Intercultural communication takes place when at least two people from different cultural backgrounds interact. Economic globalization means that countries and communities need to rely on each other to solve global problems such as environmental damage, terrorism and international immigration. These issues now affect citizens from more than just one nation, and require collaboration to find resolution. Developments in technology have made international cooperation a reality, with the internet, digital news platforms and access to affordable travel making contact with other cultures almost inevitable. Therefore, it is more critical than ever that communication between people of different backgrounds is effective. By ensuring the parties invested in any Intercultural communication emerge from the exchange with a clear understanding of the ideas discussed, as well as the other party’s position, better decisions relating tothe health, business, education and politics of more than one community can be made. For example, the recent coronavirus outbreak has forced many countries to cooperate to put measures into place to combat the spread of the disease. The differences in how nations such as China, the USA and Italy, for example, have chosen to handle their citizens, and how they have communicated with the world, pulls into focus the need for clarity and sensitivity when engaged in Intercultural communication.
Careful perception checking
Careful perception checking is the process of carefully examining one’s perceptions for accuracy, to ensure that you are interpreting a message without bias. This ensures that the lens through which a message is communicated is not coloured by unconscious cultural prejudices or preconceptions. For example, using the first name of someone much older than you in the African context might be perceived as disrespectful in certain cultures, but if one examines their perceptions before taking offence, they could take into account that this is very common in Western cultures.
Mindful listening is the practice of listening receptively, without judging, criticizing or interrupting the other person or pre-empting their answers or formulating your own response mentally while the other person is speaking. It involves being aware of internal thoughts and reactions that may impede communication, and trying to employ empathy to understand the true meaning of what is being said. For example, using mindful listening in an argument with someone from a different culture, for whom English is not a native language, would be advisable as the intense emotion and lack of vocabulary might skew the message and cause insult when none was meant. By asking for clarification and repeating back the core message, we can avoid confusion and offence.
This refers to a scenario when the best solution to a problem is sought from a multicultural group, regardless of the background of the persons involved. Each member of the group is considered equal, and no suggestion is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ due to the person’s background. Instead, a solution is judged on merit and accepted without reference to the cultural background of the suggestor. For example, Synergetic perception
Surface level culture
Surface culture refers to the superficial cultural artifacts that we observe in others of a certain culture, for example the types of clothing, art, food, dancing and music, food and drink, as well as languages and slang etc that is attributed to a certain culture or country. It is a shallow perception of what a culture embodies, informed more by popular culture and stereotypes, than a deep knowledge of what the culture entails. Because popular culture is a manufactured representation of a society or culture, created for mass-consumption and profit generation, it is an unreliable and skewed representation. For example, taking at face value the pop culture representations or generalizations of the African continent would lead other cultures to assume that many of the members of African tribes are very similar to each other, with everyone sharing a similar race, physical abilities and language. In reality, Africa is home to more than 3000 tribes, who among them speak more than 2000 languages. To avoid acting on surface level culture, we therefore need to be mindful of how we process or form perceptions of large groups of people based on “culture” and “race”. Popular culture is only one brief insight into a culture and is wholly insufficient to draw any conclusions about a culture. We should ask ourselves whether we know or have truly interacted with someone from that culture, or read pertinent and reliable sources that may inform us of the real truth behind the surface level perception. We should hope to draw from the deep/level culture instead.
Deep-level culture differences are those that represent the deeply-rooted traditions, beliefs and dvalues within us that we have been raised to belief and follow. These include myths and legends passed down from generation to generation, such as stories about the origin of the world and traditions regarding births, weddings or deaths. Deep-level culture elements range from different expectations about, for example, relationships, problem solving and communication, or relate to religion, morality and responsibility. This shared world view by members of the same cultural group is a central characteristic of that culture. Different cultures also have distinctive concepts of space, time and reality. What might seem like a long wait in one culture, could be seen as an acceptable delay in another. Deep-level values inform an awareness of what is considered “good” or “bad”, “fair” or “unfair” that influence aactions and behaviors. They can also serve as the explanatory logic that justifies verbal and nonverbal behaviour.
It is the deep-level cultural differences that tend to be the source of the most contention when interacting across cultures, as they are less evident. Although we typically notice the surface level differences when we first meet someone, we soon become aware of the deep level difference, and hopefully are able to supersede these to understand the person’s actual individual personality.