Cross Cultural Communication
Communication is a very important aspect for any human beings. There are numerous ways that communication takes place. The use of language is the major avenue of communication for any society. People communicate differently because of factors such as the cultural affiliation whereby they acquire skills on how to use the language together with the rules that govern the usage of that particular language.
The rules of language usage may vary from one culture to another. It is therefore imperative for one to understand other people’s culture and how they vary from their own culture in order for effective and efficient communication to take place and also to avoid misunderstanding and miscommunication.
During cross cultural communication, one should bear in mind that there are possibilities that some problems may arise and should be willing to patiently handle such problems without making other further complications to arise. This is a deliberate decision that one has to make, with the knowledge that despite trying to solve issues that may arise, a solution is not always guaranteed and therefore, one may need to make adjustments on their preconceived beliefs.
Issues in cross cultural communication
When communicating with people from a different cultural group, certain problems may be encountered. It is easier for one to communicate with a person from the same locality and who shares the same cultural knowledge than with a person who has no knowledge of the local culture.
It is even harder if both people trying to communicate do not have sufficient knowledge of each other’s culture which entails important aspects like the beliefs of the people and other forms of non verbal communication which are used for effective communication to take place.
It is so easy for one to rightly foresee what the other person response will be in a situation where two people from the same culture are communicating but it is not so when it comes to people from two different cultures. When communicating with a person from a different culture, such predictions are hard to make. This is because it is very hard to do that without prior knowledge of the person’s cultural rules that govern communication, which may be very different from other cultures.
According to Conflict Research Consortium (p 1), for one o be able to predict or rightly judge what one expects to be the possible response when speaking to a stranger, one should have enough information about their culture.
Another factor that can help one do this is knowledge about the other person’s social class and lastly knowledge of the other person’s personal preference and tastes. To communicate with strangers, most people tend to depend on the stereotypes that exist concerning the cultural group that the person belongs to.
Dependence on stereotypes in communication may lead to a number of problems. There may be lack of understanding between the two parties because information may be misunderstood because of the preconceived beliefs about members of one’s cultural background which may not apply to the individual involved in the communication. Stereotyping is therefore a potential set back in cross cultural communication. To avoid such problems, one must pay attention to other significant aspects of communication without any bias.
One must be keener on the exceptional qualities of the person in communication. When this is done, it becomes very easy to understand the person without limiting them to the stereotypes that surround their cultural orientation. One must also be open minded when communicating with a stranger and should stop relying on the familiarity of a person in order to make predictions about the possible reaction of a person (Conflict Research Consortium p1).
Being unsure about what to expect while communicating with a stranger and the worry that may accompany this behavior is also a hindrance to inter cultural communication. Due to the fact that one is not used to or has never interacted with people from a certain culture, such behavior of uncertainty and nervousness may arise during communication. This is because one is not fully aware of the stranger’s personal attributes and what their culture demands during the process of communication.
At times, it is very hard to interpret certain reactions and behavior elicited by the stranger and especially when a response is required or when there is a gain expected by both parties at when communication has taken place. One way that this problem can be countered is through seeking for sufficient information about the stranger and their cultural beliefs. This can be done through different ways, for example, by just looking at the stranger and their reaction even without asking them anything.
It is also possible to learn about a stranger’s cultural requirements in communication by reading widely from different sources that may contain helpful information or even from inquiring from other people who belong to the same cultural group. It can also be very helpful if one gets information from the stranger themselves by asking relevant questions. One may also volunteer to give the stranger information about them. This is because; naturally the stranger will also take that opportunity to tell the other person information about them.
Nervousness may arise in the cause of communication which may cause a great damage to the communication process. This may arise due to different factors such as fear of misunderstanding or being misunderstood, not knowing how to react in certain circumstances that may arise during the communication process, what other people may conclude about them and also the possibility of being demoralized by the stranger. This may reduce the level of self confidence and therefore hinder success in communication.
Instead of one spending much energy in worrying about these things, it is important to concentrate more on other factors that may be of great importance in the process for example, one may gather enough information about the stranger which will help in understanding them and giving feed back when necessary. When interacting with a stranger, it is also important to avoid the common mistake of interpreting their behavior as the general behavior of the people of that culture.
Possible solutions to problems in cross cultural communication
Gudykunst (p 1) notes that during cross cultural communication, certain virtues need to be upheld. It is important to be patient in case of a misunderstanding and try to handle the situation in a calm and relaxed manner.
When one detects that miscommunication has occurred if possible temporary withdrawal from the issue is vital and the issue revisited after some time especially if it was offensive to either of the parties. One should not be so quick to point an accusing finger at the other person just because they believe they are right. Close examination of the issue at hand is important to clear any doubts and misinterpretation.
To avoid any misinterpretation, the participants are encouraged to participate in active listening. Active listening means that one does not just merely sit and listen while doing nothing, but on the contrary, one participates in the session by rephrasing what the other person has said to confirm their understanding, asking questions where they have not understood or are in doubt of the intended meaning and doing any other thing they think is relevant to contribute to effective cross cultural communication.
This however does not completely rule out the chances of miscommunication occurring. This is because; other factors may be present which can not be ironed out by only active listening. They include factors like the presence of words which may have different usage and meaning in different cultures.
The use of middle men who may have knowledge of both cultures may be helpful in overcoming barriers in cross cultural communication. These people can be useful in the area of translation. This means that they can help translate what has been said in terms of both the content and the style that has been used to say it. Due their knowledge of both cultures, they can correctly bring moderation on the dialogue by avoiding overstatements which may be offensive to the person of the other culture.
