Diversity and Cultural Constraints on Communication

Cite this article as:"Diversity and Cultural Constraints on Communication," in The Business Professor, updated October 1, 2019, last accessed July 7, 2020, https://thebusinessprofessor.com/lesson/diversity-and-cultural-constraints-on-communication/.

Next Article: Group and Team Communication

Back to: Business Management

Diversity can be a challenge or strategic force that influences communication. What are the different types of diversity challenge?

  • Procedural – Diversity can often be a source of obstacle or differences as far as the process of communication is concerned.
  • Cultural Differences – Diversity can result from the cultural differences between people.
  • Linguistic – There are also linguistic differences that are prevalent.
  • Gender – Gender becomes one of the most important components related to diversity.
  • Education – The quality and level of education should also be considered when talking about diversity in people.
  • Age – Age becomes an important factor in understanding the diverse outlook in people.
  • Non-verbal Cues – There are also non-verbal factors that result in diversity between people.

What is intercultural communication?

Communication means when a message is shared and understood in the private as well as the public spaces. Intercultural communication indicates when the message is translated and shared across cross cultural realities, the space that is created by humans. Culture indicates a person’s values, beliefs, attitudes, customs, and traditions that they share with others who belong in that same space.
While defining intercultural communication, one has to keep in mind that there are 8 component factors that not only influence the culture, but in turn, also get influenced by the culture. According to Everett Rogers and Thomas Steinfatt, intercultural communication is the sharing and the exchanging of messages and information between people not having any cultural similarity.” Communication involving only oneself is called intrapersonal communication, which may at times be intracultural, as an individual may represent only one culture. Culture is an integral part of one’s thought process and it influences how a person responds to their surrounding environment and the individuals around them. Ethnocentrism is the tendency that makes an individual view other cultures as inferior to one’s own. Ethnocentrism makes individuals far less tolerable and further, prevents them from bridging gaps between their individual selves.

Diversity as a Communication Challenge

There can be a number of issues that may act as a challenge in a diverse environment.

  • International Issues – One of the major challenges that someone may face while working abroad is adapting to the local culture.
  • Intercultural Issues – US in itself is a melting pot with people of various cultural backgrounds living together. However, due to the changing demography, harmony is not always guaranteed.
  • Intergenerational Issues – Age gap and age span result in individuals sticking or adapting to different life values, ideas, prerogatives and communication approach.
  • Gender Issues – Gender continues to be one of the major factors for discrimination. There are a number of anti-discrimination laws that have been passed over the years and the change in mindset has made people more tolerant and accommodative. Even then, there are a number of people of opposite genders who find themselves vulnerable and exposed to physical or psychological harm. There is rampant sexual harassment in the work place too. This not only results in misunderstandings and miscommunications, but also develops a sense of fear and low self-esteem in victim’s mind.
  • Culture and Communication – Culture continues to play an important role in shaping the mindset and personalities of people. This, in fact, gives rise to problematic situation for people who work in the management sector or across the board industries, to adapt with such cultural differences. We can refer to the US with its rich history of cultural diversity.
    What are the barriers to intercultural communication
  • Ethnocentrism – Ethnocentrism can be cited as a major hurdle to cross-cultural communication. People live under the delusion that their culture is superior and shows the right ways to do things. They not only wrongly uphold narrow mindedness and specific behavioral pattern that is hostile towards other culture, but also believe and propagate the universal supremacy of their culture or race.
  • Stereotypes – Stereotypes are one of the major hindrances of communication. Stereotypes lead individuals to cultivate certain ideas about other individuals and to treat them as the only determinant of diverse identity. It also majorly impacts the ways in which individuals behave with one another. The stereotypes often interfere with the communication process as people tend to interact with an imaginary self rather than the individual, in actual, belonging to a diverse race or culture.
  • Interpretation of Time – A culture study that studies and interprets time is called Chronemics. For instance, the study that finds the difference between business culture prevailing in America and the Middle East.
  • Personal Space Requirements (Proxemics) – A safe and comfortable personal space between individuals is as much important in the smooth communication process as is time. For instance, one can draw comparison between the business communications methods followed in US and the Middle East.
  • Body Language (Kinesics) – Body language is adapted from one’s culture and surroundings. The very basic gestures and movements can account for very specific meanings.
  • Translation Limitations (Language Barriers) – Words, that often cannot be translated, can lead to difficulty in communication. However, while translating a word, its significance might be lost. Comic messages, satires and dissatisfaction can often hinder communication.

