Learning in Relation to Intercultural Presumptions and Opinions
The Impact of Culture on Perception
Culture is known to have a great influence on people’s perception and cognition. Because of divergences in cultures, people may experience difficulties in understanding each other. On the other hand, once we get acquainted with the accepted norms of somebody’s culture, it becomes easier to communicate with this person. Research indicates that cultural elements such as values and norms impact people’s cognition and perception and lead to behavioural divergences (Kastanakis & Voyer, 2014). Cultural disparities in perception appear due to different ways in which Easterners and Westerners identify themselves in contrast with others, for instance, the perception of the environment or emotions (Kastanakis & Voyer, 2014).
Culture does not only impact the way people see their own features and the other people’s characteristics. It also outlines our understanding of the relationships between various people’s perceptions. For instance, the people of Eastern culture have a prevailing interdependent self-interpretation. On the contrary, Western culture representatives adhere to independent self-perception and concentrate on personal needs and objectives (Kastanakis & Voyer, 2014). Thus, to have a better understanding of people with whom we communicate, it is necessary to study their culture and compare it to our own.
Language and Non-Verbal Communication as a Part of Culture
Communication – verbal as well as non-verbal – is one of the most significant components of any culture. By using a language, people can understand each other, build arguments and negotiate, express their feelings and organise business relations. Therefore, to organise a successful interaction, people have to know the language their interlocutor is using or resort to a translator. Languages differ not only in geographical features but also in cultural.
Non-verbal communication is another crucial aspect of people’s interaction. Body signs, gestures, and signals sometimes help us encode even more meaning than words can convey (Knapp, Hall, & Horgan, 2014). However, it is necessary to know these signs to be able to perform productive interaction. Body language differs in various cultures: what means agreement in one culture may convey disagreement in another. Scholars define three types of such communication: verbal-vocal, non-verbal- vocal, and non-verbal-non-vocal (Mandal, 2014). Non-verbal signs present the greatest importance for structuring interpersonal communication. They help in arranging the system of interaction, indicating priority among the interlocutors, understanding the flow of communication process, and giving the assessment of interaction (Mandal, 2014).
Language and Non-Verbal Communication as Barriers to Effective Intercultural Communication
Just as knowing languages and basics of non-verbal signs helps people to communicate, the lack of this knowledge creates obstacles in the process of interaction. People have a need to meet the representatives of different cultures at all levels of life: personal, educational, travel, business, and other areas. When the cultures to which people belong are very different, problems are inevitable. When people use online translating programs, there is a risk of misunderstanding. Even if interlocutors resort to the help of an interpreter, such communication becomes time-consuming.
However, even if these options may be lengthy, they are more or less reliable. In case with non-verbal communication, there is no such help. Thus, learning the peculiarities of non-verbal signals is even more essential than knowing languages. The misunderstanding of body language is much more difficult to correct as signals may be produced involuntary and provoke a negative reaction. For instance, even the simple gesture of nodding one’s head means agreement in some cultures and disagreement in others (Mandal, 2014). Therefore, people should be rather cautious about using body language in cross-cultural communication to avoid any complications caused by the misunderstanding.
Cultural Values and Their Effect on the Role of Women
There exist many divergences among male and female genders in regards to life attitudes, emotional characteristics, and other perceptions. Naturally, there are some exceptions, but in general, women are portrayed as more value-oriented than men. Female participation in business is much less active than male (Rubio-Bañón & Esteban-Lloret, 2016). However, it is not a universal feature – research indicates that women’s entrepreneurial conduct depends on the culture to which a woman belongs and values to which she adheres (Rubio-Bañón & Esteban-Lloret, 2016).
The most common belief is that women’s values are more family-centred as opposed to men’s self-centredness. Another set of values is associated with general cultural beliefs in the country where a woman lives and works. For instance, national culture values are responsible for outlining the places of males and females in business relations (Rubio-Bañón & Esteban-Lloret, 2016). Social values concerning competitiveness and ambition greatly impact the role of women in society and entrepreneurship. Access to capital and a position in society, along with dominant values, define the place of women in the country’s development.
Cultural Conflicts as a Result of Emigration
When representatives of different cultures meet, there are two ways of a situation’s development. Either people behave in a tolerant way and try to respect each other’s traditions or one of them (or both) treats another with hostility and mistrust. The second scenario is particularly frequent in case when one culture’s representatives are in the majority and another’s – in the minority. When a person emigrates to another country, he or she inevitably meets obstacles in the new communicational environment.
