Communication Between Cultures

(Sean Pound) #1
In gathering information on the components of intercultural communication,
scholars and intercultural communication trainers recommend two investigative
approaches: (1)culture specificand (2)culture general. A brief look at these methods
of learning will help you appreciate some of the alternatives available to anyone inter-
ested in improving intercultural communication. Before beginning, we add that in
many instances, some scholars in the area of intercultural competence suggest com-
bining the two methods.

Culture Specific. The culture-specific method assumes that the most effective way to
improve intercultural communication is to study one culture at a time and learn
all the distinct and specific communication features of that culture. This
approach assumes that the person is preparing to visit or work alongside members
of another culture; hence, it necessitates an in-depth culture-specific orientation.
For example, to interact with an Arab, youshould know his or her values regard-
ing gender, hospitality, pride, honor, and rivalry. You should also know that
Islam is a regulator of behavior as well as a religion and that Arab males engage
in very direct eye contact. You should even make an effort to learn about the
Arabic language, as your communication with Arabs will improve if you know
that“Arabs are passionately in love with their language.”^100 In addition, the
Arab language makes abundant use of assertions, metaphors, similes, long arrays
of adjectives, and repetition of words. If you were going to Japan, you might ben-
efit from advice about gift giving, the use of first names, greeting behavior, indi-
rect speech, politeness, the use of business cards, the importance of group
harmony, social stability, the use of“yes”and“no,”and the like. These specific
facts regarding some of the communication characteristics of both cultures could
offer you cultural guidelines that would help you interact more effectively with
both cultures.

Culture General. The rationale of the culture-general method of improving your inter-
cultural competency aims to understand the universal influences of culture on human
behaviors through different learning methods.^101 The basic assumption behind this
technique is that there are some life experiences and communication traits common
to virtually all cultures. These universal experiences and traits are examined in
culture-general training classes, videos, textbooks, and face-to-face experiences and
are common enough that they can be transferred from culture to culture. As you
have learned by now, the approach of this book is culture general. Although we
have offered many specific examples, we have looked primarily at cultural traits and
behaviors that are shared, to one extent or another, by all cultures. Although there
are variations in how each culture manifests its values, worldview, verbal and nonver-
bal codes, norms, role behaviors, beliefs about healthcare, and the like, these concepts
cut across cultures. The content of each might be culture specific, but the need to
deal with these topics is universal.
We propose that, regardless of the culture you encounter, it is important to have
knowledge that enables you to adapt to any culture. And if you lack that knowledge,
know where to find it. The English essayist Samuel Johnson held to this idea when he
wrote,“Knowledge is of two kinds: we know a subject ourselves, or we know where
we can find information on it.”We should add that this entire book is about you
finding that information.

The Basic Components of Intercultural Communication Competence 63

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