Understanding Intercultural Communication

Edward T. Hall, an American anthropologist, is often regarded as a prominent figure in the domain of intercultural communication.  Hall is accredited with the eight contributions that is integral to the understanding of intercultural communication:

  • Compare Culture: This element lays emphasis on the interactions that take place at different levels in a culture in contrast to general observations around them.
  • Shift to local perspective. Culture can be understood holistically if the local perspectives are given as much importance as the global perspectives.
  • You don’t have to know everything to know something. The idea of time, space, gestures, and gender perceptions and social roles can give us an insight into the entire culture.
  • There are rules we can learn. The rules or customs that bind every people together in a community can be studied, learnt, compared and contrasted to develop an understanding of the community.
  • Experience counts. Personal experiences of individuals can help us in having a clear idea about the culture that they belong to.
  • Perspectives can differ. Various linguistic sources and literary records can offer varied perspectives in understanding the cultural manifestations. It was adopted by the US Foreign Services as a part of their basic training.
  • Intercultural communication can be applied to international business. When considering international business, one can apply the learning from intercultural communication as is done by many business schools in the US as part foreign service training.
  • It integrates the disciplines. Cultural studies and communication are interlinked and can connect many disciplines together to result in a multi-disciplinary or interdisciplinary approach.

Resorting to using stereotypes is as good as turning a blind eye towards the diversity unique to every culture. Stereotypes can be best defined as identifying a group with some generalization and not taking into consideration the unique traits of individual, thereby, leading to an oversimplified idea of the culture.

The American psychologist Gordon Allport stated that when individuals do not have access to sufficient interactions with people of diverse culture, they resort to using stereotype. According to Hallnotes, every experience adds value to our understanding.

Common Cultural Characteristics

Rites of Initiation – Rites of initiation mark the transition of the role or status of the individual within the group. Many cultures have the practice of following rituals before the inclusion of a new member in the society. At times, these rituals are very informal so it does not become very prominent. For instance, a group of co-workers inviting a new employee to lunch with them, but most other times it may be quite formal like the oath of a priest before they can assume office in the church. But across cultures, it is symbols, signs, rituals, customs, practice and beliefs that are shared by people.

Common History and Traditions – Having a shared past and tradition. The history that every culture has, or every organization has, marks an overbearing influence on the present.

Common Values and Principles – Every culture shares some common belief and value system, and they are transferred from one generation to the other. They norms, beliefs are reinstated and reinforced to uphold the culture.

Common Purpose and Sense of Mission – Every culture has a common objective and a purpose of life that they share with the people following it. When one considers business interaction, it is expected that the members will have a shared objective that they would want or need to materialize with their action and value system. Without having an organized action to pursue those objectives, they appear to be words arranged together.

Common Symbols, Boundaries, Status, Language, and Rituals – The identity of a culture comprises of the clothes, popular sayings and memorable phrases. Space, although a non verbal representation, is one of the major determinants of shared cultural values.

Divergent Cultural Characteristics – Every culture is marked by its unique diversity. There can be a diverse range of value, belief systems, meanings, ideas and objectives that form integral feature of a culture that may differ from another culture. Our interactions are influenced and shaped by our beliefs when we come in contact with another diverse community.

Individualistic versus Collectivist Cultures – Individualistic culture has a lot of importance on the inclusiveness of the individual and their freedom of choice. The cultures often develop narratives to reflect such values. According to Geert Hofstede in individualistic cultures as prevalent in the US, people’s world view is influenced by their own perception and value judgments. They perceive themselves as empowered human beings who can make their own choices or decisions without being influenced by anyone. They strive to create an impact into other people’s lives. On the other hand, collective culture lays focus on the needs and values of people, nation and the community and not the person only.

Explicit-Rule Cultures versus Implicit-Rule Cultures – In an explicit culture, the norms and rules are clearly articulated and laid down or communicated to the people so that they may know about it. For instance, right before a meeting, the objectives or agenda are presented before the members. In contrast, in an implicit culture, such objectives are often implied and most often not communicated verbally. They may also be devoid of any agenda. Power, status quo, and expectations from an individual are all analyzed and understood. In an implicit-rule culture, it is often found that individuals are more tolerant of deviance than having explicitly pronounced rules.

Uncertainty-Accepting Cultures versus Uncertainty-Rejecting Cultures – While some cultures are highly acceptable and tolerant of uncertainty, there are others who put a lot of effort to outright reject any element that may cause any surprise.
According to Charles Berger and Richard Calabres, the uncertainty reduction theory can carefully analyze this dynamism present in communication. Following are the seven features of uncertainty.

  • When a communication begins, there is an increased level of uncertainty as the parties are not aware of each other. But with communication, they slowly decrease.
  • Once verbal communication is established, nonverbal communication follows automatically that reduces the level of uncertainty. Moreover, nonverbal display of agreement like nodding one’s head in affirmation is used.
  • If the uncertainty rises to a higher level, an individual may seek answers to their questions to gather more insight into the matter. The more the understanding increases, the lesser the uncertainty gets.
  • With the reduction of uncertainty, the intimacy gets high. If an individual experiences heightened uncertainty, then there might not be any personal connect between them.
  • If uncertainty sustains, then the communication will have increased reciprocal behavior or demonstration of respect. With the decrease in uncertainty, reciprocity may go down.
  • When people have differences between them that might increase their uncertainty, while the similarities between them reduces it.
  • With higher levels of uncertainty, an individual is less likely to feel affinity towards the other individual. However, with the reduction in uncertainty, they might feel a strong sense of affinity.

