Thanks to technology and travel, it is easier than ever to communicate with people in different parts of the world. Intercultural communication is necessary for solving problems and achieving success, particularly in business or government.
“Lack of knowledge of another culture can lead, at the best, to embarrassing or amusing mistakes in communication,” according to DiploFoundation, a nonprofit organization. “At the worst, such mistakes may confuse or even offend the people we wish to communicate with, making the conclusion of business deals or international agreements difficult or impossible.”
Understanding how people of different cultures communicate can help create a space for meaningful interaction and engagement.
What Is Intercultural Communication?
Anthropologist Edward Hall founded the field of intercultural communication in 1959 with his book The Silent Language. He defined it as a form of communication that shares information across different cultures and social groups.
Intercultural communication is more than the mere exchange of words. It includes systems of beliefs, values and worldviews. Intercultural communication also involves nonverbal aspects of communication, which in some cultures can have a significant impact.
Cultural values impact how people think, act and judge others. “Cultural meanings render some behaviors as normal and right and others strange or wrong,” Forbes contributor Carol Kinsey Goman says. “Every culture has rules that its members take for granted. Few of us are aware of our own biases because cultural imprinting is begun at a very early age. And while some of culture’s knowledge, rules, beliefs, values, phobias and anxieties are taught explicitly, most is absorbed subconsciously.”
People must be aware of these factors to engage in effective intercultural communication.
Why Is Intercultural Communication Important?
Successful communication involves the effective transfer of knowledge and information. As economies evolve and become more interconnected, communicating across cultures becomes increasingly important.
In a competitive business environment, intercultural communication allows leaders to increase their value and the value of the organizations they represent. Intercultural communication skills lead to improved negotiations and help with developing business deals and agreements. At a basic level, someone with these skills is able to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds with respect, avoiding potential miscommunications and resulting in more productive interaction.
Intercultural communication is an important part of a person’s intercultural competence, or the ability to function effectively across cultures, according to the Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior. Intercultural competence enables the individual to interact with people of other cultures and remain aware of cultural differences. Communication is embedded in the three domains of intercultural competence.
- Intercultural traits such as open-mindedness, tolerance of ambiguity, cognitive complexity, patience and flexibility.
- Intercultural attitudes and intercultural worldviews that have sophisticated, rather than ethnocentric or simplistic, perceptions of cultural differences and similarities.
- Intercultural capabilities emphasize what a person can do to be skilled in intercultural interactions. Examples include showing knowledge of other cultures/countries, linguistic skills, social flexibility and cultural tuning.
Communicating With People From Different Cultures
Communicating in intercultural environments can be complicated. It can take time to recognize and respond to people from high- and low-context cultures, and these represent just one framework for approaching intercultural communication.
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