Name: Hardik Chaturbhai RupareliaMatriculation Number: 396391M.Sc.
Energy Engineering INTERNATIONAL AND INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION: USA AND CHINA This essay explores the intricate relationship between perception and performance of intercultural communication in interaction involving USA and China participants. It identifies its key concepts, how these concepts lead to a positive or negative interpretation of intercultural events and critically addresses issues related to perception, stereotypes, prejudice and ethnocentrism. The increased movement of different worldwide populaces in the twenty-first century has become more complex than we may have imagined even five years ago.
Study demonstrates that ‘developments in transportation and communication technology have been rapidly evacuating geographical boundaries’ and that people also move across cultural boundaries. As migrant populations seek employment, investment opportunities and new geographical spaces to enjoy better security and peaceful coexistence, the goal of building a global community that can work in harmony will remain a very significant phase of our lives this century. As global communities come together to live, to learn and to work in all regions of the world where they become active participants in public life, building global community values will remain a challenging task. Global community refers to people of national and international origin who form a community within and outside of a physical space and who subscribe to a diverse range of norms and values that inform their visions and perspectives about the world around them. The notion of building a global community refers to a willingness by individuals and groups to integrate acceptable cultural norms and values in a meaningful and respectful way into their everyday lives. Intercultural communication is a complex concept that has taken on a wide variety of meanings and interpretations.
According to Klyukanov (2005, p. 45), intercultural communication is a ‘process that is inherently variable and subject to interpretation’. While communicating with people from other cultures, we fail to recognize various factors that affect our communication. One of the most predominant factor in nearly all intercultural communication experiences is the human one: people and the beliefs and values of their own cultures. Language, lifestyle, mass media, personal and professional environments are only few of the many factors that affect intercultural communication in some way. Whereas, factors such as stereotyping, prejudice, ethnocentrism and perception also have a massive impact on communication. A point to be considered is that all cultures have features that are both similar and different and because of this fact intercultural communication events can be altered positively or negatively at any given time.
Culture influences our communication behaviour, communication can also influence culture. Thus, cultural values are the products of sociality and communication. Through interaction a social group or community creates theories to explain the experience of reality.
These theories become a template or rules of socially expected norms of communication behaviour. As result, these rules become institutionalized and made into tradition to become important parts of social reality (Littlejohn, 1992). All cultures are based on symbols which help a culture to create, maintain, formulate and transmit its thoughts, traditions, customs, values, beliefs and norms to its members or members of other societies. Everyone communicate in symbols, which have shared and mutually understood meanings. There are a wide range of manifestations of symbols, the most important one being language. Communication can be classified into Non-Verbal and Verbal. Firstly, Non-verbal communication is defined by Adler as “messages expressed by non-linguistic means.” (Looking Out, Looking In (14th Edition), 2011).
While talking face-to-face with people, one can get some information from the word that others say. Meanwhile, a lot of information can be obtained from the body language. Research shows that the verbal communication contributes only 30% in conversation. Hence, nonverbal communication plays an important role during the communications.
Pease said that “nonverbal communication involves all the nonverbal actions in the communication” (The Definitive Book of Body Language, 2006). In general, we can break nonverbal in three parts: the body language, paralanguage, and environmental language. In communication, we divide the culture into two contexts. One of these is high-context cultures, another one is called low-context cultures. Anthropologist Edward Hall identified that in low-context culture people generally like using more words to explain their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and telling things more directly. On the other hand, for people belonging to the high-context culture, they use language to keep social harmony, and they do not like saying thing in a direct way. For nonverbal communication, the high-context culture emphasizes nonverbal communication more implicit, indirect, and vague while low-context emphasizes explicit, direct, and obvious. Moreover, Chinese belong to high-context culture, and for Americans, they belong to the low-context culture.
In America, people are more relying on verbal information, while Chinese are relying more on nonverbal information. Americans like being directly while Chinese are vaguer. For instance, an American person feeling cold would say “It is cold in here” and the Chinese person in same situation would ask “Could you shut the window”. In a nutshell, American person speaks right into the point and give all the information while a Chinese person may not directly explain the issue. Body language in nonverbal communication usually means that people use the body posture, gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact to sending or receiving messages. (Ronald B.
Adler & Russell F. Proctor, 2011). People from different culture will have the same body language but have the different meaning, or using the different body language, but have the same meaning. Posture is a way that people carry out their body.
