Origin Of Cross Cultural Communication English Language Essay

If I have to go and work in Japan, I will have to change and adapt myself to the culture of Japan. But in the course of this adaptation process, I will face many problems, the most important of them being a communication problem. Such communication problems caused by a difference in cultures i.e. mine and Japan’s, are known as problems in cross – cultural communication.

Meaning of Cross – Cultural Communication

Cross – cultural communication can be defined as a study of how people belonging to different cultural backgrounds communicate with each other, in ways that are both similar and different. It can also be defined as a study of how people endeavour to communicate across different cultures. Cross – cultural communication is also sometimes referred to as inter – cultural communication.

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Origin of cross – cultural communication

In earlier times, all countries used to just strive for self – sufficiency. There was no concept of trading between countries and even if there was some trading, it was done by the traders at an individual level. But advancements in economic growth and technological developments led to breaking down of cultural barriers as businesses looked for ways to expand and started seeking new markets. And it was this need for expansion that gave birth to globalisation. Globalisation refers to integrating our country’s economy with the world economy. In layman terms, globalisation means combining the markets of the different countries and making the world one huge market. Thus, people of different countries have access to products from all over the world.

Globalisation was very beneficial for companies also as it gave them new markets to sell their products. Companies opened their branches in other countries. However, with the process of globalisation leading to an increase in global trade, it was impossible to avoid the meeting, conflict and blending of the different cultures. In any organisation, irrespective of what it does (construction, public relations, transportation, production and distribution of beverages, etc.), communication is the most essential ingredient for the survival of the business. People from different cultures found it difficult to communicate not only because of the language barriers but also because of the difference in their cultural styles. e.g. in independent cultures like Western Europe, USA and Canada, an independent figure of self is dominant. People think of themselves as being independent and distinct from others as well as from the environment. However, in interdependent cultures like Southern Europe, Asian and Latin American countries, an interdependent figure of self is dominant. People are more dependent on each other and the environment. There is a greater emphasis on the inter – relatedness of the self to others and to the environment. The self is meaningful primarily in the context of social relationships, duties and roles.

In some ways, cultural difference is a bigger challenge than the language barrier. Culture can be defined as a way of life of a group of people, their values, beliefs, behaviours, the symbols that they accept unconsciously and that are passed along from one generation to the next. Culture provides people with a way of thinking, it tells them how to see, hear and interpret different words. Thus, even though two people may be speaking the same language, the words used in it may have different meanings for them both. With the cultural differences making their presence felt and the need for translators rising, the chances of the occurrence of miscommunication also increase. Thus, the need to understand these cultural difference has become even greater. Only after crossing these cultural bridges can we hope to achieve effective communication. Hence, there is a need to study cross – cultural communication.

Need for Cross Cultural Communication

Communication is a necessity anywhere and everywhere. The need for cross cultural communication is increasing every day. Given below are some reasons as to why cross – cultural communication is so important nowadays –

Exchange of ideas – Communication, as we all know, is the process of exchange of ideas and information between two or more people. Cross – cultural communication just adds culture to communication. People from different cultures need a way to communicate their ideas, feelings, etc. to each other. Cross – cultural communication provides a means for effective communication between people belonging to different cultures. The

Same words with different meanings – As mentioned above, two people might be speaking the same language but the meaning of the words might be different to both of them. e.g. in English, the word “Mansion” means a big house or a castle but in Japanese “mansion” means an apartment or a condominium. Also, “Claim” in English means to state something but in Japanese, it means “to complain”. So, when a Japanese says that he wants to make a claim, it does not mean he wants to make a statement but that he wants to make a complaint about something. Thus, an understanding of the different cultures is necessary to achieve effective cross – cultural communication.

Avoid Miscommunication – It is imperative to learn the correct meanings of the different words and to understand the different cultures so as to avoid miscommunication of any kind. Miscommunication can cause many problems and conflicts between two communicating parties. e.g. In English, “gift” means “present” but in German, “gift” means “Poison”. So, if we say that we are giving a “gift” to a German, he might get very offended thinking that we are giving him poison. So, for effective communication, it is necessary to have an understanding of the languages of the different cultures.

