According to Allwood (1985, pp.3), “Intercultural communication can be defined as the sharing of information on different levels of awareness and control between people with different cultural backgrounds.”Communication is the act of passing information, thoughts or messages from the source to the receiver (Armstrong, 2007,pp. 34).For effective communication to take place there should be a common medium of exchange, all human beings are naturally attached to a group this group can be cultural, economic or of any other social affiliation. The family is the first social group of association; this therefore,implies that the belief system of the family plays a major role in the value system of an individual. The other social groups like peers, friends, and colleagues also instill in individuals characters and beliefs, but not to a greater extent as the family. According toArmstrong (2007, pp. 65), groups have a greater role in shaping our personalities and, the fact that we belong to one defines us. Circumstances may force us slightly to alter our characters in order to make us feel that we belong to a certain group; such changes are always temporal and only last as long as we are part of the group. This therefore, indicates that the first belief system that an individual adapts plays a major informative role throughout their lives.
Economic positions determine the extent to which effective communication is achieved by or between individuals. Most group affiliation or socialization heavily depends on economic factors. Natural, the closest group that individual interacts with is that closer to the area or residence; this implies that individuals interact with those of same economic status. Given this scenario, the rich will socialize with the rich;they are able to afford the finest things in life in terms of education, information, health facilities and other social amenities. The rich will automatically have an upper hand in accessing most services and information; they will acquire soft interaction skills and will appear polished in communication than those from poor backgrounds who will have to contend with social problems (Gudikunst, 2003 pp.77). The manner in which these two individuals will communicate differs a lot because of economic backgrounds. The individual from a rich background will appear articulate, more confident because they hold no fear of lack in the sense of monetary or information, their education in good high cost school may expose them to many desirable communication skills which they will manifest in their communication. The individual from economically challenged background may carry with them economic insufficiencyfears, poor schooling will not equip them with desirable soft communication skills and to add to that, harsh living conditions have a way of conditioning individuals to become harsh too, the person from a poor background may appear rude, temperamental or less confident when communicating, these negatives may be more pronounced than the intended information and therecipient may fail topick the information and instead capitalize on the undesirable traits.
A sense of belonging can promote effective communication or become a block to one depending on many factors. This psychological need trickles down from the basic human need propagated by Maslow to that untold unease that a foreigner feels when in a strange land away from home and those he is familiar. In the emotional sense, the manner in which individuals communicate heavily depends on how they feel within the family or that social unit (Toomey, 1999, pp. 56). In the wider sense, lacking that sense of belonging to a county or institution is a great obstacle to effective communication. From the classic scenario of a foreigner, the foreigner may know the language but the fact that he does not belong will create many communicational blocks. Gestures carry different meanings across cultures and so facial expression and body language.
In an attempt to communicate, the foreigner may use an offensive gesture but with the correct verbal language. This will distort communication and a bad situation may arise depending on the gravity of the misperceived gesture. And because of this lack of belonging, the foreigner may feel unwanted and mistaken; the citizen may feel that the foreigner does not respect their culture because they do not belong. This scenario is present in various facets, a family or a social group may feel the same of someone who is not part of them, in the same light, an individual or one considered being part of a family but is not related to a family through blood may experience the same form of not belonging and discrimination (Toomey, 1999, pp. 60).
As communication specialists put it, we, must learn to’’ speak the culture’’ (Casmir, 1997, pp. 44). Communication is not effective unless it is carried out in totality; this is to mean that an effective communication has significance verbally and nonverbally. Speaking the culture would require that the tool of communication carries the intended meaning in totality. Cultural barriers are greater than language barriers hence; they may carry with them profound consequences depending on how they are interpreted. In the African society, actions such as hugging, kissing or dressing in physically revealing clothes is not socially accepted and even the civilized who openly engage in them are frowned upon no matter their level of exposure, such actions make them loose face in the society and as a result. Everything that emanates from such individuals is not acceptable, whether in the form of information or gifts. These very practices that are not acceptable in the African context are normal in the western culture and an individual from the western civilization may feel offended if a friend from Africa fails to hug and kiss them on the cheeks. This reveals how a matter that is so delicate in one culture can be desired in another culture.
