Monday, June 29, 2009

Intercultural communication


With the internet and the facilities that brought people of different cultural backgrounds together, the issue of culture has started to appear on the surface of every situation involving the interaction of people from different backgrounds. To understand what has become to be known as intercultural communication, we need to clearly define the issue of culture and what the concept of culture brings to the table when people talk and try to make sense of what is being conveyed.Clearly, the language plays one of the most important roles in communication; it serves as a vehicle that holds speakers’ ideas, beliefs, feelings, conceptions and above all cultural traditions and issues



Language here comes to announce how different words can mean different things to people of different cultural backgrounds. Other than words, different people can also interpret gestures differently. One striking example is the colors; different colors can be related to different feelings and emotions to different cultures. To compare Arabic to English, yellow in Arabic is always related to sickness and it is not a color of hope or love. Definitely, speakers of other cultures may find yellow a color of hope and they may relate it to good health and wellness which the complete opposite for the Arabs.The same situation appears with green which refers to envy in English while it can never be related to being envy in Arabic or any other culture. I myself have found it very difficult to relate green to being envy and I was surprised when I first heard it as “someone is green with envy”

It is interesting when people of different cultures get to communicate and try to make sense of each other’s speech. It seems that people try to use every single clue to get to the conclusion, the context of situation, the tone, the speakers’ voice and gestures all come into play and will help better understand what it is being communicated. However, the previously built misconception or stereotypes will always block that stream of understanding. It is believed that people will always try to think and build certain conceptions about the others before trying to meet them. These stereotypes seem to play a major role in the interpretations of every speech act. I found it difficult to think of a person from Brazil who does not know how to play soccer well. It is stuck in the back of my mind that Brazilians are great soccer player and I have always imagined myself if I get the chance to talk to a Brazilian, I will definitely ask him about football. These characteristics that are attributed to specific people before even getting to know them are called stereotypes.

Another issue, which hinders the process of understanding somebody from another culture, is “Prejudice” which is an unfair disposition towards something. It is unjust to try to generalize an issue based on one instance. For me, I do not feel comfortable dealing with people with heavy tattoos and piercing because American movies have always depicted those tattooed and pierced people as criminals or dirty police officers. Now, I am trying to work on this issue and I am trying to get myself accustomed to the idea of dealing with those people with some ease.

All these issues come into play when somebody would like to build an understanding of a speech said by somebody belonging to a different culture. It is important to get rid of these stereotypes and prejudices and start from scratch and try to build our understanding based on individuals who represent themselves rather than their whole community. Moreover, It is essential to develop some kind of inner sense that would make us differentiate between what can be generalized and what can not from the one situation we are facing. The world is getting smaller and smaller with the new technology and it seems that we should really start to see the world as a small village where everybody knows everybody else.



  1. This is one topic which I consider to be the most interesting because of the amount of emotion and personal involvement tied to this subject. Our culture depicts who we are. It’s our religion, beliefs, values, morals, behavior, language, preferences, and every other aspect of our lives. This is one reason why cultural conflicts can become so massive. Cultural insults and conflicts directly oppose everything we represent which is why there is so much personal attachment to these issues. There will always be some assumptions. People will always have certain expectations based on cultural difference. The important part is not to let these assumptions consume you. Even if these assumptions are based on personal experience, all individuals are different and you should thoroughly get to know someone in order to form a valid opinion.

    It’s very interesting to hear other’s opinions and experiences when it comes to different cultures. I think we have all experienced moments when we felt culturally different even in our home countries and cities. There are countless cultures and subcultures that we interact with daily and there will always be some situation where an individual will feel out of place, even if that feeling is 100% self imposed. This is where the importance of intercultural communication comes into play, both professionally and personally. If you’re conducting business you need to do your research. You should be aware of the customs and practices of the country which your doing business.

    My experiences

    Every day I interact with people who have different cultural backgrounds. In some cases they are only minor difference like appearance or musical preferences. Other times there are major differences like language. All of these create opportunities for miscommunication. The most important lesson that should be learned to prevent this is to consider other’s feelings. Whenever I have to work with individuals from different cultures I always try to make sure that lines of communication are wide open. I want to make sure that everyone has input into the decisions. I try to be patient, understanding, and supportive while maintaining my personal morals and ethics and I hope that others would do the same.

    Suggested Links

  2. An Ever-More-Global Business World

    In my opinion this topic in a great end of our blog during the summer term in Organizational Communication. Mouhammad gives an excellent overview about the different parts which belongs to, especially the interactions of people and the different backgrounds. If I hear and speak about intercultural communication the primarily question which will arises me is how I can handle this diversity.

