Intercultural Interactions: Verbal and Non-Verbal Communication Challenges

Abstract

In the present age, young people have difficulties socializing with people from other cultures who they meet at school and the workplace because of communication obstacles. If people can acknowledge and appreciate other communities, they can be able to associate well with people from diverse cultures. People need to overcome communication barriers in intercultural interactions so that they can improve their relationships. In addition, about fifty percent of the American population will be people of color due to immigration by the year 2050. Therefore, there is a great need to learn the lifestyles of different communities so that the challenges of communication barriers are solved.

Introduction

People have different views concerning intercultural communication. Some individuals believe that more interaction between communities of diverse nations would lead to a better understanding between the different cultures. Despite this, there are numerous challenges that exist in intercultural communication (Dupraw & Axner, n.d.). Dupraw and Axner (n.d.) believe that interaction with other people does not necessarily depict communication. Ingram (n.d.) observes that communication barriers across communities have prevailed because people are not informed that they exist in the first place. This essay aims to show that body language, communication style, tendency to evaluate, stereotypes and anxiety are the most common verbal and non-verbal aspects that affect intercultural communication negatively, as they all carry different meanings that depend on the speaker and the receiver of the communication.

Communication Barriers in Intercultural Interactions

Communication style

It takes a very long time for individuals living in new cultures to integrate completely with the new culture and adapt their perceptions and way of thought by adjusting their interpretations due to communication style. Barna (n.d.) asserts that people experience challenges with terminologies, grammar, phrases, slang, and the accent in a foreign language due to the impact of their communication style clashing with that of the new culture. The worst-case scenario is when a person holds on or borrows the meaning of a word in a different community without considering its linguistic context. The borrowed word will carry a different meaning for both the speaker and the receiver, thereby initiating a communication breakdown.

Body language

Body language can both hinder and help intercultural communication due to the different meanings associated with the different forms of body language, such as space, time, and gestures. For example, I have interacted with people from the Middle East and realized thumbs up is an offensive gesture that to them. Failing to understand such common nonverbal signs in the context of the culture one is in is a huge communication obstacle. The communication barrier can be solved by understanding the differences between the interacting cultures.

Stereotypes

Stereotypes affect intercultural communication, as they make the speaker appear either rude or knowledgeable. Stereotypes affect intercultural communication negatively because they hinder objective viewing of a cause. For example, a black person calling another black person ‘nigga’ is acceptable in the US. A foreigner may hear this and then call another black person ‘nigga’, but it would be very offensive.

The tendency to evaluate

Understanding the tendency to misjudge the arguments and deeds of others, instead of trying to understand their opinions and feelings, is important in trying to communicate in a multicultural setting. Judging one’s actions as good prohibits the unbiased attention required to understand the perception and behavior patterns of other people (Dupraw & Axner, n.d.). Other behaviors that do not conform to the personal behavior are always seen as wrong. Communication is, thus, disrupted severely when feelings and emotions are implicated in a situation where much of listening and empathizing is required.

High anxiety

Anxiety caused by the new environment and the new culture can build up communication barriers in intercultural communication. The aspect of high anxiety is common with outlanders because of the uncertainty of the new environment (Barna, n.d.). Moreover, cultural differences between nations cause more anxiety because individuals do not know how they should respond to other cultures or how people in the host country will respond to their lifestyle. People are also anxious when communicating with foreigners because they cannot sustain the normal flow of speech (Levine & Wolff, n.d.). The citizen of the host country are also tensed by the foreigner’s scrutiny and, probably, negative responses. The foreigner’s confidence is destroyed when he starts withdrawing from others and showing hostility. These behaviors have a negative impact on effective communication.

Ways of completing tasks

The different ways of completing tasks can ignite arguments in intercultural communications because they communicate non-verbal aspects like time and space, which aspects that carry different meanings in different cultures. Different cultures use varying methods in completing tasks because of the differences in resources, opinions on the benefits associated with the task, and the significance of teamwork when accomplishing a specific task (Dupraw & Axner, n.d.). For example, Asians may first work on strengthening the team and then completing the task later, while the Americans may opt to accomplish the task first and then build relationships later. Such differences can lead to poor communication if they are not understood and appreciated.

Personal experience

I have experienced a communication breakdown with a Chinese student who did not understand English. When he spoke, it was very difficult to understand what he meant because his pronunciation of most words was incorrect. This led to a misinterpretation of the whole conversation. He was irritated because he did not get the response he needed. He was forced to write down what he meant to say to solve his challenge in the language.

Conclusion

Various obstacles can cut off communication in a multicultural setting. These obstacles can be nonverbal or verbal signs. Communication obstacles include communication style, body language, high anxiety, stereotype, tendency to evaluate, ways of completing tasks, and nonverbal signs such as gestures, posture, and management of time. Therefore, people need to understand the culture and communication process of each culture in order to overcome the communication breakdown in a cultural setting.

References

Barna, L. (n.d). Intercultural communication stumbling blocks. Portland, OR: Portland University

Dupraw, M., & Axner, M. (n.d.). Working on common cross-cultural challenges. New York, NY: AMPU

Ingram, P. (n.d.). An overview of diversity awareness. State College, PA: Penn State University

Levine, R. & Wolff, E. (n.d). Social time: The heartbeat of culture. Fresno: California State University