widely accepted as the leading framework for cross-cultural communication there are some drawbacks. The primary strength of the model is also its major drawback: the model’s vast generalization.  Dr. Hofstede stated, “We do not compare individuals, but we compare what is called central tendencies in the answers from each country. There is hardly an individual who answers each question exactly by the mean score of his or her group: the ‘average person’ from a country does not exist.” (Hofstede 1991).

Secondly, Hofstede’s methodology in his original research has come under heavy criticism. The population studied were all employees of IBM. Dr. Brandon McSweeney at the University of London, Royal Holloway highlights the data used to build national cultural comparisons were primarily related to those from marketing-plus-sales employees (McSweeney 2002).  Even though some of the nations population may have similar backgrounds to those studied, a large proportion do not.

Additionally, the time period in which Hofstede developed his model renders it obsolete to some critics. The major structural changes in technology along with substantial political and cultural movements and changes such as globalization and the dynamic growth of  social media since the 1980s being the key evidence. Social scientist often argue at the speed and depth of cultural change, however there is a general consensus that culture is dynamic and beliefs and behaviors change across generations (Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Model–Uses and Limitations in Fundraising, 2018)

Ultimately, while Hofstede’s model provides a solid foundation for analyzing cross-cultural communication, it isn’t a perfect “be all and end all” model for understanding cross-cultural communication and its dimensions.

Hall’s Context Theory and Time Theory

Edward and Mildred Hall are best known for his Context and Time theory. Hall theorizes that societies either operate as a High-Context Society or a Low- Context Society. Further, the time theory explains how society’s view and operate time; either monochronic or Polychronic. The challenge for cross-cultural communication is to find the appropriate level of context needed for each situation.

High-Context cultures

In high-context cultures, people understand messages without having it spelt out for them. People rely on images, non-verbal communication, vocal pitches and subtle implications. “Many things are not said, much is taken for granted” (Hall’s Cross-Cultural Theory Wiki, n.d.) Some examples of high-context cultures are France, Spain and Russia.

Low-Context cultures

On the contrary, people in low-context cultures cherish straight-forwardness and clarity and dislike ambiguity. Detailed and explicit information is highly valued as the message itself carries message. People in low-context cultures separate their personal relationships from their work relationships and other aspects of their life. Some examples of low-context cultures are Germany, Switzerland and United States.

Sequential/Monochromic Time Cultures

In Sequential time cultures, time is utilized as a straight line that is broken up into sections with designing and organizing one’s life. Time is seen equivalent to cash and is seen as a rare commodity which must be carefully managed. People in this culture prefer to do only one thing at a time as they have challenges starting something new when they still haven’t finished previous work. Some examples of Monochromic time cultures are Germany and United States.

Synchronic/ Polychronic Time Cultures

People in polychronic time cultures see time as synchronous event of multiple things. There is an emphasis on building human rapport over material items. People in such cultures don’t mind working on a variety of projects simultaneously. They see time can be controlled, extended or even reduced as time utilization is adaptable Some examples of Polychronic time cultures are Latin America and Russia.

Limitation of Hall’s Context Theory and Time Theory

Like Hofstede, Hall’s theory has its drawbacks, especially with its vague and generalized structure. Further, Hall’s theory doesnt identify individuals as people rather one person is treated as a culture when in fact every person is different (Hall’s Cross-Cultural Theory Wiki, n.d.) There is a tendency to stereotype or “bucket” people into certain groups depending on external factors, which may or may not apply to the individual on a personal level, even though it applies on a cultural level. Hall’s foundation is limited as it only focused on three countries; Germany, France and America, further his hypothesis cannot be examined without running into issues with time.

What are the implications of your insights for cross-cultural communication in international business organizations?

On a personal level, I can directly understand the challenges of Cross-Cultural Communication. Being born and brought up in Australia to a family who has immigrated from India to moving the United States for my Post-Graduate studies, I have been immersed in cross-cultural communication for the entirety of my life. Consequently, I am often adapting to multiple cultures simultaneously and having to be conscious of the different nuances of each culture daily.

Clearly, some of the major barriers to effective cross-cultural communication that I face regularly is the language barriers. With the primary language spoken by Indians being Hindi, which is vastly different to the native language of English in Australia, there are many instances where communicating with my family has been challenging, further emphasized by the lack of clarity. Additionally, there were challenges in learning English due to their lack of literary and grammatical ability in the English language. Slang is a primary hinderance to effective communication since I have moved to the United States. Whilst Australia speaks the same language as Americans, we have our own distinct version of English, especially when it comes to slang. For example, the word “thongs” in Australia refers to the footwear flip flops, whereas in America it refers to the female bathing suit. This has caused me some major embarrassing moments. Further, as my slang is intertwined into my everyday language, there has been many times in group projects where people are confused by what I am saying.

When looking at my experiences through the lenses of Hofstede and Hall’s model I see similarities and differences. I have seen the distinct differences between the masculinity and feminist societies. The Indian background exposed me to a very distinct gender roles where men usually have the final decision. In contrast, growing up in a western culture in Australia, I was immersed in a culture where there were overlapping gender roles, whereby men and women were perceived on a more equal basis. Growing up with this experience also shed light on the Individualism vs Collectivism dimension where the Indian culture promotes self-serving interests focusing on social standings. Contrary, the Australian culture is all about “mateship” and looking after your neighbor and serving the greater community. Long term vs Short Term orientation is also evident in my experience of coming from an Indian family and living in Australia. The Indian culture places a huge emphasis on past traditions, respecting what has been done in the past and ensuring that the traditions are carried on. For example, there is huge pressure in Indian cultures to earn a career in the medical field as historically in India that is seen as the most prestigious career. Also there are lots of religious prayers and ceremony’s that are done for anything important, such as pre-exam, post -exams and even pre-results. On the other hand, the Australian mindset is all about the future and creating the best possible life for future generations. There is a huge emphasis and work being down with regards to climate change and creating environmentally sustainable procedures.

Hall’s Context and Time theory extremely prevalent when I’m comparing my experiences within the Indian culture with Australian culture. Australia is a low context culture with a synchronic time structure, whereby everything is done in an explicit manner, especially when it comes to business relations. Australian’s value punctuality and sticking to a schedule and it is seen as an insult to arrive to meetings late and not get straight down to business. Whereas, Indian culture (high-context and polycentric time structure) is all about building relationships and valuing them over the best deal in business. Business meetings often go way over time and is more informal. The term “Indian Standard Time” is often thrown around to explain why it is normal for people in the culture to attend meetings, events and parties’ hours after the given time. It was common to see my family only begin to prepare to get ready at the time the event was beginning, rather than arriving to the event.

Conclusion

With the acceleration of globalization, social mobility has increased leading to an increase in cross-cultural environments whereby communication becomes key. There are significant barriers to effective cross-cultural communication whereby noise can disrupt or completely destroy the message. As such, understanding these barriers and working towards overcoming them through the use of models and theories such as Hofstede’s Six-Dimension Theory and Hall’s Context and Time theory will allow for individuals to effectively communicate across cultures which will lead to an improvement in intercultural business relationships and communications.

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