    When people think of diversity, they may think first of ethnicity and race, and then gender; however, diversity is much broader than that. Diversity is otherness or those human qualities that are different from our own and outside the groups to which we belong, yet present in other individuals and groups. Dimensions of diversity include, but are not limited to: age, ethnicity, ancestry, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, religious beliefs, parental status, and work experience.

    It's important to understand how these dimensions affect performance, motivation, success, and interactions with others. Institutional structures and practices that have presented barriers to some dimensions of diversity should be examined, challenged, and removed.

    Therefore I think it’s absolute necessary a part of our education has to be contact with fellow-students from other countries. So we can learn about the behavior and the business etiquette in front of our projected job. Very important is the education about other countries and languages if you raise the hierarchical level in a company. Nowadays it’s not longer enough to work national. The globalization of business makes the knowledge about intercultural communication necessary.

    About my one experience – I’m glad about the study in the USA. During my MBA-study in Germany I’ve to insert some courses in a foreign country. I’m convinced that these educations will help me to upgrade my management skills. There is an other example about my workplace in my financial institution. Before I went to the USA for studying I have got a foreign trainee from Syria. He takes an MBA program at the university in my hometown. During his courses he worked on special assignments in my department for about one year. This was a win-win-situation for both of us. I have learned much about him and vice versa. This was an excellent experience which I would not like to miss any more.

    My article based on a currently "real-world" example and complement my comments. The topic was pick up in an article from “The New York Times”, published September 25rd, 2008. Complete in electronic form – the link will give the whole article.

    “The Cross-Cultural Classroom"

    Additional I found an interesting article about Cross-Cultural Training in “The New York Times”, published January 24rd, 2004. This article is a little bit old, but it points at a simple way how someone can prepare for a change in the culture in another country and how many things have to be taken into account.

    “Cross-cultural training: How much difference does it really make?"


    After today's class, it is safe to assume that intercultural communication is very important when dealing in international affairs. We learned that it's wise to study and do your homework before going to that country to get a sense of the culture. And when working in business, one should be aware of the business customs/practices that are present in the country they plan to do business. After the class discussion, I learned how informal business customs in the United States have become, and I feel that the knowledge I know now refutes the "Ignorant American" stereotype.


    I have never been immersed in any culture other than my own. There are differences among the ethnic cultures in the United States, and I've only had the privilege to travel to Canada and the Bahamas. Both cultures resemble the cultures of the United States very much, but the only thing I noticed that was different was the way they do business. I recently just visited the Bahamas, and the people were very friendly. Their business was very informal quite like our own, however their hospitality is above average overall and very valuable to their economy. Ninety percent of the Bahamas GDP comes from tourism, so there are many culinary and etiquette schools located at various locations throughout the islands. I noticed, that their customer service at every hotel was never short of perfection. The foods were a blend of many different ethnic foods from the Caribbean and southern United States. I noticed that upper-level management spoke english more clearly than everyone else. They're official language is english, however, the locals' accents were really thick and they spoke really fast similar Jamaicans. After the first few days of being in Nassau, I picked up on the dialect, and I kind of developed a better ear. It was helpful when navigating town and it kept me from getting ripped off for purchases and cab fare. This was the first time I've ever had close interaction with natives in their own country to witness the differences first-hand.;col1

  4. We live in a world that is increasingly interconnected because of a global economy and technologies that allow us to easily communicate with people all over the world. Communities, especially in urban and university environments, are made up of people from many cultures. To live and work in harmony in an intercultural community, we need to respect each others’ customs and beliefs, celebrate our similarities and appreciate our differences.

    I really enjoyed working on the research for the intercultural activity, hearing the information about other countries from the members of the panel, and engaging in discussion about business culture, customs and communication. We all agreed that there are a lot of differences in business customs, but also some commonalities that draw us together such as family, interest in sports, and getting to know each other by sharing meals and engaging in simple conversation.

    Personal Experiences

    We have entertained international students in our home many times over the years. Last semester I hosted a get together with some ALI students who I’d worked with as a conversation partner. I also attended a Halloween party the department hosted. The students had expressed a lot of interest in our holidays and had great fun dressing in costumes. What I’ve found in dealing with students from other cultures is that, even though we have different customs, we all have the same desire to succeed and achieve happiness in life for ourselves and those we love. The most important thing I’ve discovered is that stereotypes, prejudices, and misunderstandings so often disappear when you share one on one with people from other cultures. Sometimes we take what we see portrayed in the media about particular cultures and assume a collective character. Taking the time to interact on a more personal level helps to dispel our misconceptions and enriches our lives.

