In this age of globalization, workplaces are increasingly integrated. This makes communication and cross-cultural understanding more crucial for everyone, including executives, business leaders, workplace managers, and employees. In order to develop skills as communicators, we must gain practical knowledge of the factors that make communication across cultures succeed or fail. According to experts in the field, some of those factors include:
- Cultural identity
- Racial identity
- Ethnic identity
- Gender roles
- Individual personalities
- Social class
- Roles identity
Culture can be defined as the values, attitudes, and ways of doing things that a person brings with them from the particular place where they were brought up as a child. These values and attitudes can have an impact on communication across cultures because each person’s norms and practices will often be different and may possibly clash with those of co-workers brought up in different parts of the world.
Racial identity refers to how one’s membership to a particular race affects how they interact with co-workers of different races.
According to an article by Professor Daniel Velasco, published in the 2013 Asian Conference on Language Learning Conference Proceedings, there are exercises for intercultural training that asks participants to describe, interpret, and evaluate an ambiguous object or photograph. “If one is going to undertake the unpleasant goal of uncovering underlying racism in order to learn how to better communicate with other cultures,” Velasco writes, “it is necessary to engage in exercises that confront racism head-on.” His method, called E.A.D., asks participants to objectively describe what they see first and evaluate what they see. “By moving backwards through the . . . process, we are able to confront underlying racism, which will hopefully pave the way for self-awareness, cultural respect, and effective intercultural communication.”
Ethnic identity highlights the role ethnicity plays in how two co-workers from different cultures interact with one another. In the United States, white European Americans are less likely to take their ethnicity into account when communicating, which only highlights the importance of addressing different ethnicities in a workplace as a way of educating all co-workers to the dynamics that may arise between individuals of the same or different ethnic groups.
So what is the difference between race and ethnicity? According to experts from PBS, “While race and ethnicity share an ideology of common ancestry, they differ in several ways. First of all, race is primarily unitary. You can only have one race, while you can claim multiple ethnic affiliations. You can identify ethnically as Irish and Polish, but you have to be essentially either black or white.”
Another factor that impacts intercultural communication is gender. This means that communication between members of different cultures is affected by how different societies view the roles of men and women. For example, this article looks at the ways that western cultures view government sanctioned gender segregation as abhorrent. A Westerner’s reaction to rules that require women in Saudi Arabia to cover themselves and only travel in public when accompanied by a male family member as repressive and degrading. This is looking at the world through a Western lens. Saudi women generally view themselves as protected and honored. When studying gender identity in Saudi Arabia it is important that we view the Saudi culture through a Saudi lens. Women in America struggle with these traditional stereotypes, while women in Saudi Arabia embrace their cultural roles.
The individual identity factor is the fifth factor that impacts cross-cultural communication. This means that how a person communicates with others from other cultures depends on their own unique personality traits and how they esteem themselves. Just as a culture can be described in broad terms as “open” or “traditional,” an individual from a culture can also be observed to be “open-minded” or “conservative.” These differences will have an effect on the way that multiple individuals from the same culture communicate with other individuals.
A sixth factor which influences intercultural communication is the social identity factor. The social identity factor refers to the level of society that person was born into or references when determining who they want to be and how they will act accordingly.
According to professors Judith N. Martin and Thomas K. Nakayama, authors of Intercultural Communication in Contexts (McGraw-Hill ), “scholars have shown that class often plays an important role in shaping our reactions to and interpretations of culture. For example, French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1987) studied the various responses to art, sports, and other cultural activities of people in different French social classes. According to Bourdieu, working-class people prefer to watch soccer whereas upper-class individuals like tennis, and middle-class people prefer photographic art whereas upper-class individuals favor less representational art. As these findings reveal, class distinctions are real and can be linked to actual behavioral practices and preferences.”
The age identity factor refers to how members of different age groups interact with one another. This might be thought of in terms of the “generation gap”. More hierarchical cultures like China, Thailand, and Cambodia pay great deference and respect to their elders and take their elders’ opinions into account when making life-changing decisions. Cultures like the United States are less mindful of their elders and less likely to take their advice into account when making important decisions. Such attitudes towards age cause the age identity factor to impact intercultural communication in the workplace.
The Roles Identity Factor
The roles identity factor refers to the different roles a person plays in his or her life including their roles as a husband or wife, father, mother or child, employer or employee, and so forth. How two members of a workforce from two different cultures view these various roles influences how they will interact with their fellow colleague or counterpart.