Communication on any level can be complicated. It can be even more complex and difficult if people come from different backgrounds and cultures. The complexity arises from understanding that language used for communication is comprised of two separate components: language (langue) and speech (parole) (Nanda, 125). Language, even though affected by culture, exists independently from a person, while it is the speech that carries the message beyond symbolism of language. Anthropologists, sociologists and sociolinguists are all interested in studying communication.
Every language is comprised of relatively small number of basic sounds, various combinations of which are used to carry the meaning (Rosman, 64). Besides words and sounds, there are also nonverbal expressions that affect or even alter the meaning of the words spoken. Words spoken and nonverbal behavior that accompany the words comprise together the language.
All the capable humans communicate through the language; however, the speech goes beyond simply biological function of symbolic sound expressions. It often influenced by and reflects the speakers’ ethnic background, where they come from geographically, their social class and standing and other aspects of their life.
Language and culture go hand-in-hand and are like two sides to a coin. Language, being a part of the culture, simultaneously is a medium through which culture is communicated. (Rosman, 46). There are thousands of potential differences that may exist between two cultures. Each peculiarity and difference has a potential to be misunderstood by unprepared communication participant. Cultural differences occur because cultures develop within different climates and geographies; they are affected by different history, religion and economy and many other factor. (Gudykunst, 74)
Some anthropologists refer to cultural communication as to a “process through which cultural difference is expresses and constructed” (Gudykunst, 35). It is filled with certain specifics, particular to a culture. Therefore, two people from different cultures may have difficulties communicating without knowledge of those peculiarities and differences.
Intercultural communication often presents a challenge. Problems presented by language barriers might also be augmented by differences in nonverbal behavior. It is more difficult to interpret a nonverbal behavior of people from the other culture, than to understand the words they speak (Gudykunst, 74).
The Cross Cultural Communication training video presents a perfect sample of the difficulties and differences that are involved in the communication between people from different cultures. It also shows perfect example how detrimental the lack of knowledge of those can be.
The construction manager cannot retrieve building construction equipment that has been brought to the port, but is stuck there. Terry Jones, a British engineer, might have the best intentions trying to solve problem by giving commands to the two managers. Being superior, she carries the responsibility and is trying to go about solving problem as she would in England. However, the way she speaks to her managers is both insulting as well as unproductive. As Miguel points out, there are several problems that are involved in the communication, and all of them stem from culture peculiarities. Miguel does not want to disappoint his boss; therefore, he avoids giving direct answers to Terry’s general questions. He confesses that he tried to tell her how the problem can be solved, but she failed to listen, so he will not bring the subject up again. The culture taught him to avoid confrontation and problems. He does it by “going in circles”. He admires Terry Jones; however, he feels she is not trying to understand the country she is working in and its people. It seems the communication came to a dead end. The communication with Carlos also does not go smooth. In fact, Terry offends him but generalizing about Latin Americans. Carlos is proud to be a part of his nation and does not want to be compared to others or judges on their account. He also points out the importance of nonverbal behavior.
The second example, presented in the trailer to the movie Outsourced starts, also shows how important communication is, and, how by learning cultural differences, the success might be achieved. When Todd is transfers to India, he has hard time relating to people he has to work with. He finds them odd. He also tries to impose his culture on them, telling they need to learn about Americans and the way of life that he deeply misses. There are many things he cannot understand, and those things make his life almost unbearable. It is only when he is “giving in” and tries to accept things the way they are, the values and customs of the country he is forced to be in that he achieves success.
In my interactions with people from various countries I found it helpful not to focus on the culture differences, but to look for similarities. Also, it is not possible to learn everything about any given person, a country or culture during the short encounters. It takes time, patience and desire to learn. Therefore acceptance, tolerance, courtesy and curiosity are very important to prevent potential cross-culture communication problems.