New people, new language, new non-verbal signs – all of these factors can create a feeling of uneasiness and even panic (Newman, Hartman, & Taber, 2012). To eliminate such discomfort, people need to perform some research before moving to a country with a different culture. Also, employers or educators should prepare the staff or learners to meeting a new person. It is a good idea to organise an intercultural event where people could get acquainted with the peculiarities of diverse cultural patterns. With such approach, conflicts will be eliminated, and everyone will have a positive attitude towards colleagues or peers.
The Importance of Cultural Identity
Identifying oneself with one’s culture is probably one of the essential features a person can experience in society. Cultural identity defines people as belonging to a group that has similar norms and rules of behaviour, communication, and ethics (Mulcahy, 2017). A person without such identity loses a lot in terms of existing in the society where it is necessary to have some values and realise one’s needs. Cultural identity may be based on the similarities in ethnicity, social class, nationality, geographic location, religion, or any other feature that connects people in social groups. Thus, it is highly significant to realise one’s identity as it helps to adjust to one’s native group and see the differences between it and other cultures. Cultural identity helps people to perceive their belonging to a certain environment and also teaches how to respect the other nations and cultures.
The Role of Intercultural Communication in International Business Innovation and Sustainability
Modern globalisation process involves not only relocating of services and goods but also employees, technologies, partnerships, experience, and even cultures (Penbek, Şahin, & Cerit, 2012). The processes of business sustainability and modernisation greatly depend on the successful organisation of intercultural communication between people from different countries. In search of business associations, multinational organisations endeavour to manifest sensitivity towards their prospective partners’ cultural peculiarities with the aim of obtaining better cooperation opportunities and growth of their companies on the international arena (Okoro, 2012).
Research results show that only those firms that take care of providing appropriate acculturation of their employees on intercultural tasks gain and sustain success and profit. On the contrary, organisations that neglect cultural values of their partners fail to maintain their competitive advantage (Okoro, 2012). The key to success in global entrepreneurship is in the arrangement of efficient intercultural etiquette management. Therefore, intercultural communication plays a decisive role in international business innovation and sustainability.
The Change of Assumptions, Prejudices, and Opinions as a Result of Reading about Intercultural Relations
After performing research about the peculiarities of cross-cultural communication, I realised that this issue is not so simple as I used to think. There are many complications caused by misunderstanding other cultures, languages, and non-verbal signs.
Specific Examples from My Experience Supported by a Particular Theory or Model Learnt in Intercultural Relations
In my life, I have had several instances of finding myself in a new environment where people belong to a different culture. I think I can describe my experience with the help of cross-cultural adaptation theory proposed by Young Yun Kim (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011). Cross-cultural adaptation happens when someone joins a host culture but him/herself belongs to another culture. The immigrant community combines participation in the life of host culture with the life of its own culture (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011).
The core concept of this theory is that people are “open systems” that need to adjust to a larger environment (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p. 382). Individuals adapt to the new environment by a cybernetic mechanism in the course of which information from a larger environment is converted into actions causing alterations. Such procedure incorporates a number of actions concerned with adaptation and stress (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011). Stress appears when there is a pressure due to the need to combine the familiar and the unknown. People who have emigrated wish to feel the warmth and pleasure of home, but at the same time, they realise that they need to learn new matters. Stress causes adaptation that is concerned with the evolvement of new concepts and behavioural patterns (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011).
Eventually, immigrants have to learn to cope with the stress-adaptation issue. If they succeed, they are considered to have a higher level of “functional fitness” that is manifested through psychological comfort, well-being, peace of mind, and intercultural identity (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011, p. 382). There are three major environmental conditions that impact immigrants’ adaptation process: host receptivity (the level of friendliness of the new community), host conformity pressure (assumptions of host community about the new member’s adaptation), and ethnic group strength (the support that a person obtains from his/her own ethnic community) (Littlejohn & Foss, 2011).
There are several examples from my life that can describe adaptation process. I am Chinese, but I currently live in New Zealand. The first time I changed the familiar surroundings was when I moved to study in Singapore at the age of nineteen. While these two states have a lot in common, I still had to undergo some adaptation. In Singapore, some religious traditions differ, as well as some cultural customs. The most contrasting feature is the language since in Singapore people speak English more than in China. However, since improving my English was the main reason why I moved to Singapore, it was less a problem than an advantage for me.
The second time I experienced adaptation was when I moved to Los Angeles, the USA to enter a university. This time, cultural divergences between what I used to know and the new environment were much bigger. People’s behaviour in public, their ways of communication, holidays, traditions, and many other things were absolutely unfamiliar. What helped me was that there were other Chinese students who introduced me to the new environment. They spent a lot of time explaining me the norms, rules, and non-verbal signals.
