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Discovering Intercultural Communication pp 47–67 Cite as

Barriers in Intercultural Communication

  • Hyejeong Kim 3 &
  • Cara Penry Williams 4  
  • First Online: 19 October 2021

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Although it is critical to living in the modern world, there are a number of challenges to effective intercultural communication. In particular, intercultural communication may be hindered by preconceived ideas or prejudices. Recognising this is important and encourages us all to consider our positions and our positioning of others critically. Ethnocentrism, essentialism, and Othering are extremes of divergence in terms of interactants’ affective functions. They place some in the position of refusing to accommodate to others or failing to recognise diverse ways of communicating as valid. These practices and the simplification of cultures and people that they frequently rely upon are problematic. We need to question our understandings of what is ‘normal’ in language and recognise the potential complexity of communication in ELF. Our attitudes, evaluations, and circulating ideologies are manifest in interactions and can be further barriers in interpersonal interactions. Following communication accommodation theory, being open to the differences and variations that both we and our interactants bring into interaction is an essential part of effective communication.

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The transcript has been slightly simplified from the original.

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Kim, H., Penry Williams, C. (2021). Barriers in Intercultural Communication. In: Discovering Intercultural Communication. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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8.3 Intercultural Communication

Learning objectives.

  • Define intercultural communication.
  • List and summarize the six dialectics of intercultural communication.
  • Discuss how intercultural communication affects interpersonal relationships.

It is through intercultural communication that we come to create, understand, and transform culture and identity. Intercultural communication is communication between people with differing cultural identities. One reason we should study intercultural communication is to foster greater self-awareness (Martin & Nakayama, 2010). Our thought process regarding culture is often “other focused,” meaning that the culture of the other person or group is what stands out in our perception. However, the old adage “know thyself” is appropriate, as we become more aware of our own culture by better understanding other cultures and perspectives. Intercultural communication can allow us to step outside of our comfortable, usual frame of reference and see our culture through a different lens. Additionally, as we become more self-aware, we may also become more ethical communicators as we challenge our ethnocentrism , or our tendency to view our own culture as superior to other cultures.

As was noted earlier, difference matters, and studying intercultural communication can help us better negotiate our changing world. Changing economies and technologies intersect with culture in meaningful ways (Martin & Nakayama). As was noted earlier, technology has created for some a global village where vast distances are now much shorter due to new technology that make travel and communication more accessible and convenient (McLuhan, 1967). However, as the following “Getting Plugged In” box indicates, there is also a digital divide , which refers to the unequal access to technology and related skills that exists in much of the world. People in most fields will be more successful if they are prepared to work in a globalized world. Obviously, the global market sets up the need to have intercultural competence for employees who travel between locations of a multinational corporation. Perhaps less obvious may be the need for teachers to work with students who do not speak English as their first language and for police officers, lawyers, managers, and medical personnel to be able to work with people who have various cultural identities.

“Getting Plugged In”

The Digital Divide

Many people who are now college age struggle to imagine a time without cell phones and the Internet. As “digital natives” it is probably also surprising to realize the number of people who do not have access to certain technologies. The digital divide was a term that initially referred to gaps in access to computers. The term expanded to include access to the Internet since it exploded onto the technology scene and is now connected to virtually all computing (van Deursen & van Dijk, 2010). Approximately two billion people around the world now access the Internet regularly, and those who don’t face several disadvantages (Smith, 2011). Discussions of the digital divide are now turning more specifically to high-speed Internet access, and the discussion is moving beyond the physical access divide to include the skills divide, the economic opportunity divide, and the democratic divide. This divide doesn’t just exist in developing countries; it has become an increasing concern in the United States. This is relevant to cultural identities because there are already inequalities in terms of access to technology based on age, race, and class (Sylvester & McGlynn, 2010). Scholars argue that these continued gaps will only serve to exacerbate existing cultural and social inequalities. From an international perspective, the United States is falling behind other countries in terms of access to high-speed Internet. South Korea, Japan, Sweden, and Germany now all have faster average connection speeds than the United States (Smith, 2011). And Finland in 2010 became the first country in the world to declare that all its citizens have a legal right to broadband Internet access (ben-Aaron, 2010). People in rural areas in the United States are especially disconnected from broadband service, with about 11 million rural Americans unable to get the service at home. As so much of our daily lives go online, it puts those who aren’t connected at a disadvantage. From paying bills online, to interacting with government services, to applying for jobs, to taking online college classes, to researching and participating in political and social causes, the Internet connects to education, money, and politics.