For example, In China, when you need to call a taxi on the street you need to wave your arms from one side to another side meaning that you need a taxi. However, in USA, most people will face to the taxi that drive though and make a fist without the thumb, and then move it around. However, that moves in China, only means that people agree with others idea, or means word “good” or “I am okay”. Also in China, if a student is asked a question by the teacher, he or she has to stand up and answer the question; however, in most western countries, students do not have to stand up to answer the question. The most important channel to receive and send the nonverbal message is our eyes (Matsumoto, 2006).
A lot of studies of eye communications have been concerned with the eye contact. The main idea of eye contact is to look or not. In America, people like to look in someone’s eyes and talked. For most western people, they think that if people are afraid to look others eyes, that means they are hiding something, or lying. However, in China, it will make people feel weird if someone making a long-time eye contact.
In China, people frequently avoid direct eye contact with others (Matsumoto, 2006). Touch contact is also called physical contact, or touching behaviours. It is to feel or strike or make connection with a part of the body and the study of touch is called haptics (Ronald B. Adler & Russell F. Proctor, 2011). Touch is considered as a bonding gesture.
Chinese do more touch than Americans. Since, China belongs to Collectivist cultures, people always like living together, the family means a lot. This living model of togetherness refers to the pleasant feeling of being united with others in relationship, friendship, and understanding. By contrast, as America belongs to individualistic cultures, in this culture the needs of each person are considered important, and most people would agree that it is an individual’s right to stand up for himself or herself. In China, a lot of girls like holding each other’s hand walking or put arm on others shoulder when they are walking on the street. For Americans, this action seems too close, and some of them may think that those girls are the homosexual. The paralanguage is “to describe nonverbal, vocal message.” (Ronald B.
Adler & Russell F. Proctor, 2011). Once a message is sent, people can get more than one meanings for a single word. Sometimes, how a word or words is said may not be the actual meaning of the word or words that be spoken.
Silence is an example of the paralanguage. Silence means that people will not make sounds during the talk. In China, there is an old saying said “Silence is gold”. In Chinese culture, people give more meaning for silence, and understand the silence well. For Chinese, it can be easily understood what the silence means in some certain condition, the silence would be agree or disagree in some situation or under some circumstances, the silence would be support or against some opinions.
However, for Americans, they usually think being silence is impolite and sometimes, they will misunderstand the movement of the silence. In communication, American people prefer to be straight even if sometimes they may get a negative feedback like “I don’t want to talk to you”, “I don’t like you”. They think that it is better to get a negative feedback than being silence, because at least they know what others think. And the silence makes them feel that they are not important, and sometimes they think that being ignored is a huge humiliation. However, for Chinese, people rather say nothing than give somebody a negative feedback. The environmental language consists of the time, space, colour and so on.
Chronemics is the term that “describe the study of how humans use and structure time” (Ronald B. Adler & Russell F. Proctor, 2011). Time is abstract for most time, we cannot hold the time or see it, but we still respect to it since it can control our lives. From this we can see how important time is in our normal life. In China, when you are invited to someone’s house or party, you should be there on time or little bit early. And as the host, you should prepare the food or other things early. However, in America, if someone invited you a party, you should be there a little bit late, and people think that being a little bit late is polite.
Body space is also an element in environmental language. People will keep a distance when they talk. The social distance is different in different culture. In America, people generally stand “at arm’s length” (about 30 inches) from a person when they are having a conversation. And only family members or little children come closer. However, in China, people love stand a little bit closer, and if two friends stand too further, people will feel that they are not friends at all.
It is very important for Americans to keep a social space. However, for Chinese, they are used to crowding, and for most Chinese, if they find some places are very crowded, in their mind, they will think that place is the best and very attractive. Whereas, under the same situation, Americans will choose to leave and come back later. Secondly, Verbal communication refers to the use of sounds and language to relay a message. Language shapes the reality in which culture lives, influences people’s thinking processes, thought patterns and behaviour, and helps its members find their proper place in their own culture or in this world through language codes. It is a powerful tool for us to communicate our ideas, values and beliefs. Chinese emphasizes short and clear expressions so that the listener (or reader) will easily get the accurate meaning of the idea expressed. For this aim, Chinese “gives up” long and complicated sentences which are based on language grammar, and prefer to use simple and short sentences.