Make people feel valued – When we show people that we know and understand their cultures, they are immediately impressed and feel valued. They understand that we have made an effort to understand their culture. This encourages them to try and return the favour by trying to understand our culture. e.g. In India, people greet each other by folding their hands and saying “Namaste”, a Hindi word which people use to “greet the soul of the other person”. On the other hand, the Japanese greet each other by bowing to each other as a sign of giving respect to others. Another example of diversity in cultures is that of the Navajo people. They live in Latin America. To them, touching someone else without their permission means we are insulting the person. Thus, they do not like to shake hands when greeting other people but instead just fold their hands and greet others. But in countries like UK and USA, shaking hands is considered to be totally normal and is done to greet everyone.

Interdisciplinary Orientation of Cross – Cultural Communication

The main aim of cross – cultural communication is to bring together relatively unrelated areas like cultural anthropology and established areas of communication. Its core function is to establish an understanding of how people from different cultures can communicate effectively with each other. It also tries to give some guidelines, by following which people can achieve effectiveness in cross – cultural communication.

Cross – cultural communication, like many other scholarly fields, is composed of parts of various other fields. Some of these fields are psychology, business communication, study of different cultures, sociology and anthropology. The field of cross – cultural communication has also moved toward the treatment of relations belonging to different ethnicities and the study of strategies used by co-cultural populations to communicate with each other i.e. communication strategies that are used to communicate with the mainstream populations.

The study of languages other than our native language not only helps us understand what we have in common with each other as human beings but also assists us in understanding the diversity (and the reasons for it) which underlies not only the languages that we use, but also the means of organizing and constructing knowledge. Also it shows us the many, different realities in which we all live and interact with each other. This understanding has profound implications on the development of a critical awareness of our social relationships. Understanding these social relationships and the way other cultures work lays the groundwork of successful business efforts in this age of globalisation.

Language socialization can be defined as “the investigation of how language both creates and hypothecates anew, social relations in the context of culture”. It is imperative that the speaker understands the grammar of the language that he is speaking, as well as how elements of the language situated in a socially acceptable manner in order to achieve competence in communication. Human experience derives relevance from the culture in which it is obtained, so elements of language also derive their relevance from culture. An individual must make a careful consideration of the semantics and the evaluation of sign language so as to compare the various cross-cultural standards of communication. However, there are several potential problems that are faced by people while participating in language socialization. Sometimes people can indulge in over-generalization i.e. label cultures with subjective and stereotypical characterizations. Another primary concern with making a record of alternative cultural norms is that no social actor uses language in the exact way as has been recorded (as per the normative characterizations). Cross – cultural communication provides a methodology for studying how an individual uses language and other semantic activity to use and create new models of conduct and how this varies from the already recorded / documented cultural norms.

Aspects of Cross Cultural Communication –

The aspects o cross – cultural communication educate us about the various parameters that may be perceived differently by people belonging to different cultures. By keeping these parameters in mind, the chances of miscommunication can be minimised. These parameters are as follows :-

Context – Context is the most important dimension of culture. It is also very difficult to define. It was Edward T. Hall, an anthropologist, who first put forth the ideology of context in culture. He defined context as the stimuli or environment or the ambience surrounding it. Depending on how much a culture relies on these three (stimuli, environment, ambience surrounding it), he divided this “context” into two main groups :-

Low Context Cultures

High Context Cultures

Low Context Cultures – These assume that the individuals must be given a lot of background information as they know very little about what is told or being told to them.

High Context Cultures – These assume that the individual has to be given very little background information as he already possesses adequate knowledge about the subject.

Non Verbal, Oral and Written – The major factor behind improvement of cross – cultural communication is paying more attention to specific areas of communication so as to enhance the effectiveness of the same. These specific areas have been broken down into three sub – categories –

Non-Verbal Contact

Oral Contact

Written Contact

Non-Verbal Contact – This includes eye contact, facial expressions, use of space, etc Communication through body movement is known as “Kinesics”. The two most prominent ways of communication through Kinesics are facial expressions and eye contact.

Facial expressions are a language unto themselves and are universal to all cultures. Our facial expressions can tell other people whether we are happy, sad, confused, etc. Irrespective of the culture, the facial expressions of a person for expressing these emotions, essentially remains the same.

