Intercultural_Communications

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Unformatted text preview: l. $0M I Sl‘llll . Mutual Am“ [Lilli/at . l/llt wilf't’lMl/lmtztl‘lllw ”l Intercultural Communication: An Introduction Why Study Intercultural Communication? Global Diversity Trends ................................. Domestic Diversity Trends ............................... Interpersonal Learning Opportunities What Is Intercultural Communication? ....... Conceptualization of Culture ..................... Conceptualization of Intercultural Communication Intercultural Communication: Five Core Assumptions ........................ 2 As we enter the let century, there is a growing sense of urgency that we need to increase our understanding of people from diverse cultural and eth- nic backgrounds. From interpersonal misunderstandings to intercultural conflicts, frictions exist within and between cultures. With rapid changes in global economy, technology, transportation, and immigration policies, the world is becoming a small, intersecting community. We find ourselves in increased contact with people who are culturally different, working side by side with us. From workplace to classroom diversity, different cultural be- liefs, values, and communication styles are here to stay. In order to achieve effective intercultural communication, we have to learn to manage differ— ences flexibly and mindfully. The study of intercultural communication is about the study of cul- tural differences that really “make a difference” in intercultural encounters. It is also about acquiring the conceptual tools and skills to manage such differences creatively. The aims of this chapter are threefold. The first is to outline the reasons why we should pay mindful attention to the study of intercultural communication. The second is to explain what intercultural communication is. The third is a summary of the five core assumptions concerning intercultural communication. 4 CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATIONS WHY STUDY INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION? There are many practical reasons for studying intercultural communica- tion. We offer three reasons here: global diversity trends, domestic diversity trends, and interpersonal learning opportunities. Global Diversity Trends Workplace diversity on the global level represents both opportunities and challenges to individuals and organizations. In order to develop these op— portunities, individuals and organizations in the forefront of workplace di- versity must rise to the challenge of serving as global leaders. Adler (1995) suggests that global leaders in today’s world need to work on five cross- cultural competencies: (1) understanding the worldwide political, cultural, and business environment from a global perspective; (2) developing mul— tiple cultural perspectives and approaches to conducting business; (3) being skillful at working with people from many cultures simultaneously; (4) adapt- ing comfortably to living in different cultures; and (5 ) learning to interact with international colleagues as equals, rather than from a superior—inferior stance. Global leaders, in sum, must forge a transcultural vision that is not bound by one national definition. They must be able to clearly communi— cate this vision to Others. They must also have the necessary communication skills to translate this vision into practice in the diverse workplace. In sum, they need to practice transcultural communication competence skills (for a detailed discussion, see Chapter 10). Successful business today depends on effective globalization. Effective globalization, in part, depends on dealing with a diverse workforce. Factors that contribute to the diversity of the workforce on the international level include, but are net limited to, the development of regional trading blocs (e.g., the European Union; the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA), communication technology (e.g., fax, E—mail, the Internet), immi— grant worker and guest worker policies (e.g., Turkish migrant workers in Germany) on the international level (Banks, 1995). In this era of global economy, it is inevitable that employees and customers from dissimilar cul- tures are in constant contact with one another. They buy and they sell, all the while negotiating multiple facets of their cultural differences. According to a recent Workforce 2020 report (Judy 8C D’Amico, 1997), in the span of 15 years (i.e., 1980—1995), international trade grew by about 120% on the global level. Four out of every five new jobs in the United States are generated as a direct result of international business. Addition- ally, 33% of U.S. corporate profits are derived via import—export trade. Even if we do not venture out of our national borders, global economy, and hence global contact, becomes a crucial part of our everyday work lives (Brake, Walker, 8C Walker, 1995). l i l l E An Introduction 5; In order to communicate effectively with dissimilar others, every glo-g bal citizen needs to learn the fundamental concepts and skills of mindfuli intercultural communication. The US. workplace reality indicates the fol-l lowing (Kealey, 1996, p. 83): l 0 Although most U.S. international employees are considered techni-z cally competent, they lack effective intercultural communication skills) to perform satisfactorily in the new culture. ‘ 0 Overseas business failure rates, as measured by early returns, are; about 15—40% for U.S. business personnel, and of those who stay,j less than 50% perform adequately. f 0 It is estimated that U.S. firms alone lose $2 billion per year in direct) costs because of premature returns. 