Thanks to fast transportation, global media, and the world wide web, we are now more connected than ever to other people worldwide.
Working with the international community for economic survival means countries and cultures can no longer operate in a vacuum. Because of this, intercultural communication is no longer a choice but a must.
In addition, misunderstandings resulting from a lack of familiarity with another culture are often embarrassing. Blunders like these can make it difficult, if not impossible, to reach an agreement with another country or close a business contract with a foreign partner. For travelers, a faux pas can also make interactions more awkward. In this article, we’ll be discussing the importance of intercultural communication.
Intercultural Communication Definition
The capacity to communicate with people from diverse cultures is referred to as intercultural communication. Interacting effectively across cultural lines requires perseverance and sensitivity to one another’s differences. This encompasses language skills, customs, ways of thinking, social norms, and habits.
There are many ways in which people all around the world are similar, yet it is our differences that truly define us. To put it simply, communication is the exchange of ideas and information between individuals by any means, verbal or otherwise. Sharing knowledge with others requires familiarity with social norms, body language, and etiquette.
Having the ability to communicate effectively across cultural boundaries is critical for the success of any intercultural or multinational endeavor. Additionally, it helps improve relationships by facilitating two-way conversations, which in turn foster mutual understanding between people of diverse backgrounds.
Intercultural Communication Examples
There are several facets to intercultural communication competence, from language skills to knowledge of social practices and cultural norms. These capabilities are constantly used throughout organizations and in all forms of communication. Here are a few examples of intercultural communication in action:
It can be challenging for multinational corporations to find appropriate product names that will not offend customers in their target markets due to linguistic differences. For instance, Coca-Cola initially considered renaming its brand KeKou-KeLa for the Chinese market. However, they didn’t take into account that this cute moniker means “female horse stuffed with wax” or “bite the wax tadpole.” Unsurprisingly, a rebrand was necessary. Coke then looked up 40,000 Chinese characters to get a phonetic equivalent and came up with “ko-kou-ko-le,” which roughly translates to “happiness in the mouth.”
Respecting the social norms of another culture requires an understanding that practices may vary. While Americans value making small talk with potential business partners, the British may try humor, while the Germans may jump right to the point.
In contrast, people from Thailand don’t bat an eye when asked what may be seen as intrusive questions in the West, such as whether you’re married or what you do for a living. Similarly, Americans prefer first names, but in Austria, titles are used to prevent coming off as disrespectful.
You may have heard the popular myth that the Chevrolet Nova of the 1970s was a resounding flop in Latin America due to its name, since “no va” translates to “no go” in Spanish. The car was a smashing success since the name “nova” also means “new.” Nevertheless, there are innumerable examples of poorly translated advertisements across cultures that led to more severe outcomes.
For example, the Spanish equivalent of the American “Got Milk?” campaign featured the phrase “Tienes leche?” which translates as “Are you lactating?” The campaign completely bombed, ruining the brand’s reputation in that area. This mishap could have been avoided with more thorough focus group testing of intercultural communication.
Public Relations and Media Events
Executives from the United States frequently interview international media and publicly appear in other countries. Working knowledge of the language is obviously necessary for such work, but words alone can’t account for how people will interpret things like tone of voice, the pace of speech, gestures, and facial expressions. In Japan, for instance, it’s rude to point out. Instead, you should wave politely in that direction. Similarly, the Indian equivalents of “please” and “thank you” are sometimes seen as overly formal and even disrespectful.
The Importance of Intercultural Communication
When we investigate the cultural influences on communication, we gain a deeper understanding of both areas. Additionally, it aids in expanding our knowledge of who we are as individuals and as a society.
Understanding our communication styles, habits, and tendencies and how they may serve or work against us when interacting with others from other cultural backgrounds is a valuable personal benefit of studying intercultural communication.
When seen in a broader context, intercultural communication can shed light on a wide range of human experiences, from the process of defining the workings of the brain to the power of languages in bringing people together.
As the world gets more interconnected, the ability to communicate successfully across cultural boundaries is becoming more and more vital. Since we are now able to travel to more places, we are exposed to other cultures and ways of living.