According to Beebe and Ivy (2009, pp.67), we learn all these nonverbal forms of communication without effort and they in turn get incorporated in our subconscious such that we become wired to adopt them whenever they are needed without putting much effort. This explains why a Learned Native will automatically switch to a given cultural practice when confronted with a situation even in the presence of friends from other cultures. There is no clear definition of a ‘’normal behavior’’ (Casmir, 1997, pp.30). This is because of the difference in culture and belief systems that exist on earth; wetherefore only label that which is not familiar with us as abnormal. Our culture wired in us a form of discriminative feedback that only accepts what is familiar to them. To label a certain practice as backward or primitive is very wrong and discriminative. It shows the level of intolerance that the existing human cultures have towards the other cultures. Women from Buganda kneel down when addressing or attending to their husbands. In this case, a woman from Buganda who is fairly exposed to the western culture may find herself at loggerheads with her community if she tries to adopt the western values and refuses to kneel down before her Bugandarelatives. This implies that she will estrange herself from her blood relations and maybe remain with the learned friends who will accept her set of beliefs. But a problem arises when the human part of her desires that blood sense of belonging to the Buganda culture. This explains why every individual is proud of that sense of identity no matter how primitive the cultural background may appear to others.
Religion shapes our belief system profoundly. AHindu holds some physical features and animals sacred and will not eat certain foodsor go to some places because of the religious importance attached to them. A Christian may find this system absurd but may fail to sense the importance of thesereligious beliefs to the Hindu counterpart. AMuslim prays five times a day, observes many religious practices but the religion accepts polygamy. Christian may fail to go to church on a Sunday as required by the faith, may go into a disco or a bar but will consider himself more pious than a Muslim who observes all the religious requirements but has two wives. Religion informs our communication (Gudikunst, 2003, pp. 101),Muslims regard women as lowly to men and should never voice their concerns in the presence of men, Christians assume that all human beings are equal before God and women and men are all God’s creation. Communication may differ between a man from the Muslim faith and a woman from the Christian faith, the woman may want to hug and greet the Muslim man who is not allowed to greet or touch a woman by the hands. This may cause a conflict between the two while in essence, it is just a matter of difference in religious beliefs.
Upbringing and background is key to the way individuals communicate (Armstrong, 2007, pp.75). Upbringing is more to the family and cultural ties that an individual first comes into contact with, they wire language, gestures, expressions and beliefs into a person from the tender age and these are carried into the person’s entire lifetime. A simple childhood experience as trauma may affect an individual forever. Achild who experienced trauma is likely to become negative in life and in their form of communication, growing up around verbally abusive adults inculcates into a child verbal vulgarity, a tendency that may be wired permanently into the individual’s communication skills without them realizing the implications of using foul language in thespeech, the pop culture is guilty of this. Experiences such as poverty, being orphaned at an early stage or growing up in a hostile environment affects an individual in later life and how they communicate; life experiences may take away self-confidence (Aliki, 2009, pp. 20). Withoutself-confidence communication becomes difficult and an individual may seem not sure of himself and lack effective tools of communication, harsh environments may also tailor some undesirable traits like shyness or meekness, suchindividuals may not express themselves because, they are not sure of how their sentiments may be received. Background is more of the environment in which an individual grows up, the economies position which is key to exposure to situations and experiences in life. Poorbackgrounds may deprive individuals of confidence that one gets from exposure, and may not be able to have desirable tools of communication, this may be interpersonal or communication within a group.The peers are met and formed within the background where an individual comes. The peers shape and inform how an individual communicates through emulation andlearning. Thiswill be the primary contact group of an individual and therefore the information that an individual will get depends on the level of exposure of the peer group. Family background in terms of religious beliefs and cultural affiliation is also key because these values are the first that the individual will learn and inculcate in his values system which informs the way individualcommunicates.
Belonging is a major determinant in every single facet of communication, from the daily trivialities to the international forms of communication. An action as simple as walking into a supply store; in the neighborhood to buy daily supplies, or contacting a service provider from an air ticket or sorting out a simple problem needs subtle handling so as to get the desired result. Human beings respond to positive gestures more quickly than to negative ones (Armstrong, 2007, pp. 68). If you want your hair fixed nicely, the action begins from the time you get into the hairdresser’s shop, and how you greet the hairdresser before giving the desired hair look. All the details should be given in a polite manner in order to make the hairdresser feel that they are valued and respected, if all these are observed, the hairdresser will put all the desired effort to satisfy the client. Common scenario is found when one sets out in search of a place to live, more often than not, their present ability determines the ease with which they will get a house. This applies to job interviews; a candidate who seems to be expressive in a positive manner tends to have an upper hand than the rest who seem reserved.
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