Eye contact, on the other hand, plays a key role in setting the tone between two individuals. Its meaning differs greatly in different cultures. In Western Europe and USA, eye contact conveys honesty and interest in what the other person is saying. People who avoid eye contact while speaking are thought to be lying, withholding information or lacking in self – confidence. However, in Africa, Middle East and Asian counties, maintaining eye contact is interpreted as being disrespectful and / or challenging one’s authority. People who only briefly make eye contact are thought to be courteous and respectful.

Non – verbal communication is also composed of our gestures. These gestures can be divided into five sub – categories :-




Affect Displays


Emblems – These refer to sign language (such as the “Thumbs Up” sign which is one of the most recognized symbols for “all is good”).

Illustrators – These mimic what we speak (e.g. showing how much time is left by holding up a particular number of fingers) and are sometimes used in place of verbal speech. Emblems and illustrators are the easiest ways of non – verbal communication.

Regulators – These provide a way of conveying meaning through gestures (e.g. raising up one’s hand indicates that one has some doubt(s) about what has just been said). These are more complicated than emblems and illustrators since the same regulator can have different meanings in different cultures (e.g. making a circle with one’s hand in UK means OK but in Japan, this gesture is used as a symbol for money, in France, it conveys the notion of worthlessness and in Brazil, it is taken as an insult.


Affect Displays – These reveal emotions such as happiness (a smile) or sadness (crying, lips trembling), etc.

Adaptors – These are more subtle e.g. yawning when we are bored or clenching our fists when we are angry. Adapters and affect displays are the two modes of non – verbal communication over which the individual has very little control.

The last non – verbal type of communication is “proxemics”. It involves communicating by making use of the space around us. Hall identified three kinds of space :-

Feature – Fixed Space

Semi – Fixed Feature Space

Informal Space

Feature – Fixed Space – It deals with how various cultures make use of their space on a large scale e.g. by making buildings, parks, etc.

Semi – Fixed Feature Space – It deals with how people belonging to different cultures arrange the space inside said buildings, e.g. the placement of plants, chairs, desks, etc.

Informal Space – It is the space that is most important to us e.g. how close people sit to one another, office space, etc. A production line worker has to make an appointment to visit his supervisor, however, the supervisor can come and meet the production line workers as and when he wishes.

Oral Communication – It is easier to learn than non – verbal communication. The only problem in oral communication is “Para – Language” i.e. how something is said. Even though words should convey the same meaning to everybody, the rate, volume and emphasis placed on them can completely change their meaning. e.g. In the sentence, “I would like to help you”, by placing emphasis on the words “I”, “Like”, “Help” and “You” one at a time while saying the same phrase conveys a different meaning of this same phrase all four times.

Written Communication – It is usually easier to adapt, learn and deal with in the business world (as compared to non – verbal communication) because of the simple fact that each language is unique in itself. e.g. hair and hare are pronounced in the same way but written in a different way and also have very different meanings. Another example can be of the word “minute” in the sentence – “The button was so minute that it was a minute before I found it.” Thus, written communication also must be done with great care lest we convey the wrong meaning to the recipient of the message.


International businesses are, nowadays, facing new obstacles in their internal communication structures because of major reforms brought about in the internal communication structure through acquisitions, mergers, internationalization, downsizing, etc.

Lack of investment in teaching language socialisation and cross – cultural communication training often leads to deficiency in the internal cohesion of the company. Some of the by – products of poor cross – cultural communication are poor working relations, poor retention of staff, loss of customers, internal power struggles, low productivity, lack of co – operation and loss of competitive edge by the company.

Cross – cultural communications consultants work with international companies to minimise in order to maximise cross cultural awareness and the consequences thereof among the employees. Given below are some hurdles to cross – cultural communication –

1) Lack of Communication – Even though lack of communication seems to be a very obvious problem in miscommunication, it also continues to be a major reason behind poor cross – cultural communication.

Lack of communication with staff refers not only to lack of spoken dialogue but also to access to information. e.g. Some ways of withholding information from the staff are – not informing the staff about actions and decisions that will affect their roles, not giving feedback (positive or negative), failure to properly communicate to the staff what is expected of them, etc. This eventually results in alienating the staff base which feels divided from its superiors and the management.

If managers are too selective about the information that they provide to the staff, the staff starts feeling suspicious and jealous. This in turn, leads to internal strife rather than the cohesion that the managers were striving for. A management which foes not interact physically with its staff shows that it is not interested in its staff and that it does not trust or respect the staff.

