Culture plays a vital role in the way of communication. So we are giving here some brief discusses how do cultural differences affect communication.
How do cultural differences affect communication
People living in different cultures have different habits, values and ways of expression. These differences are cultural differences that cause problems when people communicate. The following points can highlight more about such differences:
1. Body movements: Our body sends non-word messages through hands, fingers, eyes, head, face and so on. These non-word messages have a different meaning in different cultures, such as:
- Handshake: Americans like to greet by the firm of a handshake while the Chinese do not like much touching to greet. Rather they bow to greet people.
- Eye contact: U.S.A people maintain eye contact while speaking to provide importance. Whereas, in Indonesia, looking directly at people considered to be disrespectful.
- Fingers: Use of two fingers to show the victory sign is a symbol of success in the U.S.A. The same symbol has a vulgar meaning in Australia. In Japan such sign represents money. Even the use of “thumbs up” means “things are well” in England and the U.S.A but it has a negative meaning in Nigeria.
- Head movement: Up and down movement of the head means “Yes” and a side to side movement of the head means “No” in the U.S.A. whereas, up and down movement of the head means “No” and side to side movement of the head means “Yes” in Bulgaria.
- Smile: A smile is viewed as a positive sign in American culture but considered a sign of weakness in African cultures. So, all cultures use body movements during communication but in different ways.
(2) Space: Space is viewed differently by different cultures. In some cultures, people maintain distance in other cultures, people want to be close. For example, North Americans maintain two feet distance while speaking. But Arabians stand close while speaking. Americans view space as a “Right” but Arabians view space as “Indecent”.
(3) Time: Some cultures regard time as an important factor everywhere but some other cultures view time in a more relaxed way. People from U.S.A, U.K or Europe maintain time efficiently; whereas Arabians are late to show that they are busy.
(4) Religion: Religion is an important socio-cultural factor and guides way of living and future thinking. It affects consumption, business, and attitude.
For example Trading of liquor is restricted in Muslim countries but open to the western world. Moreover “Interest” on loan is prohibited in Islamic banking but very common in Commercial Banking.
(5) Social values: Social view differs from culture to culture in the following areas:
- Living style: Some cultures lead a luxurious life while others may not. Arabians give emphasis on luxurious life and spend huge during the lifetime. They view luxury as a status whereas the Japanese are hard work and save more and more for the future.
- Class status: In many cultures, questions on occupation, income and job title are asked without any hesitation. But cultures that support human equality avoid such questions. In Bangladesh, people feel free to talk about status but English man hesitates to talk about it.
- Addressing people: In many cultures, people are addressed by their first name whereas, in many cultures, this trend is a symbol of disrespect. In U.S.A, subordinate addresses: they’re superior to, “Mr. Park”. However in Bangladesh, subordinate commonly uses the term “Boss”.
- Roleplay: The role of women varies widely by culture. In Thai and American culture, women play a major role in business. Whereas, in many Arab countries, women still do not play an important role in business.
6. Frankness: First World countries are more frank and open than Third World countries. Americans and Germans are franker than Asians in respect to relationships. They openly share all relevant information during communication. While Asians deal with limited information and remain an introvert.
7. Customs: Social customs widely vary “across cultures. From cradle to grave customs are found different among cultures. The way of greetings and welcoming in China or Japan differs from Arab countries. Moreover, the tribal society of our country follows customs which is absolutely different from our original culture.
8. Language: There are more than three thousand (3000) languages in the world and therefore there is a chance of miscommunication during international communication. The International business manager may face communication problems for the below reasons:
- The same word may have multiple meanings, e.g The word run means move fast, operate, cricket score and much more. The Oxford English Dictionary uses over 1500 words to define “WHAT”.
- Lack of alternated words, e.g Supermarket has no alternate in some languages. The French have no word to distinguish between house and home, man and gentlemen and mind and brain. The Spanish have no word to distinguish between a chairman and a president.
- Words may have a different meaning in different cultures, e.g Chinese and Japanese use the word “Yes” to mean ‘I am listening’. But American and British use “Yes” to mean ‘Right’
From above it is clear that there are lots of cultural differences to affect communication. We should understand the cultures and modify our communication to address our receivers of different cultures.
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