What is Cross-Cultural Communication?

by Mona El Shazly, Ph.D.

Cross-cultural communication skills are key to our success and essential in our world today. Cross-cultural communication is a result of interactions between cultures. For it to be effective, communication adaptation must take place. By that is meant that we must be able and willing to adjust our style of communication and negotiation to different cultures. Cultural adaptability recognizes differences and seeks to bridge gaps. It ensures that we understand and are understood by others.

Whereas communication is a process, culture is the structure through which the communication is formulated and interpreted. Culture deals with the way people live. In the USA more than 11% of the population speaks a native language other than English at home. Although they may speak English, their accents, dialects and regional peculiarities may present barriers to effective communication.

Equally important to language in communication is paralanguage. Paralanguage refers to the rate , pitch, and volume of voice in oral communication. Paralanguage conveys emotion which vary by culture. These can represent communication barriers that reflect negative personal feelings of the listener, variation in the use of vocabulary and non-verbal messages which often are more important than the verbal exchange.

Non verbal expressions include elements such as: proxemics, occulesics and haptics.

  • Proxemics refers to the physical distance between people when they are interacting. It varies by culture and can be divided into: Personal zone (close relationship), Social zone (business situations) and Public zone (most formal).

  • Occulesics, refers to eye contact. It can be very direct: Middle East, Latin America, and France, moderate: Americans, Northern Europeans and British, or minimal Asians, Native Americans and East Indians.

  • Haptics, relates to physical contact. Don’t Touch: Japan, USA, N. Europe, Middle Ground: Middle East, China, India , and Touch: Latin America, Italy, Greece, Spain, and Russia.

To sum up, cross-cultural communication is complex. It requires us to make a sincere effort to adapt, understand and approach it with an open mind. It is a critical skill that enables us to distinguish between what people say and what they actually mean.

About the Author- Dr. Mona El Shazly

Dr. Mona El Shazly is Professor of Economics and International Business at Columbia College. She was born and grew up in Egypt where she attended the American University in Cairo and received a B.A. and an M.A. in Economics. She received her Ph.D. in Economics with a minor in International Business from the University of South Carolina.

Dr. El Shazly joined Columbia College in 1987 and has taught courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level in International Economics, International Business, International Trade and Finance and International Negotiations.

Dr. El Shazly is actively engaged in research and has published numerous articles in professional journals on topics that deal with currency forecasting, exchange rate analysis, equity markets, international trade and finance. She is active in professional organizations at both the national and international level.

During her tenure at Columbia College, Dr. El Shazly was invited to teach as a visiting lecturer at The American University in Cairo, the University of South Carolina, Lethbridge University in Canada, Huron University in London, and the American University in Washington D.C.

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