Importance of Culture to Communication

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Importance of culture to communication

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“Culture” can be defined as the complex collection of knowledge, folklore, language, rules, rituals, habits, lifestyles, attitudes, beliefs, and customs that link and give a common identity to a particular group of people at a specific point in time.

All social units develop a culture. Even in two-person relationships, a culture develops over time. In friendship and romantic relationships, for example, partners develop their own history, shared experiences, language patterns, rituals, habits, and customs that give that relationship a special character, a character that differentiates it in various ways from other relationships.

Groups also develop cultures, composed of the collection of rules, rituals, customs, and other characteristics that give an identity to the social unit. Where a group traditionally meets, whether meetings begin on time or not, what topics are discussed, how decisions are made, and how the group socializes are all elements of what, over time, become defining and differentiating elements of its culture.

Organizations also have cultures, often apparent in particular patterns of dress, layout of workspaces, meeting styles and functions, ways of thinking about and talking about the nature and directions of the organization, leadership styles, and so on.

The most rich and complex cultures are those that are associated with a society or a nation, and the term “culture” is most commonly used to refer to these characteristics, including language and language-usage patterns, rituals, rules, and customs. A societal or national culture also includes such elements as significant historical events and characters, philosophies of government, social customs, family practices, religion, economic philosophies and practices, belief and value systems, and concepts and systems of law.

Any social unit - relationship, group, organization, or society - develops a culture over time. While the defining characteristics of each culture are unique, all cultures share certain common functions. Three such functions that are particularly important from a communication perspective are (1) linking individuals to one another, (2) providing the basis for a common identity, and (3) creating a context for interaction and negotiation among members.

The relationship between communication and culture is a very complex and intimate one. First, cultures are created through communication; that is, communication is the means of human interaction through which cultural characteristics, whether customs, roles, rules, rituals, laws, or other patterns are created and shared. It is not so much that individuals set out to create a culture when they interact in relationships, groups, organizations, or societies, but rather that cultures are a natural by-product of social interaction. In a sense, cultures are the “residue” of social communication. Without communication and communication media, it would be impossible to preserve and pass along cultural characteristics from one place and time to another. One can say, therefore, that culture is created, shaped, transmitted, and learned through communication. The reverse is also the case; that is, communication practices are largely created, shaped, and transmitted by culture.

To understand the implications of this communication-culture relationship, it is necessary to think in terms of ongoing communication processes rather than a single communication event. For example, when a three-person group first meets, the members bring with them individual thought and behavioral patterns from previous communication experiences and from other cultures of which they are, or have been, a part. As individuals start to engage in communication with the other members of this new group, they begin to create a set of shared experiences and ways of talking about them. If the group continues to...
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