Intercultural communication takes place when people from different cultures interact together. Culture is learned, shared and acquired; it is not biologically transmitted, but socially constructed. We learn it from family, school and other social institutions. What is right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable, moral or immoral is often defined by the principles of culture that we hold.

How do intercultural differences occur?

Intercultural differences occur due to the different values, beliefs and practices that individuals from different cultural groups hold. These differences have a strong impact on the way that people work, plan, behave, negotiate, do business, establish relationships and rapport.

‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart’.

Nelson Mandela

How cultures differ?

When the rules of one culture are used to ‘decode’ the behaviour of another, then it is likely to lead to cultural misunderstandings. Cultures can be divided in two categories according to their communication style: high context culture and low context culture.

For instance, in high context communication, communicators rely relatively more on the context of a message (knowledge, experience and non-verbal cues such as: facial expressions, silence, eye contact, tone of voice, silence, gesture, posture) and less on the words themselves.

High context cultures such as: China, Japan, Korea, American Indian, Most Latin American cultures, Southern and Eastern Mediterranean cultures, such as Greece, Turkey, and Arab states.

On the other hand, in low context communication the communication is straightforward, based on the semantic meaning of words and not veiled by non-verbal cues.

Low context cultures: Switzerland, Germany, North America and Nordic states.

 

In today’s business…

It is worth considering the skills that employers seek during recruitment, one of them being; interpersonal skills. These are vital for effective communication between individuals. From an intercultural aspect, competence in these skills can facilitate comprehension, diminish the presence of misunderstandings and stereotyping.

Doing business on a global scale or working with people from around the world, requires mindfulness during an interaction, and the most suitable way to address this is through intercultural training. Having culturally aware staff helps businesses to operate efficiently by ensuring an open-minded working environment, and high levels of customer retention and satisfaction. Developing intercultural awareness can contribute to the expansion of a business across national borders, to the attraction of new cultural groups of customers (and business partners!) and the potential for maximum business growth and profit.

Written by Dr Eirini Daskalaki

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