  • What do you think of Finland’s inclusion of broadband access as a legal right? Is this something that should be done in other countries? Why or why not?
  • How does the digital divide affect the notion of the global village?
  • How might limited access to technology negatively affect various nondominant groups?

Intercultural Communication: A Dialectical Approach

Intercultural communication is complicated, messy, and at times contradictory. Therefore it is not always easy to conceptualize or study. Taking a dialectical approach allows us to capture the dynamism of intercultural communication. A dialectic is a relationship between two opposing concepts that constantly push and pull one another (Martin & Nakayama, 2010). To put it another way, thinking dialectically helps us realize that our experiences often occur in between two different phenomena. This perspective is especially useful for interpersonal and intercultural communication, because when we think dialectically, we think relationally. This means we look at the relationship between aspects of intercultural communication rather than viewing them in isolation. Intercultural communication occurs as a dynamic in-betweenness that, while connected to the individuals in an encounter, goes beyond the individuals, creating something unique. Holding a dialectical perspective may be challenging for some Westerners, as it asks us to hold two contradictory ideas simultaneously, which goes against much of what we are taught in our formal education. Thinking dialectically helps us see the complexity in culture and identity because it doesn’t allow for dichotomies. Dichotomies are dualistic ways of thinking that highlight opposites, reducing the ability to see gradations that exist in between concepts. Dichotomies such as good/evil, wrong/right, objective/subjective, male/female, in-group/out-group, black/white, and so on form the basis of much of our thoughts on ethics, culture, and general philosophy, but this isn’t the only way of thinking (Marin & Nakayama, 1999). Many Eastern cultures acknowledge that the world isn’t dualistic. Rather, they accept as part of their reality that things that seem opposite are actually interdependent and complement each other. I argue that a dialectical approach is useful in studying intercultural communication because it gets us out of our comfortable and familiar ways of thinking. Since so much of understanding culture and identity is understanding ourselves, having an unfamiliar lens through which to view culture can offer us insights that our familiar lenses will not. Specifically, we can better understand intercultural communication by examining six dialectics (see Figure 8.1 “Dialectics of Intercultural Communication” ) (Martin & Nakayama, 1999).

Figure 8.1 Dialectics of Intercultural Communication


Source: Adapted from Judith N. Martin and Thomas K. Nakayama, “Thinking Dialectically about Culture and Communication,” Communication Theory 9, no. 1 (1999): 1–25.

The cultural-individual dialectic captures the interplay between patterned behaviors learned from a cultural group and individual behaviors that may be variations on or counter to those of the larger culture. This dialectic is useful because it helps us account for exceptions to cultural norms. For example, earlier we learned that the United States is said to be a low-context culture, which means that we value verbal communication as our primary, meaning-rich form of communication. Conversely, Japan is said to be a high-context culture, which means they often look for nonverbal clues like tone, silence, or what is not said for meaning. However, you can find people in the United States who intentionally put much meaning into how they say things, perhaps because they are not as comfortable speaking directly what’s on their mind. We often do this in situations where we may hurt someone’s feelings or damage a relationship. Does that mean we come from a high-context culture? Does the Japanese man who speaks more than is socially acceptable come from a low-context culture? The answer to both questions is no. Neither the behaviors of a small percentage of individuals nor occasional situational choices constitute a cultural pattern.

The personal-contextual dialectic highlights the connection between our personal patterns of and preferences for communicating and how various contexts influence the personal. In some cases, our communication patterns and preferences will stay the same across many contexts. In other cases, a context shift may lead us to alter our communication and adapt. For example, an American businesswoman may prefer to communicate with her employees in an informal and laid-back manner. When she is promoted to manage a department in her company’s office in Malaysia, she may again prefer to communicate with her new Malaysian employees the same way she did with those in the United States. In the United States, we know that there are some accepted norms that communication in work contexts is more formal than in personal contexts. However, we also know that individual managers often adapt these expectations to suit their own personal tastes. This type of managerial discretion would likely not go over as well in Malaysia where there is a greater emphasis put on power distance (Hofstede, 1991). So while the American manager may not know to adapt to the new context unless she has a high degree of intercultural communication competence, Malaysian managers would realize that this is an instance where the context likely influences communication more than personal preferences.