1 l U.S. businesses have often overlooked the area of intercultural communica-i tion competence in their overseas personnel selection process. While many: sojourners are well prepared technically for their overseas assignments, they) fall short of possessing the knowledge and skills to function effectively in; the new cultural environment. 5 Beyond global business, increased numbers of individuals are workingi in overseas assignments such as government service, humanitarian service,l peace corps service, and international education. Acquiring the knowledgei and skills of mindful intercultural communication is a necessary first step ini becoming a global citizen of the let century. ‘ Domestic Diversity Trends i l l l The study of intercultural communication in domestic U.S. society is espe-g cially critical for several reasons. First, immigrants, minority group mem—i bers, and females will account for a third of the total new entrants into thei U.S. workforce in the next decade. Second, while European Americans con—i stitute 78% of the total U.S. labor workforce today, they will drop to 68 %l in 2020. Thus approximately one—third of the total U.S. workforce will com; sist of immigrants (many non-English speakers) and minority group meme: bers. Third, over the next 20 years, the Asian and Latino/a shares of thei U.S. labor force will grow dramatically to 6% and 14%, respectively (mostly; in the South and West of the United States), and the share of African Ameriq1 cans in the labor force will remain constant, at 11% (Judy 86 D’Amico‘ 1997). Fourth, over the next 20 years, Latino/a Americans will account for 47% of population growth in the United States; African Americans will) account for 22%; and Asian Americans and other minority group member will make up 18% of this increase. European Americans will account fo only 13% of the population growth. Even if we never step foot outside U.S.? borders, it is inevitable that we will encounter people from diverse cultures ( i la CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATIONS : land ethnicities in our own backyards. Learning to understand such cultural differences will serve as a major step toward building a more harmonious, fnulticultural community. " Beyond the cultural domestic diversity dimension, there are many other i iversity dimensions that are deemed important by different individuals. he term diversity refers to a rich spectrum of human variations. Loden and osener (1991) state 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. Others, then, are people who are different from us along one or several dimensions such as age, ethnicity, gender, race, sexual/affectional orientation, and so on” (p. 18; emphasis in briginal). There are two sets of dimensions that contribute to the ways groups of eople differ from one another within any culture (Loden 8C Rosener, 1991). gne set, the primary dimensions of diversity, refers to those “human differ- ences that are inborn and/or that exert an important impact on our early socialization and an ongoing impact throughout our lives” (p. 18), for ex— mple, ethnicity, gender, age, social class, physical abilities, and sexual ori- Entation. Comparatively, the other set, the secondary dimensions of diversity, refers to conditions that can be changed more easily than the primary di- rnensions, including “mutable differences that we acquire, discard, and/or lrnodify throughout our lives, [most of which] are less salient than those of ‘the core” (p. 19), for example, educational level, work experience, and in- come. The primary dimensions of diversity more than the secondary dimen- sions, shape and mold our individual self-image and direct our thinking, feelings, and behavior. Additionally, others often interact with us in initial encounters based on those stereotypic, group-based images. Individuals may define primary and secondary dimensions of identity differently, depending on their particular life stage. For example, age identity may not be an im- portant identity for young adults in their 205, whereas it becomes quite salient for older adults in their 605. Persons in their 205 may not discuss retirement issues, whereas adults in their later life stage may consider those ;topics as salient. It is also important to grasp that another person’s percep- Ition concerning a holder’s salient identity dimensions may differ from the (holder’s