Time Orientation – Edward T. Hall and Mildred Reed Hall are of the opinion that monochromic time-oriented cultures consider one thing at a given point of time, while in contrast, the polychromic culture considers multiple things at any given point of time as time is considered to be more fluid and dynamic. Monochromic time does not allow any interruption and treats everything having a specific time for itself. Polychromic time, however, has a more complex outlook.

Short-Term versus Long-Term Orientation – According to Geert Hofstede, time horizon is a concept that explores the perspectives an individual develops within a culture at any given time. In the Asian countries, more value is given to long-term orientation while in countries like the US, more emphasis is on more short-term orientation towards life and other related things. If an individual finds himself in a culture that values short-term orientation, then they need to put greater emphasis on reciprocating to gifts, acknowledgements or any awards. The short-term oriented culture puts a lot of emphasis on the personal attributes of an individual that contributes to the overall holistic development and adds a sense of intimacy with the other individual. Long-term orientation is often accompanied by an increased effort, austerity and conservation based on a person’s age and status. The individual may experience shame or guilt for their family or community that may transcend across generations. An individual’s actions may have a lasting impact on the generations to follow.

Masculine versus Feminine Orientation – According to Hofstede, the distinction between male-female pronounces a culture’s orientation towards considering certain values or traits as masculine or feminine. The interaction is preceded by expectations to perform the cultural roles and values, and anyone defying them, may be faced with pressure or strain.

Direct versus Indirect – In cultures that are direct, it is expected that cultural interactions will be direct and precise. In indirect cultures, the business interaction may spark from other conversations like discussing the weather conditions, family background or anything else that is not related to the business. This is done to make the individuals familiar with each other before they can communicate on the lines of business interactions.

Materialism versus Relationships – Relationship cultures value people and relationships more than the objects themselves.  Materialist culture puts an emphasis on materialist goods or services as they represent a person’s social standing, rank or their power. Relationship culture brings individuals to the centre of attention prioritizing personal relationship and values. Here, the individual is treated to be more important than materialist values.

Low-Power versus High-Power Distance – In a low-power distance culture, people tend to see each other as equal counterparts and not as the replica of the status or roles that society confers upon them. This implies that the manager-employee relation is more congenial, open and interactive. In contrast, in a high-power distance culture, there is no scope for open and friendly interactions between subordinates and superiors and there is much less likelihood to challenge an imposed decision and to provide another alternative.

Foreign Means of Communicating and Worldwide Forum – Man makes structures that mirror their developmental belief systems. These minimize trouble for their civilization by making the guidelines and regulations. Law, politics, financial stability and moral values differ from one tradition to another. These, at times, mirror official frameworks and at times, they do not. The tradition of a nation is made of official frameworks. Official networks, at times, order, show and restrain or boost certain conduct more than certain others. Every such framework enhances or criticizes deeds concerning traditional values by making rules that mirror methods that every civilization, with the help of its elements, sees the earth. Foreign method of communicating can be said to be a type of communicating between countries. However, those countries are nothing without its citizens. Foreign way of communicating is basically between two constituencies, rather between their hierarchical stakeholders.

Moral frameworks also show conduct, but in very few official, organizational patterns.

Politics and its Framework – The framework of politics is, at times, done in a pattern concerning how citizens are ruled, and up to what limit that they would take part. Equality is a section of constituency that enhances the citizen’s participation. Concentrated governing of citizens is of various patterns. The next type of the framework of politics is chaos and unrest which includes zero constituency and political system.

Law and its Framework – Certain law frameworks boost the lawful and some enhance the ideas, way of living and belief system. Among those, the two of the commonly known frameworks of law are domestic and familiar law network. In domestic framework of law, the specific aspects are explained in a vivid manner. The court has the right to make the legal proceedings to any given matter. In domestic law, the authority analyzes the legal matter and takes into account the past experiences and actions. Another type of legal framework is completely driven from a theory based on the belief of divinity.

The Framework of Economy – What mirrors the government itself is the dimension of low and high frequencies of its interest.

The Framework of Ethics – Moral grounds are not similar to the framework of law, finance and politics. It is mostly the least unorganized and informal. Morals are a number of rules that specify to a certain subject conduct involving formal business. They may be accurate like a certain business behavior, or like the Church Book to be followed when it comes to religious matters.

Local Village – Certain customs prefer a classical system in order to enhance the norms and beliefs of their culture even if that comes to business and creativity. Others may be up for diversity and may find out that they have invited the wrong ones. The local village is featured by data and transport facilities that deduce the area needed to communicate.

Was this article helpful?