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  5. Mohammad gave a detailed explanation of Intercultural communication and I understand that it covers up alost all the points we discussed in the class.

    What is culture and why understanding it is necessary?

    We live in a world which is full of people who have different cultures and even in one culture one can find embedded several different subcultures. Each individual or a group carries a definite pattern of behavior which can be seen in their ways of thinking, feeling and doing things that have been learnt throughout their lifetime. Thus in order for an effective communication and in turn to do business effectively it is very important to have clear understanding of one’s culture.

    According to Patrice Simpson “There is no doubt as to the many cultural groups around the world with different patterns of behavior, values and rules. These conventions are culture specific i.e. different cultures develop different rules for achieving the same task and people attach different meanings to the same events. The same action is thus evaluated in different terms for example, spitting on the streets and sneezing into a handkerchief and putting it into a pocket.” Source: For example asking someone about the well being of his family is considered courtesy in India but the same is considered very bad in Czech Republic.

    Culture is not limited to a geographical region one can find different culture in different organizations as well. The culture of IBM would definitely be very much different from that of HP or DELL. Thus an employee transiting from IBM to HP or DELL must learn and adapt the culture of that particular organization or otherwise it would be very difficult for him to survive.


  6. Life Experience Example

    I would like to cite an instance from my family hardware business, recently my father has acquired a hardware company in U.K. and thus we have to handle all the operations of the company based at U.K. Our first plan of action was to send executives from India in order to make sure that the office is functioning well and profitable. In order to do so we have to face many challenges such as hiring and training of the executives, explaining and making them understand the U.K. culture. I believe in saying when in Rome do as Romans do and one must not try to impose one’s culture onto another. Say for example you have come to India unaware of the India’s tradition and its culture; you would certainly have a different perception about it and would find it difficult to adjust to the new environment. So it is essential that one readily prepare its employees and that’s exactly what my company did, we hired a PR specialist and they surveyed the cultural differences between U.K. and India and came out with Do’s and Don’ts. The PR consultant then held a week long seminar for our executives teaching and stressing on every single piece of information such as conversation etiquettes, dinning etiquettes, various ethics, and specially how to avoid, handle, and resolve conflicts. I would like to point out some of the very interesting points out of that seminar, in India people show too much courtesy when you would visit them for some work, you could feel like executives are not paying attention to what you have to say rather offering you with tea, coffee, and even meals. They believe in saying “Guest is God” while in U.K. you have to have a suitable appointment and your meeting should be short and straight to the point. Furthermore, in India expect executives to be late but this thing does not work in U.K. as 10 a.m. means precisely 10 a.m. and I learnt a very interesting point, if the job finishes at 5 p.m. then everyone just finishes off the work at 5 p.m. whether the job in hand is completed or not the executives at U.K. will not work after 5 p.m. while in India executives usually finishes off the work in hand and usually works late after the actual office hours. Also another major difference was about dress, in India employees are always expected to wear a proper formal dress but executives should not be surprised to see U.K. executives wearing jeans and T-shirts. Indeed organizations should train and educate their employees about the cultural difference in order to make sure they get the most out of them.

    I found an interesting article about intercultural communication and strategies for effective intercultural negotiations.

    Video: Who needs Intercultural Awareness?


    It is virtually a given that in today’s global business world that a person will have to at some point deal with an international constituent. The economy we live in is truly global. It is imperative that today’s business leaders be prepared and willing to deal openly and honestly with international markets and people. If a person is never fortunate enough to travel and do business abroad, there is a great chance that one will be doing business with an international constituent here in the United States.

    I think Mouhammad makes a great point about language barriers and the complexity encompassing this area. I have a few business experiences in the past abroad, and one current international business venture at the present.