The ability to communicate effectively across cultural boundaries is crucial for the successful collaboration and relationship-building of multiethnic and international communities. It is also essential for avoiding and resolving conflicts. If you want to learn about other people and their customs and find common ground around the world, this is how to do it.
Intercultural Communication Competence
There are a variety of skills that are necessary for effective intercultural communication; some of them may be taught, while others are inherent and just require practice. Let’s take a look at some of the most crucial personal competencies for intercultural communication, as opposed to just linguistic ones like speaking, listening, and body language.
- Self-awareness: Recognizing how your personal views, behaviors, and possible prejudices and stereotypes might affect a conversation is a massive step in improving your ability to have meaningful interactions with others.
- Empathy: Intercultural communication relies heavily on empathizing with others and gaining insight into their experiences.
- Respect: Even if you don’t agree with or appreciate every aspect of another person’s or group’s culture, you may still respect them by recognizing their right to do so.
- Emotional intelligence: Learning to pick up on the subtleties of communication is essential when working with people from other cultures. Whether you get what is being communicated or not depends on how well you use your senses, how well you know yourself, and how well you can empathize with others.
- Adaptability: One of the goals of intercultural communication is to teach people how to modify their way of speaking to replace ambiguity, conflict, and antagonism with clarity, harmony, and cooperation. That’s why it’s important to be adaptable in our thinking, reactions, and interactions with others, as well as in our speech, listening, and body language.
- Patience: Effective communication across cultural boundaries doesn’t happen immediately. That’s why you need to have patience. Don’t rush through the process of becoming well-versed in best practices; instead, take your time and make them part of your routine. Due to cultural differences, it may take more or less time than usual to absorb new information.
- Positivity: Maintaining an optimistic attitude when interacting with people of other cultures is crucial. Misunderstandings occur all the time, and in most cases, it’s not because someone was trying to be deliberately unclear. Those of us who aren’t well-versed in other cultures often fail to grasp the intended meaning of a message. This is why it’s essential to look at every intercultural exchange in a constructive light.
Improving Your Intercultural Communication Skills
Here are some steps you can take to begin improving your intercultural communication skills:
Acquire Cultural Knowledge
Discovering the world through the lens of other people’s beliefs, values, and ways of expression is a fascinating and eye-opening experience. Educating yourself on the fundamentals of intercultural communication, such as language and gestures, is just as important as expanding your knowledge of the world’s diverse cultures.
Watch International Shows
If you want to get a feel for how people speak in a different culture, it’s better to see an international film in its original language than to suffer through a bad English dub. If you’re interested in learning more about Indian, Turkish, or Chinese culture, you can find TV shows from those countries and more on modern streaming platforms like Netflix.
Speak to People
When you have coworkers or neighbors from other countries, you gain access to a wealth of undiscovered possibilities. In-depth conversations with people about their backgrounds and the culture shock they may have felt upon arriving in your country can yield a great deal of valuable knowledge and perspective. If they are treated with respect and dignity, people all around the world are happy to have their voices heard.
Take in What You Hear and See
There are a wide variety of ways to enhance your intercultural communication competence. Among these are learning when to ask open-ended questions, stick to yes/no answers, and decide when to use humor. The two most crucial pieces of advice for improving your communication skills are to listen attentively and to watch what others do.
Whether you’re a tourist taking a trip overseas, a businessperson negotiating a merger, or a professor teaching a classroom full of international students, you need to be aware of the importance of effective intercultural communication.
In today’s interconnected world, the ability to communicate across cultural boundaries is more important than ever. It facilitates communication across linguistic and cultural boundaries, leading to more tolerance, acceptance, and, ultimately, stronger relationships amongst people of diverse backgrounds.
Enrolling in a language program is an excellent first step if you’re interested in learning more about intercultural communication and identifying and overcoming your own cultural biases. You can improve your language skills and your ability to communicate across cultures by enrolling in one of the Middlebury Language Schools’ immersion programs. Teaching both beginners and more advanced students, our immersion and graduate programs cover a wide range of languages.