Many authors in the field of intercultural communication have presented various views on why intercultural communication is often so challenging. Many factors make a contribution towards intercultural challenges. A sample of them is analyzed below:
Stereotyping. Stereotyping cannot be ignored as it makes one to expect what may not come forth either because it is false or it does not happen with anyone. Lynn (ttt) gives a sample of what stereotype is:
- Old people are crabby and like to complain
- Italians love to use their hands while speaking
- African America ns are loud
- Boys do not cry
Stereotype statements according to Lippman (1922) as quoted by Lynn (ttt) are, “pictures in our heads” (Lynn p. 99). Lynn (ttt) argues that these stereotypes create perceptions about people. These perceptions are not necessarily true and affect the way people are viewed. Having a wrong perception of a person will general lead to wrong interpretation of information in a wrong (Lynn ttt). If we use the above example, just because African Americans are stereotyped to be loud, it will not be an indication that if they keep quite then they are angry or shy or sick etcetera. This implies that having wrong perception of people based on imagined or assumed stereotypes will often lead to wrong interpretations of behaviors. Lynn (ttt) also brings in the issue of misinterpretation of verbal and non-verbal behaviors. Different cultures make use of different non-verbal behaviors. If these behaviors are not well understood they will often lead to wrong perception and sending of wrong messages and equally interpreting them in the wrong way.
Samovar, Porter and McDaniel (ttt) take comprehensive approach to the issues of intercultural communication challenge. They believe that if culture is split into its components and the components analyzed then the issue of intercultural communication challenges will have been exposed. They classify these components as:
- Patterns of cognition
- Verbal behaviors
- Nonverbal behaviors
- Influence of the context
Samovar, Porter and McDaniel (ttt) argues that the issue of perception matters on how we relate with people. As seen above, perception may be triggered by the stereotype which does exist about a given culture. It can also depend on how people view the world with respect to themselves. Samovar, Porter and McDaniel (ttt) argues that, “perception is an important aspect of intercultural communication, because people from dissimilar cultures frequently perceive the world differently” (p. 13). Our perception of the things around us is determined by beliefs, values, and attitudes. Samovar, Porter and McDaniel (ttt) define belief as, “individually held subjective ideas about the nature of an object or event” (p. 13). These, the authors believe that they affect our behaviors. Values are defined as, “important things held in life and include issues such as morality, ethics, and aesthetics” (Samovar, Porter and McDaniel p. 13). The authors these are the basics which determine people relate at the intercultural platform:
Someone from a culture that places a high value on harmonious social relations, such as Japan, will likely employ an indirect communication style. In contract, a U.S. America can be expected to use a more direct style, because frankness, honesty, and openness are valued. (Samovar, Porter and McDaniel 13)
Samovar, Porter and McDaniel (ttt) also brings in the concept of world view which they simply define as, “what forms people’s orientation towards such philosophical concepts as God, the universe, nature, and the like” (p. 14). They argue that usually world view is deeply engrossed in a person’s psyche and normally operates at the subconscious level. This becomes a problem at the intercultural level especially because of the issue of conflicting world views comes into play. These different world views often lead to differing cognitive patterns.
Cognitive patterns. Culture has a big influence on cognitive thinking patterns. These patterns include the reasoning pattern and the approach used by people to solve issues and challenges. According to the works of Nisbett (2003) quoted by Samovar, Porter and McDaniel (ttt), “Northeast Asians (Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans) employ a holistic thinking pattern, whereas Westerners use a linear, cause-and-effect model” (p. 14). These strongly come into play when intercultural communication is in question:
Thought patterns common to a culture influence the way individuals communicate and interact with each other. However, what is common in one culture may be problematic in another culture. In Japanese-U.S. business negotiations, the Japanese have a tendency to reopen issues that the U.S. side considers resolved. U.S. negotiators find this practice to be frustrating and time consuming, believing that once a point has been agreed upon, it is completed. From Japanese perspective, however, new topics can have an influence on previously discussed points. (Samovar, Porter and McDaniel 14)
Verbal Behavior. The use verbal language is quite significant in that it enable to great proportion the passage of communication between people. Verbal communication becomes a problem when interracial communication comes into play. Taking into consideration take language is just a set of symbols that people in a given culture agrees upon to bring out some meaning. Different culture use different symbols for different meaning. At times the same words or/and symbols might be used to mean different meanings. When people come together the assumption made is that whatever symbol one of them uses will be understood by the other. This often leads to misunderstanding of messages. Still further there are symbols which might be offensive to one culture but to another culture the same symbols might mean nothing as shown below:
Through culture, we learn which nonverbal behavior is proper for different social interactions. But what is appropriate and polite in one culture may be disrespectful or even insulting in another culture. People engaging in intercultural communication, therefore should try to maintain a continual awareness of how body behavior may influence the interaction. (Samovar, Porter and McDaniel, p. 15)
Another issue which brings intercultural challenges is the contextual issue.
Contextual influence. Contextual influence is another big challenge in the issue of intercultural communication. Different cultures have got different rules which apply top different situations in different manners. What might be considered as appropriate in one culture might not necessarily correct in another culture. For instance in the U.S. a funeral is viewed as a solemn event but for the case of Irish it is different as it viewed as a boisterous gathering of family and friends. In Germany, the restaurants are usually subdued with the customer conversing in low tones. This is completely the opposite of Spain whereby restaurants are usually loud. There is a need to understand the context under which a given communication is taking place. Due to these differences there is a need that parties in a conversation become sensitive to each other otherwise this will cause untold pain unknowingly. In such cases difficulties are known to arise which goes a long way to negate the efforts of effective interaction.