Communication Between Cultures

(Sean Pound) #1
listen primarily for facts and concrete information. Listeners in these cultures also
confront speakers directly and do not hesitate to ask blunt questions. In indirect lis-
tening cultures, such as those of Finland, Japan, and Sweden, people listen in a very
different manner. Interruptions do not occur while the speaker is talking, and polite-
ness is a crucial part of the listener’s behavior.
Fifth, as you listen, you will experience the sway of culture as it affects accents.
Accents by people trying to speak English as a second language often make it more
difficult for you to listen and comprehend what is being discussed. In these instances,
our advice is simple and straightforward—be tolerant, pay attention, and practice
being patient. You might also put yourself in the place of someone trying to speak a
second language that is new and complex. This attempt at role reversal usually will
increase your concentration and your compassion.
Finally, successful listening behavior should include open-mindedness. When you
are closed-minded, you end up not listening to new information. However, if you let
open-mindedness be part of your listening behavior, you will be accessible to new
ideas. You do not have to be in agreement with what is being said, but at least you
will be giving the other person a fair hearing. This idea of fairness is extremely impor-
tant when interacting with people of cultures different from your own, as much of
what they are discussing is tied to their culture, and you may lack a direct frame of
reference. This, of course, can make listening somewhat problematic. For example, if
you are a Christian and believe very strongly in the notion of heaven and hell, you
might have trouble listening to someone from India who is telling you about

Develop Communication Flexibility. Our next suggestion asks you to be flexible when
deciding how to present yourself to another person—particularly if that person is of
a culture different from your own. Flexibility means that you have a large range of
behaviors you can call on. This will enable you to regulate, change, and adapt your
communication behavior to be appropriate to the setting and the other person. A
competent intercultural communicator possesses a repertoire of interpersonal skills
that can be applied to specific situations. When speaking to the issue of how commu-
nication flexibility applies to international negotiations, Foster used an analogy:“The
better [international] negotiators are ultimately pragmatic. They are not oaks; rather,
they are more like willows. Unable to predict every situation, every twist and turn,
even in a domestic situation, they know that it is nearly impossible to do so in a
cross-cultural one.”^102
Regardless of the parts played or the techniques employed, you need to acquire the
skills that will allow you to respond to various people, settings, and situations. Having
the skills to assume multiple roles means being able to be reflective instead of impul-
sive when interacting with a culture that moves at a slower pace. It means behaving
in a formal manner when encountering a culture that employs a formal style. It means
speaking softly instead of loudly when talking with people who use a subdued commu-
nication pattern. It means remembering the Spanish proverb“I dance to the tune
that is played.”

Develop the Skill to Tolerate Ambiguity. A close companion of flexibility is developing
tolerance for ambiguity. Because many intercultural encounters are unpredictable
and often involve dealing with a new set of values and customs, confusion and
ambiguity can often proliferate during theinteraction. For example, if your culture

The Basic Components of Intercultural Communication Competence 65

Copyright 2017 Cengage Learning. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, scanned, or duplicated, in whole or in part. Due to electronic rights, some third party content may be suppressed from the eBook and/or eChapter(s).

Free download pdf