preferred self-definition. For example, person X may describe per- son Y as “a Hispanic-looking clerk who loiters around in the store.” How-ever, person Y’s self-description is “a second-generation Mexican American )student who is working long hours to support his or her family.” Use of ethnic labels such as “Hispanics,” “Latino/a,” and “Mexican American” is subject to individual preference. While the term Hispanics irefers to individuals who “reside in the [United States] and who were born (in or trace the background of their families to . . . Spanish-speaking Latin iAmerica . . . [e.g., Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica; Venezuela, Colombia; Puerto l i An Introduction 7 Rico, Cuba] or Spain,” Latino implies that a person is “from a Latin Ameri- can country . . . [and the term] does not signify the conqueror Spain” (Paniagua, 1994, p. 38). Mexican Americans implies that individuals who reside in the United States can trace their family background to Mexico. Likewise, for the African American group, terms such as “Blacks,” “Black Americans,” and “African Americans” have been used. Hecht, Collier, and Ribeau (1993) find that the “Black” respondent group is the most conserva- tive and accepting of racial status quo, the “Black American” group is caught in between two extremes, and that the “African American” respondent group is the least conservative and views verbal assertiveness as a strategy to deal with interethnic communication problems. Thus, the membership labels that individuals use, or prefer to be used, can tell us a lot about them. Further— more, understanding the strength and content in which they identify with particular membership groups can help us to develop more effective com— munication with them. In order to communicate effectively with dissimilar others, we need to be mindful of how others prefer to be “named” and identified. Other people’s perceptions and evaluations can strongly influence our self-conceptions, or our views of ourselves. Mindful intercultural communication requires us to be sensitive to how others define themselves on both group membership and personal identity levels. The feelings of being understood, respected, and supported are viewed as critical outcome dimensions of mindful inter— cultural communication (for a detailed discussion, see Chapter 2). Interpersonal Learning Opportunities As we enter the let century, direct contacts with dissimilar others in our neighborhoods, schools, and workplace are an inescapable part of life. Each intercultural contact can bring about identity dissonance or stress because of attributes such as an unfamiliar accent, way of speaking, way of doing things, and way of nonverbal expression. In a global workplace, people bring with them different work habits and cultural practices. For example, cultural strangers may appear to approach teamwork and problem«solving tasks differently. They may appear to have a sense of different time, and they may appear to have different spatial needs. They also may look and move differently. Most of us prefer to spend time with people who are similar to us rather than different from us. Among people with similar habits and out— looks, we experience interaction predictability. Among people with dissimi— lar habits and communication rules, we experience interaction unpre- dictability. In a familiar cultural environment, we feel secure and safe. In an unfamiliar cultural environment, we experience emotional vulnerability and threat. However, the time and energy we invest in learning to deal with our 8 CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATIONS own feelings of discomfort and in reducing the discomfort of others may pay off substantially in the long run. It is through the mirror of others that we learn to know ourselves. It is through facing our own discomfort and anxiety that we learn to stretch and grow. Encountering a dissimilar other helps us to question our routine way of thinking and behaving. Getting to really know a dissimilar stranger helps us to glimpse into another world—a range of unfamiliar experiences and a set of values unlike our own. From a human creativity standpoint, we learn more from people who are different from us than from those who are similar to us. At the indi- vidual level, creativity involves a process of “taking in new ideas, of being thrown into disequilibrium and trying to reach some accommodation, achieve a new synthesis. . . . The same is true at the societal level. In the most cre- ative periods there has been a tremendous infusion of diversity: new ideas and cross-cultural encounters” (Goleman, Kaufman, 86 Ray, 1992, p. 173). In absorbing dissimilar ideas, it is important for us to suspend our usual ways of thinking and try to see things in a different light—and from a crooked angle. In meeting people who are similar to us, we practice similar routines and scripts, and with predictable rhythms and outcomes. In meeting and working with peOple who are different from us, we may have to open our