Each of us is exposed to people from other cultures on a regular basis, in the workplace, in our social activities, at school, or even within our families. Our culture hinders us from getting our message across as well receiving the full message that others want to convey to us. This article expound on three aspects: what culture is, the main causes for cross-cultural misunderstandings, and the attitudes and skills that we need to communicate cross-culturally.
When we think about culture we first think about a country, and particularly about its food, art, customs, and patterns of behavior. These are the outward manifestations of a system of values, assumptions, and deeply rooted beliefs. Culture emerges as a group of people face and then react to the challenges of life. The responses to those challenges that are successful are taught and shared among members of the group and are passed on from the older to the younger members. Culture is then learned through experience.
You can think of culture as having three levels:
• The top level is the outward manifestations, the artifacts: visible behavior, art, clothing and so on.
• In the middle level are the values. These are invisible rules that cause the artifacts
• The most powerful dimension of culture is the implicit cultural assumptions. These assumptions lie so deep that they are never questioned, stated or defended
Culture also exists among Americans, but what are the implicit cultural assumptions of Americans? Some of the most distinctive characteristics of the American culture are: individualism, equality, competition, personal control of the environment, self-help concept, action orientation, informality, directness, practicality, materialism, and problem-solving orientation.
These American values and deeply rooted beliefs are very different from other country's values and beliefs. The implicit cultural assumptions of Americans are often opposed to those of other cultures. When individuals from different cultures run into each other's values and beliefs, cross-cultural misunderstandings take place.
People constantly interact with people who have similar views and who reinforce their beliefs. To be able to distinguish between the in-group and the out-group is of central importance for individuals because it allows them to find an identity as to who they are and who they are not.
In the book entitled Cross Cultural Encounters , Brislim states: “If individuals have out-groups whom they can blame for troubles, the in-group is then solidified since there is a common goal around which to rally.” Later on he says: “Individuals become accustomed to reacting in terms of in-group and out-groups. They continue to use such distinctions when interacting with people from other cultures whom they do not know.”