is an important mechanism that helps humans share each other’s feelings and
opinions, yet it can cause conflicts between people due to misunderstandings.
Misinterpretations occur due to the ignorance of cultural characteristics when
speaking to others from a different perspective. Intercultural communication is
a beneficial factor that helps people successfully communicate. Yi Zhang (2015)
defines intercultural communication in his research Intercultural Communication Competence: Advising International Students
in A Texas Community College, “… having the abilities to interact
adequately with others from different cultures” (p. 49). People must understand
the different types of communication skills that are presented during a
conversation in order to have an adequate discussion. Some types of cultures
that play a factor in communications are individualistic/collectivist, time
orientation, high/low context cultures, and power distance. Cultures also
determine the management of conflicts and are influenced by the uncertainty
avoidance factor and religion/spiritual values. It is important to consider
that the research used in this paper should not be overgeneralized since
environmental factors and the view of self-concept can determine the person’s
A relationship also influences the type of communication
skills they will have towards a person. These bonds determine how willing they
are to accept members from in-groups and outgroup cultures. A research
conducted by Gudykunst, Yoon, and Nishida (1987) identified 6 different types
of relationships a person can have: lover, best friend, friend, colleague, pal
and acquaintance ( p.297). Positive relationships
can only form if the person is willing to characterize the cultural aspects.
This person is defined as the host communicator and is viewed as the outgroup
member who is willing to encrypt the communication strategies necessary to
engage in a conversation (Shuying, 2016, p.17)
Host communication is made up of three characteristics: cognitive,
affective, and operational competence. Cognitive competence is the stranger’s
ability to identify the culture’s language and values. Affective competence is
the stranger’s motivation and willingness to speak with others from a different
culture. Operational competence is the ability to interpret the verbal and
nonverbal indications. In order to have a positive relationship and communicate
effectively, the host communicator must practice these three factors.
and Collectivist Culture
individualist and collectivist factors are perspectives that influence the
communication skills of a culture. The differences of these cultures impacts
the self-identity of the person, the communication strategies they use, and the
acceptance of members in the in-groups and outgroups circumstance. The
individualistic group focuses on idiocentrism while the collectivist groups are
allocentric. The descriptions of these cultures are not a generalization since
some people can acquire characteristics of one while having the communication
skills from the other. Acknowledging these descriptions can help a person
practice intercultural communications, since it is a basis for all culture.
individualistic aspects are based off idiocentrism, which is defined as “denoting
interest upon oneself and one’s own ways, self-centers, related to the
psychological thinking of individualism” (Gudykunst, Ghul, and Nishida, 1987,
p.6). They tend to focus on themselves, their personal goals, and value
personal freedom. These characteristics influence their communication
strategies by being fond of voicing their own opinion and competing in
arguments. They will also speak in an assertive form to get straight to the
point of the conversation. Forming a relationship with a person from the
individualist culture may be difficult, since they only communicate to gain
benefits from the conversation or person. This may be viewed as a negative
aspect, but their skills can be helpful when forming relationships within a
work environment. Individualist can build caring relationships, but only with
their immediate family members. Even if they build relationships outside of
their comfort, they have a difficult time accepting people from out-group members,
as they are reserved about the certain information they will expose.
The collectivist cultures base their system on
allocentrism, meaning that they focus their attention on other people instead
of themselves. Collectivists rely on their emotions when meeting, speaking, and
being with the person by demonstrating sympathy. They also value cooperation and emphasize
group goals while giving priority towards harmony within the relationship.
Their emphasis on harmony impacts their conflict skills as they are more
willing to give in to the other person’s choice to prevent conflict.
When it comes to relationships, research states,”
collectivist cultures display more generosity and a stronger preference to
maximize profits with members of outgroups than individualist” (Gudykunst,
Yoon, and Nishida, 1987, p.297). Collectivist are more intimate with bonds they
have with others and are willing to accept others from the outgroup members.
When communicating, personal information is expressed since they are looking
forward on meeting the other person on a personal level, compared to an
individualist who values privacy. For example,
Kazuo Nishiyama explains his experience working with people in the Japanese
culture, “…they all tend to look for subtle verbal and nonverbal cues and try
to understand how the other participants feel about what is being discusses”
(Verderberger, Macgeorge and Verberger, 2016, p.404) The Japanese culture are
willing to know their work members by going out to drinks and sharing their
thoughts and feelings. The Japanese types of interactions may seem odd towards
western cultures such as the United States. Western cultures assert to express
their opinions, question authority, and stay reserved in a work environment.
these cultures, chronemics also plays a role in their communication strategies.