    A little more than ten years ago, I had an opportunity of lifetime to work abroad in an engineering internship for an oil company in Venezuela. I served the company in short internship over the course of a summer. I was excited and anxious at the same time anticipating the opportunity, because I had never been to a foreign country before. I was very fortunate because my fiancé at the time (now my wife) was from Venezuela and was able to help prepare me for the trip by teaching me about common customs and helping me brush up on my Spanish. I had taken Spanish in high school and little in college, and felt that I could read and write the language fairly well. The most difficult thing was by far the language barrier. Although many people in the company could speak English, Spanish was spoken about 99% of the time. Also, Venezuelan people love to socialize and throw parties and gatherings, and I was expected to attend a great deal of after work social functions and mingle in the crowds. It is a very warm, open, and easy going culture. They do take work very seriously, but they also value fun and social leisure as much. Business customs and dress are practically the same as in the United States. Men and women alike wear formal suits to formal meetings, lunches, business presentations, audits, and other important business events. However, a more casual dress was acceptable during normal work days. Shaking hands was the common custom when greeting men and women alike during business meetings, but hugging, kissing each other on the cheeks, and back patting, was common in after work social gatherings. Traditional food and drink were severed at social gatherings, and it was considered courteous to eat foods served to you. It was also not uncommon for dancing and light social drinking to be a part of every social gathering.

    To be honest, I was completely lost during the first few weeks there. I was completely immersed in the Spanish language, thinking to myself on a daily basis about how frustrating it was, but all of a sudden I was able to catch on and understand more and more Spanish as the weeks went on. I admit the experience was easier for me because my fiancé (now my wife) was there and able to coach me, but I still worked hard to overcome the language barrier. I found the experience more pleasant and fulfilling once I began to understand Spanish more fluently. I was able to see how Venezuelan people conduct business and social life. International markets are indeed vast and the business potential is enormous. It would not surprise me if every American based business, big or small, was somehow involved with international constituents in the near future.

    Here is a link to a great website about Venezuelan business and cultural customs

  8. Detailed description and good videos by Mouhammad. In today’s time of globalization one country is as much depended on world as the world is depended on that country. We can not stick to one place for business, we have to go across the borders. Dealing with another country might be challenging because of cultural difference. But people do get success if they mould themselves as per the culture of that country. Lets look at the examples of multinational companies like, Coca-Cola & Pepsi who altered their taste and did marketing as per country needs, Automobile companies like Ford and GM designed their cars as per country needs … and so on.

    Today many American and other country companies do outsourcing to foreign lower wedge countries to make more profit. So exchanging the business culture becomes must in these cases.


    I have only worked in India so I do not have workplace experience but I have something more important to share that I can never forget.

    When I came to America, I felt like I am in a whole new and different world. Everything is different here. I attended the international student orientation in which I came to know lot of things about American lifestyle like, keeping and giving more personal space, not asking anyone about their age or marital status, saying no clearly… etc.

    Moreover, I come from a country where in descent business schools you wear well pressed formals or formal uniform if the school has one. In my first class I was shocked by the casual and free behavior due to cultural difference. But finally I got accustom to this culture and its good side. I enjoy studying in this culture and I could sustain as a good student.

    Here is an interesting and helpful link to understand business culture of India:

  9. Life Experience Example

    As a foreign student here in America, I am experiencing the difference between cultures in communication everyday. As compare to the customs in China, there are so many things which are a little “strange” to me. People here are more talkative in class. Also more talks are going on between strangers. I think one of the biggest things is “party”. In China, friends may hang out together, but always with a specific theme. Some go out shopping together, some go singing together or for sports. We just seldom have a party. But here, there are many parties around my house every weekend. So in the first several months in America, I was a little confusing. “Why there are so many parties going on out there?” “Why is a party that attractive to people?” Now I know it is just the way for Americans to socialize. Every country has its own way to socialize and communicate with each other. And sometimes, these ways varies a lot.

    Here is a video clip about intercultural communication:

  10. I appreciate the Mouhammad explanation of importance of intercultural communication. As Mouhammad said that with advancement in technology this world is shrinking and it’s very important that you know the way to interact with people’s from other culture. The one world market has forced businesses to think global, act local, and integrate. The success of organizations and their people depends on effective cross-cultural communication. Intercultural communication serves a vital role to prevent miscommunication, misunderstandings, and avoid mistakes. Intercultural communication is no longer an option, but a necessity.

    My experience:
    I will discuss about my experience after coming to America. Before coming here I was concerned and I always thought that am I able to adjust or not? America has immigrants coming from all over the world. This country provides you a solid ground to interact with the people from other culture and to have an understanding of their culture. First thing what I felt after coming to America is that American’s are very polite, friendly, and helpful. The thing which make me surprised is that here strangers greet you. In India it’s not like that. Other thing which I experienced here while working on campus is that here work environment is both professional and casual. Employees are treated equally and independent views are welcomed. Americans are good at time management. When I first entered Eberly College an American student hold a gate open for me. That time I was surprised and I thought that did he know me. But later on I found that it is part of their culture. I learned many good things from American culture. One thing I loved about this culture is the generosity and openness of the people.