minds, ears, eyes, and hearts with more alertness and closer attention. Whether we are embarked abroad on a student exchange program or are going overseas for business reasons, we must learn to embrace uncertainty and face our vulnerability. EmOtional vulnerability is part of an intercul- tural learning journey. With mindful vulnerability, we can listen with greater thoughtfulness and see things through fresh lenses. In sum, our ability to communicate effectively with cultural strangers will help us to uncover our own diversity and “worthiness.” As Hall (1983) concludes, Human beings are such an incredibly rich and talented species with potentials beyond anything it is possible to contemplate that . . . it would appear that our greatest task, our most important task, and our most strategic task is to learn as much as possible about ourselves [and others]. . . . My point is that as humans learn more about their incredible sensitivity, their boundless talents, and manifold diversity, they should begin to appreciate not only about themselves but also others. (p. 185) Mindful intercultural communication will enrich our understanding of a diverse range of meanings concerning human work and leisure. Mindful communication takes patience, commitment, and practice. Our willingness to explore and understand such cultural differences and complexities will ultimately enrich the depth of our own life experiences. We now turn to a discussion of the definitional elements of “intercultural communication.” I I i I l 1 I An Introduction 9 WHAT IS INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION? I “Culture” is an elastic, dynamic concept that takes on different shades Inf meaning—depending on one’s perspective. The word “communication” is also fluid and subject to different interpretations. While both culture and communi— cation reciprocally influence one another, 1t is essential to distinguish the char— acteristics of the two concepts for the purpose of understanding the complex relationship between them. In this section we venture to answer the folloquig two questions: What is culture? What is intercultural communication? Conceptualization of Culture Definition of Culture I Culture is an enigma. It contains both concrete and abstract components. IIt is also a multifaceted phenomenon. What is culture? This question has fas— cinated scholars in various academic disciplines for many decades. As long ago as the early 195 Os Kroeber and Kluckhohn (1952) identified more than 160 different definitions of the term “”cu.lture The study of culture hs ranged from the study of 1ts external architecture and landscape to the stu y of a set of implicit principles and values to which a large group of membe s in a community subscribe. I The term “”culture originates from the Latin word cultura or cultus as in‘ ‘agri cultura, the cultivation of the soil. Later [the word] culture grabbed a set of related meanings: training, adornment, fostering, worship. Fro its root meaning of an activity, culture became transformed into a eonfil tion, a state of being cultivated” (Freilich, 1989, p. 2) D’ Andrade (1981) conceptualizes “culture” as follows: 1 Learned systems of meaning, communicated by means of natural language and other symbol systems . . . and capable of creating cultural entities and particular senses of reality. Through these systems of meaning, groups of peopIe adapt to their environment and structure interpersonal activities. . . . Cultural meaning systems can be treated as a very large diverse pool of knowledge, or partially shared cluster of norms, or as intersubjectively shared, symbolically created realities. (p. 116) t I This integrative definition of culture captures three important points. First, the term culture refers to a diverse pool of knowledge, shared realities, an clustered norms that constitute the learned syStems of meanings in a paIf1 ticular society. Second, these learned systems of meanings are shared and transmitted through everyday interactions among members of the cultural group and from one generation to the next. Third, culture facilitates merrI- bers’ capacity to survive and adapt to their external environment. 10 CONCEPTUAL FOUNDATIONS Drawing from D’Andrade’s conceptualization of culture, we define cul- ture in this book as a complex frame of reference that consists of patterns of traditions, beliefs, values, norms, symbols, and meanings that are shared to varying degrees by interacting members of a community (see Figure 1.1). Culture is like an iceberg: the deeper layers (e.g., traditions, beliefs, values) are hidden from our view; we only see and hear the uppermost lay— ers of cultural artifacts (e.g., fashion, trends, pop music) and of verbal and nonverbal symbols. However, to understand a culture with any depth, we have to match its underlying values accurately with its respective norms, meanings, and symbols. It is the underlying set of beliefs and values that drives people’s thinking, reacting, and behavin...
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