Chronemics is the study of how time is viewed between people and cultures. The
individualistic group place emphasis on monochronics, which is viewing time as
one component at a time. These individuals plan their day out, follow a
schedule, and are punctual. With communications, individualists will plan a
time to have a conversation. For example, if an individualist is stopped by an acquaintance
they have not seen in a long time, they are more likely to postpone the
conversation later. On the contrast, collectivist base their time on
polychronics, in which they view their time as gradual and free flowing. They
do not follow a schedule and are more flexible with events that come by during
the day. Going back to the previous example respectively, collectivists are
more like to pause there scheduled plans in order to talk with the
and Low Context cultures
context of the communication refers to the nonverbal aspect of the
conversation. Research states “…interpreting can be affected by the verbal
and nonverbal communication styles of interlocutors, and the degree to which
individuals rely on contextual factors ” (Bourne, 2016, p.16) describing the effects
it has on communication. High context relies on the non-verbal messages in the
conversation, which makes them more indirect when speaking. For example, they
may lean in towards the speaker or show eye contact to show they are listening.
The collectivist culture may rely more on high context since they want to
demonstrate that they sympathize with the speaker. People who speak in high
context rely on the listener to interpret what the speaker is trying to say,
such as showing facial expression to demonstrate they are mad or sad. People
from low context cultures can conflict with people from high context cultures
since low context cultures are more direct with their conversations. People
from a low context culture rely more on the verbal message and expect the
speaker to listen to what they have to say. Individualists are prone to having
a low context communication style since they speak directly to the speaker and
assume that the listener will understand the point of the conversation. They
are more assertive when speaking, which can make them seem rude from a high
context culture perspective.
Bourne indicates in her research, ” … the United States
prefers to use low context cultures while people on China always use high
context communication style”(2016,p.16). The research demonstrates that Western
cultures are willing to be more lenient while traditional cultures, such as
China and Japan, are low context due to the punctuality of their communication
Power distance is based on a scale measuring how cultures
view equality and inequalities. A culture with a high power distance believe
that an unbalanced power is a normal part of life. They refer to a hierarchy
when speaking to other people, such as treating grandparents with respect. A
culture with a low power distances emphasizes on equality, believing that
everyone has a voice. They will consider the opinions of others and are willing
to argue if the equality is unbalanced.
The perspective of
power distance is important since it can cause a conflict if people are not
aware. If a person from low context culture speaks to someone with great
influence in a high power culture, the person from the high power culture may
expect a certain kind of respectful response than a casual conversation. This
explains why some cultures view teachers and other professions with great
respect and refuse to question their authority. More countries that practice
traditions, such as China and Japan, value the power distance in their
communications. Countries in Western cultures, such as the United States,
practices low power distance and focus their goals on equality among all
Everyone has different ways of dealing with conflicts and
it all depends on the type communication factor they are practicing. For
example, people who practice the individualistic values rather confront the
situation at hand. When compared to the collectivist culture, collectivists
value collaborating with others in order to maintain peace and harmony. Zhang
defines the confrontation style of low context cultures , ” individuals are
more efficient in separating conflict issues from the person involved in a
conflict over a task, yet still remain friends”(2015, p.48). People in low
context cultures are still willing to maintain a relationship by collaborating to
fix the problem. When it comes to high context cultures, they become personally
hurt with the situation, which can remain an obstacle within themselves. These
are only a few examples on how different cultures deal with conflict, yet it
all comes down to whether they can tolerate a change that occurs in their
lives, referred as uncertainty avoidance.
avoidance is defined by Macgeorge and Verderber (2016) in their book Interact as “the extent to which people
in a culture look for a way to predict what is going to happen as a way of
dealing with the anxiety caused by uncertain situations or relationships”
(p.80), Uncertainty avoidance is measured from high to low and is used to see
how much a person can tolerate change in their lives. A person with low
uncertainty avoidance characteristics can tolerate change and are less likely
to control the situations around them. They dislike rules and regulations and
view them as a limit to freedom of expression and their imagination. They are
also likely to create more relationships and are willing to accept people from
the outgroup. People with low uncertainty avoidance tend to involve people from
the collectivist culture, for they are willing to collaborate when a conflict
In high uncertainty avoidance, people are in need to
control the situations. The Macgeorge and Verderber define high certainty
avoidance as “…low tolerance for and a
high need to control unpredictable people, relationships, or events” (2016,
p.80), meaning they need to have a sense
of control in order to maintain peace within themselves, thus becoming anxious
and stressed if an obstacle occurs out of the ordinary. Additionally, they appreciate
rules and regulations since they feel a sense of control in the environment.
