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At first we should ask us, why is this topic so important?
Many consultants, authors and writers of textbooks discuss the need to understand other cultures because we live in a ‘global village’. In 1870 Jules Verne wrote ‘Around the world in eighty days’; astronauts can now make the trip in under 80 minutes, while the Internet user does it in a mere eight seconds. The media has given us a taste for the countries, and the cost of modern air travel is within the budget of many people, so we are traveling more regularly than ever before. Another reason why intercultural communication is important, is that Australians are living in one of the most multicultural societies in the world. But not only here, overall in the world are places which are marked of multicultural influence, two of the most affected areas are universities and hospitals.
The right behavior in front of different people can bring you business relationships as well as friendships. However, with the process of globalization, especially the increasing of global trade, it is unavoidable that different cultures will meet, conflict, and blend together. People from different culture find it is hard to communicate not only due to language barrier but also affected by culture styles. For instance, in independent cultures, such as in the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, an independent figure of self is dominant. This independent figure is characterized by a sense of self relatively distinct from others and the environment. In interdependent cultures, usually identified as Asian as well as many Latin American, African, and Southern European cultures, an interdependent figure of self is dominant.
In some degree, the effect brought by cultural difference override the language gap. This culture style difference contributes to one of the biggest challenges for cross-culture communication. Effective communication with people of different cultures is especially challenging. Cultures provide people with ways of thinking—ways of seeing, hearing, and interpreting the world. The same words can mean different things to people from different cultures, even when they speak the “same” language. If the languages are different, and translation has to be used to communicate, the potential for misunderstandings increases. People from different countries and places in the world are acting in some situations very different. One reason for this is the different history and world view of their countries, this includes values, beliefs and religion. Another is the socialization, including education, enculturation and personal growth. Language and non-verbal communication are also important factors. In the language there are some subtleties, which can bring up big problems.
Language may be used for many reasons, but there is general consensus that language has at least two main functions: an information and a relationship function. Different cultures give different weightings to the importance of one function over the other. For example, Japanese culture places great importance on the use of language to convey aspects of feeling and relationship, while Western culture emphasizes its use to convey information. There is a tradition in parts of Asia of communication without language, strongly influenced by Zen Buddhism. In Japanese, Korean and Chinese it is believed that nothing important can be communicated solely through verbal language. This is in stark contrast to Western traditions of language usage, where the effective use of language is seen as highly beneficial and is often the basis on which students pass exam, managers are promoted and politicians are elected. In intercultural meetings, the silence of the Asian person is often misinterpreted as a negotiation trick or a device to gain extra bargaining power, whereas it may simply be an indication of contemplation and reflection.
Another problem point are the different religions. For example, you are leader of a company or a department and you want to invite everyone to a little celebrations. Maybe a barbeque or a soccer game. What are important factors you have to look at? If you have Muslims co workers, you should think about that they don’t eat pork meat or usually don’t drink alcohol. Of course there can also be a vegetarian. Or think about strict Christians, they are not allowed to celebrate, work or making sports on Sunday.
Very interesting is a comparision of intercultural behaviours in Australia and other cultures. Australians try to make friends very quickly and regards their business acquaintances as possible friends. Other cultures may not make friends easily. They may view all business acquaintances with a degree of social distance. Also the use of time is different. Australians prefer to be on time and quickly get down to business in a meeting. Other cultures may view time flexible. They may start meetings slowly, with social discourse. Wherever in the world you are for work or for holiday, there are some rules of behavior which seems not that important in your point of view. But other people will feel offended or discriminated. It is all about where and how you are grown up, which school you have visited, which traditions you learned or which attitude you have. So try to learn more about other cultures, watch their behavior, think about what you should do and what not. It can bring you a big advantage in business and many friends in private as well as less problems in public.
Thank you for listening, I hope you will remember some parts of my presentation when you are the next time in a foreign country. The information I used for this presentation are out of the book “Communication as Professionals” by Raymond Archee, Myra Gurney & Terry Mohan.