Intercultural communication

Intercultural communication is a form of communication that aims to share information across different cultures and social groups. It is used to describe the wide range of communication processes and problems that naturally appear within an organization or social context made up of individuals from different religious, social, ethnic, and educational backgrounds. Intercultural communication is sometimes used synonymously with cross-cultural communication. In this sense it seeks to understand how people from different countries and cultures act, communicate and perceive the world around them. Many people in intercultural business communication argue that culture determines how individuals encode messages, what medium they choose for transmitting them, and the way messages are interpreted.[1]

With regard to intercultural communication proper, it studies situations where people from different cultural backgrounds interact. Aside from language, intercultural communication focuses on social attributes, thought patterns, and the cultures of different groups of people. It also involves understanding the different cultures, languages and customs of people from other countries. Intercultural communication plays a role in social sciences such as anthropology, cultural studies, linguistics, psychology and communication studies. Intercultural communication is also referred to as the base for international businesses. There are several cross-cultural service providers around who can assist with the development of intercultural communication skills. Research is a major part of the development of intercultural communication skills.[2][3]

Cross-cultural business communication

Cross-cultural business communication is very helpful in building cultural intelligence through coaching and training in cross-cultural communication, cross-cultural negotiation, multicultural conflict resolution, customer service, business and organizational communication. Cross-cultural understanding is not just for incoming expats. Cross-cultural understanding begins with those responsible for the project and reaches those delivering the service or content. The ability to communicate, negotiate and effectively work with people from other cultures is vital to international business.


The problems in intercultural communication usually come from problems in message transmission. In communication between people of the same culture, the person who receives the message interprets it based on values, beliefs, and expectations for behavior similar to those of the person who sent the message. When this happens, the way the message is interpreted by the receiver is likely to be fairly similar to what the speaker intended. However, when the receiver of the message is a person from a different culture, the receiver uses information from his or her culture to interpret the message. The message that the receiver interprets may be very different from what the speaker intended.

Attribution is the process in which people look for an explanation of another person's behavior. When someone does not understand another, he/she usually blames the confusion on the other's "stupidity, deceit, or craziness".

Effective communication depends on the informal understandings among the parties involved that are based on the trust developed between them. When trust exists, there is implicit understanding within communication, cultural differences may be overlooked, and problems can be dealt with more easily. The meaning of trust and how it is developed and communicated vary across societies. Similarly, some cultures have a greater propensity to be trusting than others.

Nonverbal communication is behavior that communicates without words—though it often may be accompanied by words. Minor variations in body language, speech rhythms, and punctuality often cause mistrust and misperception of the situation among cross-cultural parties.

Kinesic behavior is communication through body movement—e.g., posture, gestures, facial expressions and eye contact. The meaning of such behavior varies across countries.

Occulesics are a form of kinesics that includes eye contact and the use of the eyes to convey messages.

Proxemics concern the influence of proximity and space on communication (e.g., in terms of personal space and in terms of office layout). For example, space communicates power in the US and Germany.

Paralanguage refers to how something is said, rather than the content of what is said—e.g., rate of speech, tone and inflection of voice, other noises, laughing, yawning, and silence.

Object language or material culture refers to how we communicate through material artifacts—e.g., architecture, office design and furniture, clothing, cars, cosmetics, and time. In monochronic cultures, time is experienced linearly and as something to be spent, saved, made up, or wasted. Time orders life, and people tend to concentrate on one thing at a time. In polychronic cultures, people tolerate many things happening simultaneously and emphasize involvement with people. In these cultures, people may be highly distractible, focus on several things at once, and change plans often.


Important points to consider:


There is a connection between a person's personality traits and the ability to adapt to the host-country's environment—including the ability to communicate within that environment.

Two key personality traits are openness and resilience. Openness includes traits such as tolerance for ambiguity, extrovertedness, and open-mindedness. Resilience includes having an internal locus of control, persistence, tolerance for ambiguity, and resourcefulness.

These factors, combined with the person's cultural and racial identity and level of preparedness for change, comprise that person's potential for adaptation.


