Cross Cultural Communication
Cross cultural communication, according to Clarke et al. (2001), implies the interaction
between people of varied ethnic, cultural, gender, racial, religious and sexual orientation, age,
and backgrounds of class. This communication entails a process of negotiating, mediating
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and exchanging the varied cultural differences between the persons involved through space
relationships, verbal and non-verbal cues and language in general. The prerequisite to its
success relies on the readiness and willingness of the people to stay open to an experience
involving various cultures.
Before getting to really understand the essence of this theme, there is need to get a clear
understanding of the two terms: culture and communication. Culture may be defined as the
shared behaviours, values, attitudes and communication techniques that are passed within a
community from one generation to the next (Thompson, 2011). It is a very complicated
subject that encompasses a several aspects of day to day life from music, philosophy, art,
customs amongst others. Communication, on the other hand implies a context-bound and
goal-directed the exchange of ideas or meaning amongst a group or just two people: it occurs
for a specified reason between people, in a certain environment and by a specified medium
The context in which the communication between people takes place may imply the
same culture or different cultures. In a work context, the talk on cross-culture usually
involves cultural discussions with regards to such issues as the belief systems of a group,
their values and day to day behaviour (Weber et al., 2011). For instance, in a case whereby a
Japanese and an American are negotiating a business deal, it is very obvious that the
negotiation is across different cultures, and as such, the communication is culture-bound. In
communication, there is the expression of the uniqueness of the cultural heritage of a person:
it not only includes non-verbal and verbal peculiarities, but also the context and medium of
Such a communication is usually very challenging as one’s cultures provides one with
varied ways of hearing, interpreting, thinking and seeing the world, and as such, the same
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word would inevitably imply very different meanings to people from varied cultures, even in
a case where the language is the same. The problem even worsens where there is the use of
different languages as translation is needed, whish, more often than not, leads to a very
tremendous misinterpretation, thus, misunderstanding.
As outlined by Stella Ting-Toomey, there are three main ways by which culture gets to
interfere with the effective understanding in a cross-cultural context. She calls the very first
one ‘cognitive constraints’, which are the settings for references or perceptions which
provide a backdrop upon which all the new information is inserted or compared to. The
second are the ‘behaviour constraints’, which she argues that is very distinct upon cultures as
each has a set of rules governing a proper behaviour that impact both the verbal and non-
verbal communication (Cultural Barriers to Effective Communication). Whether a person
looks at the other right in the eye, hits the nail on the head or beats about the bush, hoe close
people stand when conversing, the facial expressions, as well as the gestures-all are rules
governing politeness, and are very varied across cultures. The third and the last of Toomey’s
factor is the ‘emotional constraints’, whereby she asserts that the emotional display is very
varied across cultures. In some cultures, in the discussion of an issue, there is usually too
much emotions involved and people yell, cry, exhibit anger, frustration and fears openly,
whereas the other tend to keep emotions hidden and only sharing the factual or rational aspect
of the involved situation. All the factors tend to bring about communication problems, and in
case the involved people are not really aware of the problems potentials, there is more
likeliness of them falling victim to them (Cultural Barriers to Effective Communication).
With regards to this, let us view the following two scenarios to assist in the complete
discerning of the cross-cultural communication and the possible remedies in curbing or
complete avoidance of the problems.
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Scene 1. A manager on assignment in Japan
Firstly, this case involved a culture-bound communication as the manager is not of
Japan origin, and between people of different hierarchical levels, since the manager is on a
higher rank than the team members. The problem that arises may be described by a number
of models which have been put forward to the difference in the value systems in countries.
There are five key dimensions that explains the national culture (De Mooij & Hostede, 2010).
According to Hofstede, this is the ‘power distance’, which explains the extent of
acceptance of unequal power distribution by people within a given culture. On one side of the
continuum are the cultures that have value for hierarchy, while at the other end are those that
do not give too much attention to authority and can easily question it. The case above
displays a culture that values hierarchy (Hofstede, 1996). Due to this, the team members are
so glued to culture that they feel a very open brainstorming session like the case is not
acceptable. The team members therefore feel it unethical to openly talk to a person in
authority. Instead, they feel that the manager should just pass the laws, which they then
This dimension describes the degree to which people value self-determination. In a
culture characterized by individualism, a lot of value is placed in personal success and the
need to only look after personal self (Sandberg, 2005). The other case is collectivism,
whereby people tend to place group loyalty at the forefront as well as serving the group
interest. This case is of individualistic society, whereby the team members believe in keeping
to themselves and not exchanging ideas.
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The use of language
This encompasses the use of vocabulary that at some point may lead to too much
confusion. This comes in the form of pronunciation, use of idioms and slang (DuPraw &
Axner, 2007). There is the possibility that the manager may have used some slang, which to
the team members, according to their culture, was not acceptable. The choice of words may
also be very critical in the language. In the case above, the manager may have started off in a
very hit on the head approach, whereby he pinpointed out directly the mistakes and the
weaknesses of the team members. This may have turned off the team members as they may
have recognized this as being too rude.
Scene 2. The banning of the U.S. TV airing in China
Firstly, this case uses two dragons and a Fung Fu master as being annihilated, which is
very ironical as they stand out as very significant figures in China. Obviously, the citizens of
China were bound to perceive this as a mockery of their culture, which would eventuate
animosity and hatred towards the programme.
Possible remedies in the two cases
The following key principles may be used in curbing the problems that arise in the two
Avoid making assumptions
It is very important that assumptions are not made about an individual in terms of their
values and beliefs, and instead, there is the need to get to know a people very well in case you
are to deal with them (Swann et al, 2009). This involves finding the precise information.
Stereotypes influence our behaviours, however, we should never let them do it to an extent of
tampering our habits. In the first case, the manager may have assumed the team members as
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collectivists. At the same time, the team members may themselves have had opinion of the
manager, no wander the non-cooperativeness.
Check out if unsure
The manager may have been not very aware of the customs in the firm. In this case,
there was the need for him to check out (DuPraw & Axner, 2007). At the same time, the U.S.
TV should have checked out properly to understand the values that are placed on the Kung Fu
master and the dragons in the customs of China.
This principle is very vital for an effective cross-cultural communication as it gets
people involved very aware of the other’s culture and values. In a system, there is the need to
be willing to openly share information about your culture in order to avoid any future
misunderstanding (Swann et al, 2009). In the case of the manager, there was the need for him
to provide a session for sharing on the team members’ cultures before settling down in the
brainstorming. The second scenario also require the same as this could have avoided the clash
that occurred which led to the ban.
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