Interpersonal Communication and Cultural Stereotypes

Abstract

This paper explains how intercultural communication and cultural stereotypes can be influenced among individuals from different cultures. It also explains how intercultural communication of individuals can be judged, how language can be a barrier in relationships, and how diversity can influence stereotypes.

Culture is the way of life. Communication is important in everyday lives, whether work related or personal. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, communication is a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behaviors. Gudykunst and Kim (2007) define intercultural communication as communication between people from different cultures. Intercultural communication can be either verbal or nonverbal communication between individuals from different cultures, speaking different languages. According to a recent article, “”nonverbal communication is symbolic, which means that it is arbitrary, ambiguous, and abstract”” (Interpersonal communication: everyday encounter, 2016). Nonverbal communication is more useful than verbal communication in intercultural communication because it involves using signs and codes as a means of communication between people doing business in other countries. For example, “”in some cultures, bowing or kissing both cheeks is the standard mode of greeting and bidding goodbye to business contacts”” (Interpersonal communication: everyday encounters, 2016). An inability to speak another’s language can create friction or barriers in understanding one another. effective communication entails the ability to accept and understand other cultures in spite of cultural differences. Accepting other cultures does not mean practicing them but rather indirectly letting other people know they are valued.

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On the other hand, cultural stereotypes involve grouping people of the same race, culture, etc. who exhibit the same types of attitudes or characteristics. According to Khan, Benda, and Stagnaro (2012), “”Stereotypes can be useful, but also inaccurate and even leading to in discriminatory behavior”” (p. 3). Stereotypes is a contributing factor in intercultural communication. They cloud people’s minds in interacting with individuals from different cultures. Dean Barnlund (1989) determined that some cultural groups preferred friends who were similar to them in age and ethnic heritage. (p. 289). The efficacy of communication is understanding the people involved. Communicating with people from different cultural backgrounds should be based on trust because the two groups cannot understand each other’s languages. If the trust is compromised, the flow of communication will be obstructed. For example, a young woman form Nigeria met another woman from Haiti. At first, they were very skeptical of each other because we spoke different languages. Later, however, they became good friends and enjoyed each other’s company. In early communication, new acquaintances usually check to determine whether common grounds, values, and interests exist (Weinstock & bond, 2000). Intercultural communication and cultural stereotypes are influenced by language, cultural diversity, and ethnocentrism.

Language is essential to communication. It is the basis of any culture because it distinguishes individuals from each other. Language is the representation of who an individual is, as are values, beliefs, norms, environment, attitudes or character. Culture determines our language, and that language affects the way an individual thinks or expresses his or her thoughts. As Whorf explains (1956), the very structure of language determines or at least influences the manner in which people conceptualize reality (p. 156). Language in intercultural communication affects the basis on which individuals’ daily activities depend. Such activities range from visiting the doctor to attending school, shopping for groceries, or applying for a job. For example, a young boy came from Africa to United States to continue his fifth-grade education and was bullied because he could not speak English fluently. As a matter of fact, his communication with his classmates was in jeopardy. Unfortunately, stereotypes can be seen everywhere in daily life.

Moreover, language pronunciation brings about understanding, misunderstanding and interpretation based on individual’s culture and environment. Chapter Four of interpersonal communication: everyday encounters describe how language and culture are intertwined. Language and culture depend on each other, so completely that, without language, there is no culture. The same have different meanings in different cultures and tend to reflect values such as proverbs and norms such as holidays and respect. Not surprisingly, “”language creates or reproduces culture by naming and normalizing practices valued by culture”” (Interpersonal Communication: everyday encounters, 2016)

Furthermore, cultural diversity is an important part of intercultural communication and cultural stereotypes because it involves culture of different types coming together in one setting or in one country. An example of such a nation is the United States, which is a diversified country of ethnic groups, cultures, food, and people. Diversity also involves learning or adapting to another people’s culture. Having knowledge of other cultural values can lead to acceptability, flexibility, understanding and openness to communication styles from other cultures. Diversity also encourages interracial marriage, which in turn influences learning, adapting, and acceptance of other cultures, thus bringing unity. An example of interracial marriage is a marriage between an Indian woman and a Caucasian man. The bonding of two different cultures through marriage brings acceptance from both families. According to Shuping (2016), “”the concepts of communication and culture work in tandem”” (p. 2).

Ethnocentrism is the ability to judge other beliefs, values, cultures, or behaviors as inferior to one’s own culture. Ethnocentric people tend to use their cultures as benchmarks against which they can judge people from other cultures (Gudykunst & Kim 2003; Lin & Rancer 2003; Neuliep & Mccroskey, 2007). Ethnocentrism can either be negative or positive. Negative ethnocentrism brings about harmful effects, hatred, violence, and stereotyping of other cultures, whereas positive ethnocentrism leads to passion, love, and promotion of the individual’s culture. In other words, ethnocentrism involves negative and positive functions and dysfunction (Neuliep & Mccroskey, 1997).

Ethnocentrism and intercultural communication explain the inability to communicate effectively and to accommodate and receive other cultures, values, and norms, all of which are important in intercultural communication. In other words, showing appreciation and respect of another culture produces harmony and acceptance of that culture. An example is how students attending schools in other countries find it difficult to communicate or be accepted in the host countries. The ability to communicate with people from a variety of cultural backgrounds is essential to the success of both interpersonal relations and business operations. Such willingness to communicate is critical in intercultural communication (Lustig & Koester, 2006).

In conclusion, if intercultural communication is encouraged in variable cultures, language barriers, stereotypes, cultural viciousness, ethnocentrism, and diversity will end, and harmony, love, and acceptance will be empowered. Also, introducing awareness to other cultures in the three tiers of education, especially in social studies and history classes, will expose individuals to intercultural communication, cultural stereotypes and add awareness of the need to communicate effectively in every relationship.

References

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Interpersonal communication: everyday encounters. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, (2016). Khan, S., Teena B., & Michael N. Stagnaro. (2012). Stereotyping from the perspective of perceivers and targets. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture 5. December 21, 2014. Lustig, M. W., & Koester, J. (2006).
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