They are also able to moderate on the right time to do or to say something that was said by one of the participants depending on what they know about the culture. This is because, for instance, in some cultures, people address some issues directly without much ado but in other cultures, the same issues take some time before they are discussed as people try to create a conducive environment for the issue at hand to be raised.
The middle man is therefore able to make necessary delays or other adjustments to solve this problem. However, this mediator may make the communication process harder especially if they belong to one of the parties’ cultural group and there is a dispute to be solved. As much as the mediator would try to be non-partisan, it is inevitable for them to tend to favor the side of the party who belongs to their cultural group.
This is because the mediator tends to understand their culture more that that of the stranger and misunderstanding of the stranger is easier than for them to misunderstand the person from their cultural group. In this case, the problem becomes more complex and extra time and discussions may be needed to solve the issue at hand.
Gender segregation in the Middle East
The Middle East is dominated by the Islam religion although there are followers of other religions also like Christians. Islam is known for its strict rules governing gender interactions and other things related to gender in general. The women in this part of the world have often been depicted as being under strict authority from men and suffering silently because of the requirements placed on them. However, some people have argued on the contrary saying that this is just the negative portrayal by the western media of how Islam treats women.
They have further argued that Islam is one of the religions that uphold women rights and that the western countries have always misunderstood them because of either bias or lack of enough information about this religion. Proponents of these arguments cite instances in the Quran where women are recognized for their noble character and respected. There are also a number of Muslim women scholars who have significantly contributes in the making of history.
This therefore rules out the beliefs that women do not have any rights that are recognized by men and that they are under oppression because of the strict rules and laws that they have to struggle to adhere to. Even though such arguments exist, there have been cases of gender segregation in these countries.
For example, in places of worship, men and women are not allowed to worship in the same place. They have their own separate rooms where they can worship. This is a practice that has existed throughout history since the founding of this religion and the followers are comfortable with it. They do not see it as a way of oppressing the Muslim women.
Examples of gender segregation in Saudi Arabia
In Saudi Arabia, women are forbidden to drive cars. It is common for women to fail to show up at their places of work just because their male drivers did not report to work. Gender segregation is very evident in many areas in middle east. Areas such as education and careers have been affected by this issue of gender segregation.
In Kuwait for example, owners of private schools have strongly opposed the move by the parliament to instigate schools with separate genders. The parliament is of the opinion that boys and girls should not be allowed to learn together and that learning institutions should be separated so that boys learn alone and girls learn on their own.
This proposal is not only in the lower institutions but also on higher institutions of learning. Owners of private schools argue that this move will affect the quality of education and also the people who will pass through such an education system whereby gender segregation is present. The private schools have vowed not to support this suggestion by the parliament.
Howden and Shields (p 1) points out that, in Saudi Arabia, women suffer intensely under the strict rules that are imposed on them. For example, they suffer segregation even from the very basic services that they require. In health facilities, women are not allowed to seek treatment or consult the doctor without written permission from her husband or a male relative. They are therefore barred from visiting these places even though they are in need.
There is also gender segregation in travelling places whereby women cannot travel without being accompanied by a male relative or without their permission (Human Rights Watch p1). It is also forbidden for women to own business premises and for those who have defied this order and set up businesses, they are required to walk out when goods are being delivered to her business by a man.
Such a business only attracts female customers as male ones can not step there. In the past, women were not allowed to exercise their democratic right of voting because they could not use the same ballot boxes with the men and there were no separate one for women. In the career choices, women are also limited to specific areas only.
There have been attempts to address some of the issues that have led to gender segregation in Saudi Arabia. For example, women have recently been defying the rule that they should not drive and have been seen driving in public places. The government is also trying to eradicate such laws although it does not have enough back up to do so.
There are people who still believe that doing so will lead to other problems. For example, women would be required to remove the veil in order to see clearly while driving. Meijer (p 1) says that this is viewed by men as breaking the rules that require women to be modestly dressed by covering their whole body.
Learning ways to improve inter cultural communication is very essential to many people because the world is slowly becoming a global village and the need to communicate with people from other cultures is increasing. The need for this may vary from business needs, educational or just communication with friends from other cultures.
A lot can be learnt from other people and their cultural orientation should not be a major barrier to achieving the intended goal in communication. With proper understanding of the other person belonging to a different culture, patience, and if need be, involving a mediator among other things, inter cultural communication can be very effective.
On the issue of gender segregation in the Middle East, many instances can be cited when such has occurred. Women, especially have suffered more because of gender segregation. They have suffered because most of the laws concerning their conduct have been made by men. It is very hard for women there to make any decisions about their lives without involving men..
This has led to some women defying some rules, for example driving in public has been done by some women rights activists in the past although it is still forbidden. This however does not mean that women have completely been left out of the most important aspects of life. Their contributions have been seen in major areas like in religion and also in education.
Conflict Research Consortium. Cross-Cultural Communication Strategies. Boulder: University of Colorado, 1998. Web. 12 may 2011
Gudykunst, William and Kim, Young. Communicating With Strangers: An Approach to Intercultural Communication. Boulder: University of Colorado, 1998. Web. 12 may 2011
Howden, Daniel and Shields, Rachel. Saudi women appeal for legal freedoms. New York: The AHA Foundation, 2008. Web. 12 may 2011< http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/saudi-women-appeal-for-legal-freedoms-812657.html>
Human Rights Watch. Saudi Arabia: Women’s Rights Promises Broken. New York: Human Rights Watch, 2010. Web. 12 may 2011
Meijer, Roel. Reform in Saudi Arabia: The Gender-Segregation Debate. Washington: Middle East Policy Council, 2011. Web. 12 may 2011