English sentences tend to be longer because since it needs to be specific. In addition, the Chinese also doesn’t omit repeated words in order to make sure that the listener (reader) will not misunderstand the meaning of the sentence. For example, If an American says “The Great Wall traverse’s plains and mountains being at some points 1,300 meters above sea level. The wall averaged 7.8 meters in height and 5.8 meters in width at the top”. While the Chinese will translate same sentence as “????????????????1,300?????7.8????5.
8?”(cháng chéng kuà yuè píng yuán g?o sh?n ?zài m?u xi? dì f?ng h?i bá 1,300m? ?píng j?n g?o 7.8m? ?d?ng ku?n 5.8m?.? (Google) Let’s consider a situation where an American manager is about to freak out because he informed his Chinese team the deadlines repeatedly. While, Chinese colleagues will say “Yes Yes, no problem” and will not meet the deadline next time.
This situation demonstrates that for Chinese team it was less important “WHAT” the manager said but actually more important “IN WHICH CONTEXT” he said it. As the manager was not dealing to American for whom it is clear what a deadline means but they were Chinese colleagues. So, for them, the deadline itself is not important – it is much more important of who told them that there is a deadline and why the sender wants them to hold the deadline. This is how the misunderstanding occurs: As Chinese are much more focused on relationships, a manager with a close relationship to his employees (meaning they actually accept him as an authoritative figure in a paternalistic understanding) will much more likely get a feedback on the status of the project and eventually has a chance to intervene when deadlines can’t be met. A manager with a good understanding of Chinese communication also will never shout at his colleagues because this means that not only he will lose face, but also will make his colleagues losing face as they have to watch him showing negative emotions and losing control about himself.
In my eyes, this is an example of how the culture and philosophy may influence the communication between American and Chinese. So, if people wants to be successful in intercultural communication, it is not only enough to know the language but also cultural differences as well as to understand the non-verbal actions from another country. In the cultural communication, people from different culture should make communication understanding and respect each other’s cultural features, national customs, and religion faith. Under some situation, people should change themselves a little bit to fit into the new culture. However, that does not mean that people should give up all of the cultural customs that they used to have.
Stereotype is a standardized mental picture held in common by individuals of a social group based on oversimplified opinions and incorrect and uncritical judgements. Our memory and our experiences in a particular context such as the influences of mass media, schools, families and peers, play an important role in forming such stereotypic mental pictures. Stereotypes can never be completely accurate because they are often based on some kernel of truth that has become simplified and generalized due to such factors as racism, ethnocentrism, historical events, imagination or fabrication. Stereotypes represent a shortcut in collecting, processing and interpreting information about a cultural group by perceiving people according to their social categories rather than their individual characteristics. The effects of stereotypes can have positive and negative effects. Positive stereotypes may promote the image and reputation of the target group while negative stereotypes may lead to justification of ill-founded prejudice, ignorance and self-fulfilling prophecy for the stereotyped group, and preventing these people from succeeding in the society.
According to a survey, results indicate that American college students have mixed stereotypes about Chinese in general. The most positive stereotypes they had about Chinese people were that they are “smart” and “hardworking”. While, the most was that they are “prejudiced.” (Zhang, 2015). For example, it is already common knowledge in China that Christmas is a significant holiday in the U.S.A. However, the ordinary Chinese may not know the details of the cultural fact that Christmas is also a Christian religious celebration and not all Americans are Christians.
So, it is likely that a Chinese employee might offend an American counterpart who is Jewish by greeting them with “Merry Christmas” on December 24th. Despite a genuine intention, and purely out of respect for the American colleague’s tradition, the effect of the Chinese employee’s wish may actually be awkward, as the Jewish American might take his own religious belief seriously, and would not be receptive to a Christmas greeting. This illustrates influence of stereotype in communication. In my opinion, during such situation a tolerant spirit can play a key role for both sides to avoid any potential misunderstanding and smooth out this matter in a friendly way. In doing so, not only is unnecessary conflict is avoided but people will come to know more about each other and contribute to the overall community spirit if they would share this experience with their circle of friends in the future. Thus, strength of cross-cultural communication can be expanded by recognizing these cultural differences and stereotypes.
