Culture, Language and Communication

Culture, Language,
and Communication
Part Two
Culture and Social Cognition
 This has to do with how we interpret the
actions of others—the causal attributions we
 Basically, the cultural differences in this area
refer to proneness to make dispositional
versus situational attributions of others
Definition of communication
 Message: Information and meaning exchanged
during communication
 Encoding: Process by which people select, imbed
messages in signals, and send signals to others
 Signals: Specific verbal language and nonverbal
behaviors that are encoded when message sent
 Channels: Sensory modalities by which signals sent
and messages retrieved
 Decoding: Process by which people receives signal
from encoder and translates those signals to
meaningful messages
Intercultural Communication
 Unlike intra-cultural communication where
message senders and receivers share the
same ground rules, intercultural
communication is associated with a host of
additional social and psychological issues.
 To start, there is uncertainty or ambiguity
concerning the ground rules by which the interaction
should occur.
 Given the pervasive influence of culture, it’s always
difficult to figure out the rules being employed by
two people from different cultures.
 And this uncertainty is inherent in verbal as well as
nonverbal communication, in both encoding and
decoding modes.
Uncertainty (cont.)
 How can we package messages into precise words
to convey our thoughts as accurately as possible
and how can we interpret the sender’s messages
exactly as intended?
 Uncertainty can easily mount to the point of utter
miscommunication. Hence, uncertainty reduction is
the initial major goal of intercultural communication.
 Unless uncertainty is reduced, it’s impossible for
senders and receivers to begin processing the
intended message content.
 Once we engage in intercultural communication,
some conflict and misunderstanding is inevitable.
 Conflict arises when people’s behavior does not
confirm to our expectations.
 We tend to interpret such behaviors as
transgressions against our values.
 Of course, uncertainty can contribute to this conflict.
 As we have said earlier, context has to do primarily
with how communication takes place when cultures
vary in context orientation. Here are several possible
 1.
High Context with High Context
 2.
Low Context with High Context
 3.
Low Context with Low Context
Context (cont.)
 But the “context of intercultural communication”
also includes several other dimensions of cultural
Power Distance,
Uncertainty Avoidance, and
 Nonverbal behaviors: all behaviors that occur
during communication that do not include verbal
 Nonverbal channels are more important in
understanding meaning and emotional states of
speakers than verbal language
 It is imperative to be most attentive to nonverbal
cues that occur in communication
The Types of Nonverbal Behaviors
 Culture and Gestures
 The American A-OK sign is an obscene gestures
in may cultures of Europe
 Culture and Gaze
 Contact cultures engage in more gazing and
more direct orientation when interacting with
 Culture and Interpersonal Space
 Arabs and Latin Americans interact with others at
closer distance than Americans
The Functions of Nonverbal Behaviors
 Always keep in mind that Nonverbal behaviors
serve as emblems, speech illustrators,
conversation regulators, and convey emotions.
 Cultural Influences on Encoding
Cultures differ in how nonverbal behavior is used
in communication
 Cultural Influences on Decoding
Cultures influences decoding process through
ethnocentrism, cultural filters, emotions, value
judgments, stereotypes and expectations
Decoding rules
Intracultural communication
 Communication between people of the same
cultural background
Interactants share same ground rules; they
encode and decode using the same cultural
Can be negative because of expectations created
by cultural filters and ethnocentrism
We tend to read more than is intended
Intercultural communication
 Communication between people of the
different cultural background
Interactants do not share same ground rules; they
encode and decode using different cultural codes
Can lead to
Uncertainty and ambiguity
Barriers to Effective
Intercultural communication
Assumptions of similarities
Language differences
Nonverbal misinterpretations
Preconceptions and stereotypes
Tendency to evaluate
High anxiety or tension
Barriers to Intercultural
 Source: Barna, L. M. (1997). Stumbling
blocks in intercultural communication. In L.
Samovar and R. Porter (Eds.), Intercultural
communication: A reader (pp. 370-379).
Belmont CA: Wadsworth.
Barriers (cont.)
1. Assumptions of similarities
We need to keep in mind that
communication is a uniquely human trait
shaped by culture.
In fact, communication itself is a product of
culture, and cultures vary in their
assumptions of similarities.
Barriers (cont.)
2. Language differences
The use of words which may be highly
effective at conveying meaning within a
particular culture often communicate
unintended meanings across cultures.
Add to this the nonverbal channel of
communication and you have a recipe for
conflict and misunderstandings.
Barriers (cont.)
3. Nonverbal misinterpretations
This is the single most frequent cause of
breakdowns in the communication process
across cultures.
4. Preconceptions and stereotypes
These are natural and inevitable
psychological processes that have a strong
influence on our perceptions and
Barriers (cont.)
5. Tendency to evaluate
We make attributions about the behavior of
others based on our own cultural values.
6. High anxiety or tension
While some degree of anxiety may be
conducive to optimal performance, too
much anxiety or stress can lead to
dysfunctional thought processes and
Improving Intercultural Communication:
Concluding Remarks
 Mindfulness and uncertainty reduction
Mindfulness offsets uncertainty and anxiety
Uncertainty reduction leads to focus on the content of
signals and messages
 Face
Should be mindful of face (public appearance of
person) in collectivist culture
 Emotion Regulation
Controlling negative emotions aroused from conflict is