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How Does Culture Affect Communication?

Instant communications and an ever-expanding internet have made the world a much smaller place, presenting both barriers and opportunities as we interact across borders with people of different cultures.

In this new, complex world of communication, cultural differences stand out as one of our biggest challenges. Different cultures affect how individuals participate in groups and how they work within communities.

New Challenges With the Way We Communicate

Values often conflict when people of different cultures work together. Opportunities for misunderstanding are ripe. According to a More Perfect Union on PBS, there are certain patterns of differences that lead to cross-cultural communication difficulties:

Different styles of communicating. Language use varies between cultures. Words and phrases are used in different ways. For example, "yes" may mean "maybe" or even "definitely" even in different English-speaking countries. Non-verbal communication is also important and may include anything from gestures and facial expressions to sense of time, personal distance and even seating arrangements.

Different Attitudes Regarding Conflict. Conflict is considered positive in some countries, while people in others seek to avoid it. Although conflict is not usually desired in the U.S., people here are encouraged to deal directly with conflicts that arise. In many Eastern countries, differences are best worked out in private.

Completing tasks in different ways. Cultural differences account for how people move to complete tasks. Reasons include different resource availability, different notions of time, and different ideas of how relationship-building and task-oriented work should fit together. For example, Asian and Hispanic cultures focus on team dynamics at the outset of a project and shift focus to the end goal as the project moves forward, while European-Americans focus first on the task, leaving relationships to develop along the way.

Differences in decision-making. In the U.S., decisions are frequently delegated to a subordinate. In many Southern European and Latin American countries, holding decision-making responsibilities to oneself is valued. In a group situation, majority rule tends to work in the U.S., while consensus is the preference in Japan.

Differences in attitudes toward disclosure. Expressing emotions, reasons behind a conflict or personal information may be taboo in some cultures. Questions that may be natural to you can be intrusive to someone from a different culture. This needs to be considered before you can get a good bearing of the views and goals of the people you work with.

Different approaches to knowing. Different cultures have different ideas when it comes to gaining knowledge. Europeans consider information gained through counting and measuring more valuable than other means. Some African cultures rely on knowledge gained through symbolic imagery, while some Asian cultures emphasize the validity of knowledge gained through transcendence.

Cross-Cultural Communication Is Challenging

The six patterns of cultural difference can help you understand people who are different from you. When getting down to the nuts and bolts in practical situations, however, MindTools suggests learning the basics about the culture and language of the people you work with.

The website also offered the following tips:

  • Understand that a person's behaviors and reactions are often culturally driven, and while they may be different than yours, they are still appropriate.
  • Accept the different languages, different religions and other cultural differences of team members.
  • Consider special needs of team members such as different holidays and different hours of operations.
  • Ask questions if you are unsure of cultural differences.
  • Show the way by being courteous to ensure team members follow a path of understanding and acceptance.

The need to work across different cultures is almost a given in society today, especially for those working in different fields of communication. That is why the online programs for the Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Communication and Bachelor of Science (BS) in Communication at the University of Houston-Victoria prepare students for a cross-cultural world with the course Intercultural Communication as part of the curriculum. The course focuses on theories and research on how people of different cultures communicate, cultural factors that influence communication styles, and the possible conflicts caused by these differences.

Besides cultural communication, these online degree programs are designed to develop superior writing, speaking, desktop publishing and intercultural communication skills needed in today's global workforce.

Learn more about the University of Houston-Victoria's online B.S. in Communication and B.A. in Communication programs.


PBS: Working on Common Cross-Cultural Communication Challenges

Mind Tools: Cross-Culture Communication

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