Cultural prejudice refers to the formation of opinion on certain members of the groupgrounded on the previous perception, attitude, and viewpoint of the group, heedless of the particular characteristic of the individual (Zhang, 2007). In cross-cultural communication, people often rely on their first impressions and assumptions, drawing on previous knowledge of the common features of a culture to make conclusions about an individual instead of analysing behaviours specifically. As a result, it is not uncommon to hear comments such as “you are from China, so you must never have had human rights,” or “as an American, you must never feel safe to go outside at night since everyone is allowed to have guns.” These conclusions are easy to make since they require little effort in observation, and eliminate the need to process a large amount of information. Although it is true that it speeds up message processing, improves communication efficiency, and provides timely convenience, cultural prejudice also ossifies our belief into rigid patterns and colours our perspective, which are difficult to then change or update. Consequently, it prevents meaningful and openhearted communication between people with divergent backgrounds. Moreover, another insidious, harmful side is that after repeating and emphasizing this cultural mindset, the fixed prejudice is likely to become “the eternal verities” which take root in people’s minds and further hinders future communication. Ethnocentrism means that “a tendency exists within every individual to view his or her own culture as intrinsically better than other cultures” (Borisoff, 2001).
When we grow up in a particular culture, not only does it shape our disposition and insert certain values and beliefs into our minds, but it also teaches us how to navigate within the environment. The older we grow and the deeper we immerse ourselves in one culture, the more likely we will see the world through a stained-glass window. Thus, it is natural for people to establish a sense of superiority regarding one’s own culture over the “other,” generating a comfort zone in which we live and with which we are familiar. Moreover, self-reference criterion is employed in evaluating the surroundings. Nevertheless, this subconscious sense of cultural supremacy acts like a stumbling block in cross-cultural communication in that it forms a narrow-minded and defensive cultural identity that affects meaningful cultural exchange. In addition, it trains people into the mindset of drawing on a finalized conception to perceive other cultures.
Fixed quality is imputed, and cultures that are different from their own are depreciated and repelled. Moreover, it even leads people to regard one’s own culture as normal and natural while that of the other is viewed as abnormal and bizarre in comparison. One upholds one’s own traditionswhile degrading that of the other. Just as cultural scholar and organizational sociologist’s, once said, “everyone is used to seeing the world from their own living room’s window; everyone has the tendency to view foreign cultures as strange while consider their own features as standard. This narrow mentality opens the door for future cultural imperialism, abasement, isolation and dependence which disrupts cross-cultural communication” (Zhang J:2007) All things considered, it is natural for people to judge others based on words and deeds with reference to one’s own standpoint to such an extent that may impose one’s standard on other social group without even being aware of the far-fetched analogy.
As a result, it is important to acknowledge the limits of individual’s insight into the motivations of others and divest ourselves of self-referencing criteria or cultural solipsism while trying to relate people from different ethnic and class cultures. A possible solution to this is to be open-minded, allowing us to avoid the mistake of imposing our meanings on others behaviours and to open ourselves to learn about meanings and communication styles that differ from our own. The next step is to hold a tolerant spirit to understand the fact that not all people would be mentally equipped with the knowledge of cultural differences.
So, allowing others to make unwitting mistakes and taking advantage of that moment to educate them about cultural diversity. In addition, for intercultural communication it is also indispensable to develop curiosity toward divergent social groups instead of glossing it over and being keen on listening the other side of the story. Never rush to a hasty conclusion before listening to another’s voice and unique perspective. It is through respectful and careful hearing that we broaden our understanding of diverse cultures, expand our cosmology in communication styles, and achieve personal growth. The ultimate goal of listening is to develop a sense of cultural empathy that would further facilitate a constructive message exchange between people from different culture.
In a nut shell, effective Inter-cultural communication presupposes the suspension of ethnocentric biases, prejudiced preconception, and values of right and wrong rested on one particular standpoint or standard. As Victor suggests, “cultural relativity and communicative flexibility are at the heart of cross-cultural communication” (Borisoff, 2001). When opening our hearts to a wide range of cultural differences and communicative views and styles, we will be amazed by how far we can advance beyond the frontier of our own perspectives. After all, adapting to another culture does not mean that one has to abandon one’s own values and beliefs, and reconcile or sacrifice oneself to another culture. Instead, as the proverb suggests, we can actually try walking for a bit in the other culture’s shoes. Being bicultural is not an attribute people are usually born with but it is a mindset we can nurture and possess. In essence, it takes addition to solve the problem and not subtraction.