Communication in Cross-Cultural Context
Bholanath Dutta* The influence of culture on communication is so strong that anthropologist Edward Hall says, “Culture is communication and communication is culture”. Differences in cultural values and perceptions can be a quiet and invisible source of great misunderstanding between people. In today’s gloablized market, where there is a free flow of human resources across geographical boundaries, across various cultures, it has become imperative to understand the importance of intercultural communication process. Against this backdrop, this paper discusses the various issues and challenges in cross-cultural communication.
He is an eloquent man who can treat humble subjects with delicacy, lofty things impressively and moderate things temperately. —Cicero
‘Culture’ has often been defined in simplistic terms as life-style of people of a community. But culture means much more; it encompasses various attitudinal and behavioral dimensions such as values, beliefs, expectations, norms, etc. All these make culture a complex thing to understand and has drawn the attention of researchers to study the various dimensions of culture and its impact on the people living within that culture. Within a culture there may be various sub-cultures on the basis of ethnic groups, religious groups, professions, etc., and differences exist among them. Many studies by behavioral scientists prove that all the people who belong to a particular culture have similarity in their thinking and behavior. Culture differs from one group to another and these differences can affect the level of trust and openness in communication that one can achieve with people of other cultures. Hence, understanding cross-cultural communication is very important. Cross-cultural communication is becoming increasingly relevant in today’s borderless world. People are moving freely from one country to another on business assignments, and for leisure and entertainment. Therefore, there is a necessity of understanding other cultures. Primarily, cross-cultural communication focuses on how people from different cultures can communicate and understand each other well. * Senior Lecturer and Assistant Placement Officer, CMR Institute of Technology, Bangalore, India. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2008 The Icfai in Cross-Cultural Context Communication University Press. All Rights Reserved.
Here is an example of how cultural differences can affect the trust level and open communication: An American and a Chinese were visiting a cemetery where their friends had been buried. The American was carrying a beautiful bunch of flowers to put on his friend’s grave. The Chinese was carrying a bowl of cooked rice and some fruits. The American found it ridiculous that one would leave food at a grave. “Do you really think,” asked the American, barely hiding his contempt, “that your dead friend will come and eat the food you leave at the grave?” “Yes, of course,” retorted the startled Chinese after a moment’s pause, “My friend will come and eat the food around the time your friend comes out to smell the flowers you’re leaving for him.” It was a friendly dig at each other’s culture. It grew from the difficulty the American had in understanding the Chinese custom. Fortunately, for the two, the cultural differences did not threaten their friendship. However, one’s culture can be a major block, especially in international communication. A person’s journey starts in one’s own culture. As a person grows up, he imbibes various values, beliefs and norms which are inherited/practiced in that culture. Culture perceives and teaches the differences between good and bad. It defines the behavior of the people in that culture. Culture passes on from person to person and from generation to generation. To communicate effectively with people of other culture, understanding their culture is very important. Understanding their culture removes the...
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