In the last blog, I introduced how we conduct effective communication in our daily lives. Here, it is the second part of communication skills, mainly focusing on intercultural communication. Today, we live in a global village, and we might have colleagues and friends from different countries and cultures. Sometimes the difference between cultures might be challenging when working in a diverse environment.
What is culture?
The definition of culture is very broad; for example, the definition of culture from Wikipedia is that culture is an umbrella term that encompasses the social behavior, institutions, and norms found in human societies, as well as the knowledge, beliefs, arts, laws, customs, capabilities, and habits of the individuals in these groups. Culture often originated from or is attributed to a specific region or location. In my aspect, I prefer the definition as “Basic truths about identity and relationships, time and space, ways of thinking and learning, ways of working and organizing, and ways of communicating.” In other words, cultural differences would highly affect communication efficiency in a diverse environment. We need to understand cultural differences better before we initiate conversations with people from different countries/cultures to minimize misunderstanding.
Culture is like an onion, layer by layer.
Culture is like an onion composed of multiple layers. In the surface layer, we might think that food, holiday, music, language, art, and fashion are the culture; however, if we dig into the inner layer, we might find that other components represent the culture, for example, eye contact, personal space, body language, manner, friendship, gender, family role or cooperation/ competition. All these combine into one culture. The only way to understand a culture is actually to experience it. For instance, if we would like to learn about Italian culture, the best way is to live in Italy and hang out with local people.
Variables in Cultures
Cultures have several variables, such as context, information flow, time, power and equality, language…etc. These variables would allow us to communicate effectively with different cultures, so we need to learn these variables to avoid misunderstanding.
Context is the additional words in the communication to express the meaning. Moreover, high context is when people would add extra words to decorate the sentence and make it complicated, and low context is when people express their meanings with straightforward sentences. For example, “I don’t like your product.” is a low-context way of communication. Still, in high context, ” You have a great product with beautiful design. However, I have a limited budget. I cannot afford your product.”. The low context sentence is simple, but the high context style requires people to read between the lines carefully. Here, I could divide the countries into three levels of context. Generally, Germany, the US, UK, and Scandinavia are in the low level of context; France, Spain, Italy, Central/South America, Greece, Russia, and India are in the middle level of context; Japan, China, Korea, Arab Countries, Africa are in the high level of context.
Information flow is how the information is exchanged. Similar to context, some countries prefer to share information indirectly, for example, Japan, South Asia, and China. But people from Germany, Russia, and eastern Europe prefer a direct way to exchange information.
We live in a global village, and the diverse environment is the trend. Therefore, intercultural communication will be required to become a successful leader.