In the West, it has been observed that usually there is only downward communication. The staff reports to the managers and the managers report to senior managers and so on. Ideally, communication should br both ways (upward as well as downward). The seniors should take feedback from their subordinates. In the absence of such a system, the subordinates start feeling indifferent, estranged and sometimes even belligerent.

Lack of communication is unhealthy, irrespective of what form or situation it may occur in. Managers and companies must have awareness of why, what, to whom and how they are communicating.

2) Language

Language can be an obstacle to communication in two ways –

a) Use of inappropriate language

Language carries with it imperceptible messages and meanings transmitted through stress, tone and vocabulary. The wrong use of words and / or emotions hidden behind phrases can send messages that affect the attitude, confidence and self-perception of the staff. Use of critical language gives rise to low self – confidence of the staff (at the individual and group level) and poor interpersonal relationships whereas supportive tones and language have the opposite effect.

Body language of the speaker and the listener must also be appropriate. Body language can be said to be composed of facial expressions, eye contact, gestures, etc.Facial expressions are a language unto themselves and are universal to all cultures. Our facial expressions can tell other people whether we are happy, sad, confused, etc. Irrespective of the culture, the facial expressions of a person for expressing these emotions, essentially remains the same.

Eye contact, on the other hand, plays a key role in setting the tone between two individuals. Its meaning differs greatly in different cultures. In Western Europe and USA, eye contact conveys honesty and interest in what the other person is saying. People who avoid eye contact while speaking are thought to be lying, withholding information or lacking in self – confidence. However, in Africa, Middle East and Asian counties, maintaining eye contact is interpreted as being disrespectful and / or challenging one’s authority. People who only briefly make eye contact are thought to be courteous and respectful.

b) Foreign Languages

These days, companies may have indigenous speakers of over 50 different languages all under one roof.  It is important, in such cases to establish one common language for the entire office, whether it be French, r Spanish or English. It is not necessary that this common language must be some language that is common to everyone; it can be the language of the country in which the company is operating or the language spoken and understood by the majority of the employees. In the absence of such a language, everyone will keep speaking but no one will understand anything, leading to chaos in the company. Once the common language is established, all the employees should only converse in this language. This avoids exclusion of staff who cannot understand other languages. The company should also ensure that all its employees are able to converse in the common language. Language tuition should be regarded as a necessity, not a luxury.


International businesses equipped with a highly diverse workforce in terms of cultural background and nationality face challenges due to the differences in business practices, ethics, belief system, values, expectations, behaviour and etiquette. Consider the following conversation –

A soda marketer was glumly sitting at the bar. His friend approaches and asks, “Why so serious?”

He replies, “I created this left to right comic strip for a campaign. It showed a famished man crawling across the desert who finds a bottle of soda, chugs it down, and walks away with a cheerful smile. Sales tanked after it ran in the Middle East.”


“Everyone read it from right to left!”

Now, normally this would make a very good joke. But this is an excellent example of how culture can affect communication. Had the soda marketer been aware that people in the Middle East read from right to left, he could have planned the advertisement accordingly and his business would not have suffered.

Cross cultural differences can have a negative impact on a business in a number of ways, whether it may be on team cohesion or on the productivity of the staff. In such multicultural companies, objective help may be needed through a cross – cultural consultant who will be able to show individuals and teams how to manage communication and work together in a more productive and cohesive manner.

4) Company Culture

Company culture refers to the internal culture of a firm in terms of how it is managed. e.g. Does it view its different departments i.e. Administration, Human Resources, Sales, Production, Accounts, etc. as open systems or closed systems? A closed system is one in which there is a total lack of synergy between the sales and the production department due to the absence of communication lines and structure between them both. A consequence of such compartmentalization is that managers of the various departments have a tendency to become territorial. This is eventually harmful for the organization as its objectives can only be achieved if these departments work together as one unit rather than start functioning as separate, individual units. Thus, it is vital that team building, team spirit and team work are encouraged so as to create open systems.

Such measures are particularly valid in mergers and joint ventures wherein co – operation between two or more companies requires their total commitment to an open system.

Understandably most companies are mainly focused on the strategic and financial side of company operations. International businesses are now realising that many of their business problems have their roots in man – management and communication.

