Intercultural communication

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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 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] In a broader sense, Intercultural communication encompasses cross-cultural communication, international communication, development communication, and intercultural communication's narrower referent, intercultural communication proper.[2] 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.[3][4]

Cross Cultural Business Communication[edit]

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.

Problems in intercultural communication[edit]

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 accompanied by words. Nonverbal communication has been shown to account for between 65% and 93% of interpreted communication. 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 sometime 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.

Management of intercultural communication[edit]

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.[5]

Theories focusing on social engineering effective outcomes[edit]

Theories focusing on identity negotiation or management[edit]

Theories focusing on communication networks[edit]

Theories focusing on acculturation and adjustment[edit]

Other Theories[edit]

Intercultural Communication Competence[edit]

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:[20]

Various publications list necessary competencies for intercultural communication.[21] Twelve affective, behavioural and cognitive competencies have been identified:[22]

A targeted development of these key competencies in intercultural communication requires a thorough appraisal to identify individual strengths and weaknesses. Diagnostic frameworks like the ICCA™ (Intercultural Communication and Collaboration Appraisal)[23] study subjective viewpoints and focus awareness on certain behaviours and attitudes.

The concept of "Intercultural Empathy" has been advanced as a specific subset of Intercultural Communication Competence by the Italian researcher Daniele Trevisani, who proposes four specific dimensions, that allow the specific Intercultural Competence Empathy Traits to be used in Intercultural Training Projects:.[24] Intercultural empathy is the ability to perceive the world as it is perceived by a culture different from the subject's own. The dimension identified by Trevisani are:

  1. Behavioral empathy (IBE - Intercultural Behaviors Empathy): understanding the behavior of a different culture and their causes, the ability to understand why the behavior is adopted and the chains of related behaviors.
  2. Emotional empathy (IEE - Intercultural Emotions Empathy): being able to feel the emotions experienced by others, even in cultures different from their own, understand what emotions feels the culturally different person (which emotion is flowing), of which intensity, which are the emotional lives, how emotions are associated to people, objects, events, situations, in private or public aspects of different cultures.
  3. Relational empathy (IRE - Intercultural Relationship Empathy): understanding the map of the relations of the subject and its affective value in the culture of belonging, to understand with whom the subject relates whether voluntarily or compulsorily, who has to deal with that subject in order to decide, in work or life, what is his map of "significant others ", the referents, the interlocutors, "other relevant "and influencers affecting their decisions, who are enemies and friends, who can affects his/her professional and life decisions.
  4. Cognitive empathy (ICE - Intercultural Cognitions Empathy): understanding of different cognitive structures, understanding the cognitive prototypes and archetypes active in a given moment of time in a certain culture in a single person, the beliefs that generate the visible values, ideologies underlying behaviors, identifying the mental structures that the individuals own and which parts are culturally-depending" (Daniele Trevisani, 2005).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lauring, Jakob (2011). "Intercultural Organizational Communication: The Social Organizing of Interaction in International Encounters". Journal of Business and Communication 48.3: 231–55. 
  2. ^ Steinfatt, Thomas M.; Millette, Diane M. (2009). "Intercultural communication". In Stacks, Don W.; Salwen, Michael B. An integrated approach to communication theory and research (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge. p. 301. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Cf. Gudykunst 2003 for an overview.
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ Ellingsworth, 1983.
  8. ^ a b Gudykunst, W. & Kim, Y. Y. (2003). Communicating with strangers: An approach to intercultural communication, 4th ed. New York: McGraw Hill.
  9. ^ Bohman, J. 1999. 'Practical Reason and Cultural Constraint' in R. Shusterman (Ed.) Bourdieu: A Critical Reader, Oxford: Blackwell.
  10. ^ Orbe, 1998. p.3
  11. ^ Kim Y.Y.(1995), p.192
  12. ^ Mc Guire and McDermott, 1988, p. 103
  13. ^ Griffin (2000), p. 492
  14. ^ Griffin (2000), p. 496
  15. ^ Social group
  16. ^ Collins, P. H. (1990). Black feminist thought: Knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman.
  17. ^ Wood, 2005[full citation needed]
  18. ^[full citation needed]
  19. ^ Griffin (2000), p. 497
  20. ^ Cf. (Spitzberg 2000); also (Messner & Schäfer 2012, p41).
  21. ^ Cf. (Bhawuk & Brislin 1992), (Graf & Mertesacker 2010), (Spitzberg 2000), and (Wiseman 2003).
  22. ^ (Messner & Schäfer 2012, p43) and (Messner & Schäfer 2012b).
  23. ^ Cf. (Messner & Schäfer 2012) and
  24. ^ Trevisani, D. 2005, p. 148-152.