The following types of theories can be distinguished in different strands: focus on effective outcomes, on accommodation or adaption, on identity negotiation and management, on communication networks, on acculturation and adjustment.[4]

Social engineering effective outcomes

The Four Distances Model (4DM)

The theory, rooted in semiotics, studies how relational distance can have an impact on intercultural communication: incommunicability and misunderstandings are strictly dependent from the feeling of "closeness" or "distance" that emerges in the interaction patterns between intercultural communicators. The 4 Distances Model defines the four main variables that can determine relational distance. Each variable has a subset of more specific hard-type (more tangible) and soft-type (mainly intangible) sub-variables:[10]

The model enables the research and monitoring on how intercultural interactions shift in time from "distance" to "closeness", or vice versa, from empathy to conflict, and from entropy to clarity, on which specific variables, and with which effects, in order to prepare specific interventions that reduce unwanted distances, conflict and miscommunications. Identifying hidden perceptions, roles, codes and values is substantial to determine the effectiveness of intercultural negotiations,[11] and the outcome of intercultural key-leader engagement as in peacekeeping operations.[12] The model has been used to analyze critical incidents in communication in intercultural crews in the International Space Station,[13] and in the analysis of communication misunderstandings that generated deadly accidents, in the case of miscommunications in intercultural crews and communication deceptions of the Costa Concordia disaster.[14][15]

Identity negotiation or management

Communication networks

Acculturation and adjustment

Other theories

Intercultural competence

Intercultural communication is competent when it accomplishes the objectives in a manner that is appropriate to the context and relationship. Intercultural communication thus needs to bridge the dichotomy between appropriateness and effectiveness:[25] Proper means of intercultural communication leads to a 15% decrease in miscommunication.[26]

Competent communication is an interaction that is seen as effective in achieving certain rewarding objectives in a way that is also related to the context in which the situation occurs. In other words, it is a conversation with an achievable goal that is used at an appropriate time/location.[25]


Intercultural communication can be linked with identity, which means the competent communicator is the person who can affirm others' avowed identities. As well as goal attainment is also a focus within intercultural competence and it involves the communicator to convey a sense of communication appropriateness and effectiveness in diverse cultural contexts.[25]

Ethnocentrism plays a role in intercultural communication. The capacity to avoid ethnocentrism is the foundation of intercultural communication competence. Ethnocentrism is the inclination to view one's own group as natural and correct, and all others as aberrant.

People must be aware that to engage and fix intercultural communication there is no easy solution and there is not only one way to do so. Listed below are some of the components of intercultural competence.[25]

Basic tools for improvement

The following are ways to improve communication competence:

Important factors


Verbal communication

Verbal communication consist of messages being sent and received continuously with the speaker and the listener, it is focused on the way messages are portrayed. Verbal communication is based on language and use of expression, the tone in which the sender of the message relays the communication can determine how the message is received and in what context.

Factors that affect verbal communication:

The way a message is received is dependent on these factors as they give a greater interpretation for the receiver as to what is meant by the message. By emphasizing a certain phrase with the tone of voice, this indicates that it is important and should be focused more on.

Along with these attributes, verbal communication is also accompanied with non-verbal cues. These cues make the message clearer and give the listener an indication of what way the information should be received.[28]

Example of non-verbal cues

In terms of intercultural communication there are language barriers which are effected by verbal forms of communication. In this instance there is opportunity for miscommunication between two or more parties.[29] Other barriers that contribute to miscommunication would be the type of words chosen in conversation. do to different cultures there are different meaning in vocabulary chosen, this allows for a message between the sender and receiver to be misconstrued.[30]

Nonverbal communication

Nonverbal communication is behaviour that communicates without words—though it may often be accompanied by words. Nonverbal behaviour can include things such as

When these actions are paired with verbal communication, a message is created and sent out. A form of nonverbal communication is kinesic behaviour. Kinesic behaviour is communication through body movement—e.g., posture, gestures, facial expressions and eye contact. The meaning of such behaviour varies across countries and affects intercultural communication. A form of kinesic nonverbal communication is eye contact and the use of the eyes to convey messages. Overall, nonverbal communication gives clues to what is being said verbally by physical portrayals.

Nonverbal communication techniques used around the world and in multiple cultures.

Nonverbal communication and kinesic is not the only way to communicate without words. Proxemics, a form of nonverbal communication, deals with the influence of proximity and space on communication. Another form of nonverbal behaviour and communication dealing with intercultural communication is paralanguage. Paralanguage refers to how something is said, rather than the content of what is said—e.g., rate of speech, tone and inflection of voice, other noises, laughing, yawning, and silence. Paralanguage will be later touched on in the verbal section of intercultural communication.

Nonverbal communication has been shown to account for between 65% and 93% of interpreted communication.[32] Minor variations in body language, speech rhythms, and punctuality often cause mistrust and misperception of the situation among cross-cultural parties. This is where nonverbal communication can cause problems with intercultural communication. Misunderstandings with nonverbal communication can lead to miscommunication and insults with cultural differences. For example, a handshake in one culture may be recognized as appropriate, whereas another culture may recognize it as rude or inappropriate.[32]

Nonverbal communication can be used without the use of verbal communication. This can be used as a coding system for people who do not use verbal behaviour to communicate in different cultures, where speaking is not allowed.[33] An facial expression can give cues to another person and send a message, without using verbal communication.