After such adjustment process, I started feeling more comfortable in the new place. In a few months, I knew the US culture quite well, and I got some new friends who were interested in Chinese customs. Thus, we could exchange our cultural experiences, and I did not feel abandoned. Finally, my third big cultural change was when I went to New Zealand. That was another step towards broadening my cultural horizons. The culture of New Zealand combines some features of Chinese as well as American customs. For instance, as well as Chinese, New Zealanders love punctuality. Making friends in New Zealand is as customary as in the US – people tend to help you and treat you with amiability.
Thus, I can make a conclusion that according to the cross-cultural adaptation theory, my experience is getting better every time I move to another country. Due to ethnic group strength and host receptivity, I was able to feel myself well in any environment. I felt hardly any host conformity pressure in the places where I happened to move.
Reflection on Paradigm Shift after the Brief Academic Journey in Intercultural Relations
I can make several major conclusions as a result of a brief journey in cross-cultural communication. First of all, I was shocked to find out that people may face so many problems in the process of adaptation. I guess my surprise is connected with the fact that there were no such instances in my personal experience. At every country where I lived, there were people who supported me. Thus, I did not feel any cultural discomfort and did not notice any conflicts like the ones described in Newman et al.’s (2012) research.
Another issue that interested me in scholarly sources was the role of non-verbal language in intercultural communication. From my experience, I can say that this type of interaction is a rather crucial one. When I moved to the US, I did not know a lot about sign language of that country at the beginning, and I remember how embarrassed I felt on several occasions. Indeed, as Mandal (2014) points out, insufficient knowledge of another culture’s non-verbal communication signals may build barriers between people. However, as Knapp et al. (2014) mention, acquisition of body language is a great assistant in interaction. Once I learnt the fundamentals of non-verbal interaction of various cultures, it became easier to understand others and also explain my own feelings.
During research, I enriched my knowledge on the concept of cultural identity. I agree with Mulcahy (2017) that this phenomenon is of particular importance for every person. What concerns me, I did not lose my cultural identity in spite of having lived in several different environments. At every stage of my life, not only did I learn about other cultures but also tried to tell people as much as possible about my own traditions and values. Whenever I meet people belonging to my culture, we spend time as we would do it back at home. In my opinion, cultural identity is what makes us who we are.
It was also rather informative to read articles about the impact of culture of women’s values and business affairs. It never occurred to me before that cultural disparities play such a crucial role in entrepreneurship. As it occurred, business-level interaction is no less dependent on culture as personal communication. Also, I now feel more respect towards women in business. As Rubio-Bañón and Esteban-Lloret (2016) point out, women need to pay much more effort than men to gain success in their career.
This brief academic journey helped me to enrich my knowledge about the impact that culture has on people and their communication. However, research gave me more than that. The scholarly papers helped me understand myself better. I was able to trace my personal development, and I can say that my adaptation abilities are developed quite well. Surely, it is not solely my achievement. At each new place, there were people who helped me to adjust. Research helped me realise that when one is surrounded by friendly people, it is possible to overcome any difficulty.
Kastanakis, M. N., & Voyer, B. J. (2014). The effect of culture on perception and cognition: A conceptual framework. Journal of Business Research, 4(67), 425-433.
Knapp, M. L., Hall, J. A., & Horgan, T. G. (2014). Nonverbal communication in human interaction (8th ed.). Boston, MA: WADSWORTH CENGAGE Learning
Littlejohn, S. W., & Foss, K. A. (2011). Theories of human communication (10th ed.). Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.
Mandal, F. B. (2014). Nonverbal communication in humans. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 24(4), 417-421.
Mulcahy, K. V. (2017). Public culture, cultural identity, cultural policy: Comparative perspectives. Baton Rouge, LA: Palgrave Macmillan.
Newman, B. J., Hartman, T. K., & Taber, C. S. (2012). Foreign language exposure, cultural threat, and opposition to immigration. Political Psychology, 33(5), 635-657.
Okoro, E. (2012). Cross-cultural etiquette and communication in global business: Toward a strategic framework for managing corporate expansion. International. Journal of Business and Management, 7(16), 130-138.
Penbek, S., Şahin, D. Y., & Cerit, A. G. (2012). Intercultural communication competence: A study about the intercultural sensitivity of university students based on their education and international experiences. International Journal of Logistics Systems and Management, 11(2), 232-252.
Rubio-Bañón, A., & Esteban-Lloret, N. (2016). Cultural factors and gender role in female entrepreneurship. Suma de Negocios, 7(15), 9-17.