When confronting a conflict, they will think before they speak and will try to
become prepared of any other confrontations that will get in the way. People
with high uncertainty avoidance tend to be people from the individualistic
culture. Individualists are not willing to form new relationships because it
causes a change in their daily routine. If forming a new friendship is
problematic to them, they are avoiding uncertainty at a high level compared to
a collectivist who wouldn’t mind the new friendship.
The reason that none of these terms can be generalized is
due to the influence of the environment towards the person. Many outside
factors can distribute to the communication skills of the person. Research
defines the three influence of the environment as having three characteristics:
receptivity, conformity, and ethnic group strength (Bourne, 2016, p.15).
Receptivity refers to the extent that the environment is willing to obtain new
people . Conformity is the test of the new stranger willing to accommodate to
the environment’s values. Ethnic group strength is the stranger’s vitality of
keeping their original values and culture.
People go through many different environments that changes or strengthen
their perspectives. It is up to the stranger adaptive potential and willingness
to accept or reject those values. Here are some examples of how environment can
play a role in a person’s communication skills.
Throughout the years, society has shaped how a man and
woman should behave. Due to these stereotypes, men and women today are now
embedded into certain characteristics that each gender are expected to demonstrate.
Macgeorge and Verderberg (2016) identify men as acting dominant, assertive, and
to adhere to the traditional masculine roles. Meanwhile, females are supposed
to be nurturing, caring, and service oriented (Macgeorge and Verderber, 2016,
p. 83). Men are viewed demonstrating an individualist role and women playing a
more collectivist role in this perspective; these stereotypes are viewed as
traditional in Japan, Italy, and Mexico (Macgeorge and Verderber, 2016, p. 83).
Despite these characteristics, a recent research
conducted viewed how parental influences the child way of being and
communication. In this study, both parents viewed their daughter as more
delicate and emphasized the masculinity of boys, yet there was as difference
between how mother and father spoke to their children (Cowan et al., 2007, 363)
. Fathers communicated greater gender roles by emphasizing greater achievement
towards their daughter and sons to be more self-reliant, dominant, aggressive,
and ambitious than their daughters (Cowan et.al., 2007, 368). This study may demonstrate why boys are more
aggressive when speaking and girls speak in a soft-spoken voice.
Religion and spirituality will be mentioned in this paper
since it also influences communication. Religion and spirituality sets the
values and tone within a person. Many religions emphasize harmony and giving
back to the community. For a person who does not attend a specific religion but
practices the spirituality within themselves, their spirituality also tend them
to be about peace.
In a previous study mentioned, Bourne (2016) explains how
Taoism and Confucianism impacts the communication styles of people from the
Chinese culture (p.18). Confucianism indicates harmony as one of their goals
when building relationships. Taoism values the avoidance of aggressiveness and
hostile environments. Bourne (2016) explains, ” Chinese people indirect
communication style is preferred as means of offering and receiving respect”(p.
18). People in the Chinese culture use a high context style of speaking to
maintain order and to avoid conflicts with others.
In another research, they studied the communication
skills of people with a chronic illness and measured the difference between
people who have some sort of religion/spirituality influences against people
who have no influence at all. The study resulted “the majority of R/S
conversations are considered positive, helpful, and supportive” (Bilig et al.,
2015, p.1880). This research proves how religion/spirituality influences people
to communicate in a sensitive and sympathetic tone. They center the
conversation on the people instead of themselves and make an effort to show
others that they care.
The studies provided acknowledge how much of an impact
religion and spirituality have on communication. People who practice some sort
of religion speak in a more collectivist tone and show their care for others.
The factors and cultures mentioned in this paper is just
a basis of the communication styles there are in society. There are many other
factors to consider such as socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or generations.
Also, this paper was not meant to generalize a certain expectations towards a
group of people. The avoidance of offending anyone is the reason why certain
aspects that influences ethnic communication strategies were researched instead
of studying a certain ethnic group. Once again, many factors play into the role
of communication that influences the person to speak in a certain way.
Intercultural communication is an important skill
everyone should take into consideration when meeting new people and forming
relationships. Macgeorge and Verderberger (2016) explains, “…we need to
develop a deep understanding of the culture, including history, worldviews,
values, and customs” (p.88). People should consider the background of the
person and become open minded about the different perspectives. There have been
many misconceptions that causes conflict among one another. Acknowledging
intercultural communication skills will help people understand each other more
and form infinite bonds with each other.