Something that usually goes unnoticed in cultures and communication is that clothing and the way people dress is used as a form of nonverbal communication. What a person wears can tell a lot about them. For example, whether someone is poor or rich, young or old or if they have specific cultures and beliefs can all be said through clothing and style. This is a form of nonverbal communication.

Overall, nonverbal communication is a very important concept in intercultural communication.

See also



  1. Lauring, Jakob (2011). "Intercultural Organizational Communication: The Social Organizing of Interaction in International Encounters". Journal of Business and Communication. 48.3: 231–55.
  3. "Intercultural Communication Law & Legal Definition". Retrieved 2016-05-19.
  4. Cf. Gudykunst 2003 for an overview.
  5. Kincaid, D. L. (1988). The convergence theory of intercultural communication. In Y. Y. Kim & W. B. Gudykunst (Eds.), Theories in intercultural communication (pp. 280–298). Newbury Park, CA: Sage. p.289
  6. Ellingsworth, 1983.
  7. 1 2 Gudykunst, W. & Kim, Y. Y. (2003). Communicating with strangers: An approach to intercultural communication, 4th ed. New York: McGraw Hill.
  8. Bohman, J. 1999. 'Practical Reason and Cultural Constraint' in R. Shusterman (Ed.) Bourdieu: A Critical Reader, Oxford: Blackwell.
  9. Orbe, 1998. p.3
  10. Daniele Trevisani (1992), “A Semiotic Models Approach to the Analysis of Internatio-nal/Intercultural Communication”, in Proceedings of the 9th International and Intercultural Communication Conference, University of Miami, 19–21 May
  11. Trevisani, Daniele (2005), "Negoziazione Interculturale: Comunicazione oltre le barriere culturali", Milano, Franco Angeli (Translated title: "Intercultural Negotiation: Communication Beyond Cultural Barriers".) ISBN 9788846466006
  12. Commander’s Handbook for Strategic Communication and Communication Strategy, US Joint Forces Command, 24 June 2010
  13. Stene, Trine Marie; Trevisani, Daniele; Danielsen, Brit-Eli (Dec 16, 2015). "Preparing for the unexpected.". European Space Agency (ESA) Moon 2020-2030 Conference Proceedings. doi:10.13140/RG.2.1.4260.9529.
  14. "Harbour master's log reveals how tragedy unfolded". Irish Independent. 22 January 2012. Retrieved 22 January 2012.
  15. Robert Marquand (18 January 2012). "Costa Concordia: Top 4 'deceptions' by ship's captain". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 19 January 2012.
  16. Kim Y.Y.(1995), p.192
  17. Mc Guire and McDermott, 1988, p. 103
  18. Griffin (2000), p. 492
  19. Griffin (2000), p. 496
  20. Social group
  21. Collins, P. H. (1990). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman.
  22. Wood, 2005
  24. Griffin (2000), p. 497
  25. 1 2 3 4 5 6 (Lustig & Koester, 2010)
  26. "Facts and Figures". Cultural Candor Inc.
  27. 1 2 (Intercultural Communication)
  28. Hinde, R. A. (1972). Non-verbal communication; edited by R. A. Hinde. -. Cambridge [Eng.]: University Press, 1972.
  29. Esposito, A. (2007). Verbal and nonverbal communication behaviours [electronic resource] : COST Action 2102 International Workshop, Vietri sul Mare, Italy, March 29–31, 2007 : revised selected and invited papers / Anna Esposito ... [et al.] (eds.). Berlin ; New York : Springer, c2007.
  30. Scollon, R., & Scollon, S. K. (2001). Intercultural communication : a discourse approach / Ron Scollon and Suzanne Wong Scollon. Malden, MA : Blackwell Publishers, 2001
  31. Akmajian Adrian, Demers Richard, Farmer Ann, Harnish Robert. 2001. Linguistics An Introduction to Language and Communication. Communication and Cognitive Science. pp.355.
  32. 1 2 Samovar Larry, Porter Richard, McDaniel Edwin, Roy Carolyn. 2006. Intercultural Communication A Reader. Nonverbal Communication. pp13.
  33. Morgan Carol, Byram Michael. 1994. Teaching and Learning Language and Culture. Culture in Language Learning. pp.5.


This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/21/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.