Stereotyping – . It refers to putting someone or something in a certain category based on our own and / other’s experiences and opinions. Stereotyping has a negative impact on communication. It inhibits communication as it alters our perception and results in us making pre-selected interpretations thus hindering an objective understanding of the communication by us.

Perception of information – Another challenge of cross – cultural communication is how the communication is perceived. In this case, attention is mainly given to body language. Different cultures have different ways of interpreting body language. e.g. in the Chinese culture, waving at a person is intended to indicate to that person to come where you are unlike in the western culture where it is used as a gesture to say goodbye. Such a small gesture can result in miscommunication due to the cross – cultural differences. Thus, such gestures should be carefully observed and learned by the speaker as well as the listener.

Behavioural Constraints – Each culture has its own set of laws on proper behaviour that affect both verbal and non – verbal communication. Such behavioural constraints include making eye contact. Where, in some cultures (Asian, African, etc.), it is interpreted as a lack of respect especially when addressing the elderly, in others (like that of USA, UK) it shows that the person is honest and has confidence in himself. Other behavioural constraints include how close one stands to another person while talking to him / her, the tonal variation, etc. All these differences in behavioural constraints make cross – cultural communication difficult and ineffective.


Strategies to make cross- cultural communication effective are given below :-

1) Flexibility – Flexibility in character is an important strategy to make cross – cultural communication effective. An individual has to deal with different people belonging to many different cultures. One should not be rigid and stick to one’s normal character, way of speech, etc. The individual has to change according to the culture he is working in so as to make the communication more effective. One should be flexible while communicating, i.e. people should change their way of speech and behaviour according to the character of other party and make the other party join in on the conversation so as to facilitate a smooth flow of the same. This will also help in creating a cool and friendly atmosphere between communicating parties. If an individual is flexible, he can change / adapt according to the situation.

2) Honesty – This is very much needed in cross – cultural communication. Being honest will make the communication better and successful. If one person is honest and the other person is not, the communication will not proceed in a smooth manner. Honest communication also strengthens the relationship between the communicating parties, especially if they belong to different cultures. While participating in cross – cultural communication, both parties should be honest in what they are saying, otherwise they will not get the desired result. An honest communication can result in a perfect deal for both the parties involved in the communication. If an important business matter is being discussed, honesty shown by both parties will go a long way in making some important and successful decisions and deals.

3) Listening – Listening skills are an important part of cross – cultural communication. A person who has low concentration and poor listening skills will be unable to achieve effectiveness in cross – cultural communication. Cross – cultural communication involves dealing with people belonging to different cultures wherein importance is given only to the communication process without engaging in any other activities. An individual should be calm and quiet while listening to what the other person is saying so as to facilitate a smooth communication process.

4) Mutual Respect – Respecting each other is an important strategy of making make cross – cultural communication effective. Respect should be given in all talks and forms in cross – cultural communication. Both parties should give equal respect, in all their talks and opinions, to each other. In case of someone having a different opinion, the individual should respect the other person’s opinion even though it might not agree with his own opinion. An individual should not be rigid about his opinions and should keep an open mind and give equal opportunity to the other party also to give their opinions on the subject and if an agreement is reached, a decision can be made, thus making the communication effective between the parties belonging to different cultures.

5) Understanding each other – While communicating with people belonging to different cultures, understanding each other is an important skill to make cross – cultural communication effective. Asking questions helps in getting a better idea and understand what the other person is saying.. A better understanding of the situation, the other party, their opinions and suggestions will give more confidence in tackling the problem and finding its solution. Both communicating parties should have skills in recognizing complexity of the talks and decisions. This will help in a better settlement of the matter and that too, without any conflicts.

6) Building Self – Awareness and Confidence – Both parties should be self aware for making cross – cultural communication a success. Self – awareness can only be developed by dealing with people belonging to different cultures and backgrounds. People should think twice before making any statement or decision. Self-awareness can be developed by asking others questions about oneself and getting the answers to the same. This helps us in getting a better idea about ourselves. Self-awareness also increases confidence in making cross – cultural communication effective and successful.

7) Avoid Stereotyping – Stereotyping inhibits communication. Individual should keep an open mind while communicating with other people. He should not entertain any pre – conceived notions about the other party as these will cloud his judgement and decisions and lead to conflicts. Keeping an open mind will help the individual to think objectively and make accurate decisions.

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