The differences-similarities dialectic allows us to examine how we are simultaneously similar to and different from others. As was noted earlier, it’s easy to fall into a view of intercultural communication as “other oriented” and set up dichotomies between “us” and “them.” When we overfocus on differences, we can end up polarizing groups that actually have things in common. When we overfocus on similarities, we essentialize , or reduce/overlook important variations within a group. This tendency is evident in most of the popular, and some of the academic, conversations regarding “gender differences.” The book Men Are from Mars and Women Are from Venus makes it seem like men and women aren’t even species that hail from the same planet. The media is quick to include a blurb from a research study indicating again how men and women are “wired” to communicate differently. However, the overwhelming majority of current research on gender and communication finds that while there are differences between how men and women communicate, there are far more similarities (Allen, 2011). Even the language we use to describe the genders sets up dichotomies. That’s why I suggest that my students use the term other gender instead of the commonly used opposite sex . I have a mom, a sister, and plenty of female friends, and I don’t feel like any of them are the opposite of me. Perhaps a better title for a book would be Women and Men Are Both from Earth .

The static-dynamic dialectic suggests that culture and communication change over time yet often appear to be and are experienced as stable. Although it is true that our cultural beliefs and practices are rooted in the past, we have already discussed how cultural categories that most of us assume to be stable, like race and gender, have changed dramatically in just the past fifty years. Some cultural values remain relatively consistent over time, which allows us to make some generalizations about a culture. For example, cultures have different orientations to time. The Chinese have a longer-term orientation to time than do Europeans (Lustig & Koester, 2006). This is evidenced in something that dates back as far as astrology. The Chinese zodiac is done annually (The Year of the Monkey, etc.), while European astrology was organized by month (Taurus, etc.). While this cultural orientation to time has been around for generations, as China becomes more Westernized in terms of technology, business, and commerce, it could also adopt some views on time that are more short term.

The history/past-present/future dialectic reminds us to understand that while current cultural conditions are important and that our actions now will inevitably affect our future, those conditions are not without a history. We always view history through the lens of the present. Perhaps no example is more entrenched in our past and avoided in our present as the history of slavery in the United States. Where I grew up in the Southern United States, race was something that came up frequently. The high school I attended was 30 percent minorities (mostly African American) and also had a noticeable number of white teens (mostly male) who proudly displayed Confederate flags on their clothing or vehicles.


There has been controversy over whether the Confederate flag is a symbol of hatred or a historical symbol that acknowledges the time of the Civil War.

Jim Surkamp – Confederate Rebel Flag – CC BY-NC 2.0.

I remember an instance in a history class where we were discussing slavery and the subject of repatriation, or compensation for descendants of slaves, came up. A white male student in the class proclaimed, “I’ve never owned slaves. Why should I have to care about this now?” While his statement about not owning slaves is valid, it doesn’t acknowledge that effects of slavery still linger today and that the repercussions of such a long and unjust period of our history don’t disappear over the course of a few generations.

The privileges-disadvantages dialectic captures the complex interrelation of unearned, systemic advantages and disadvantages that operate among our various identities. As was discussed earlier, our society consists of dominant and nondominant groups. Our cultures and identities have certain privileges and/or disadvantages. To understand this dialectic, we must view culture and identity through a lens of intersectionality , which asks us to acknowledge that we each have multiple cultures and identities that intersect with each other. Because our identities are complex, no one is completely privileged and no one is completely disadvantaged. For example, while we may think of a white, heterosexual male as being very privileged, he may also have a disability that leaves him without the able-bodied privilege that a Latina woman has. This is often a difficult dialectic for my students to understand, because they are quick to point out exceptions that they think challenge this notion. For example, many people like to point out Oprah Winfrey as a powerful African American woman. While she is definitely now quite privileged despite her disadvantaged identities, her trajectory isn’t the norm. When we view privilege and disadvantage at the cultural level, we cannot let individual exceptions distract from the systemic and institutionalized ways in which some people in our society are disadvantaged while others are privileged.

As these dialectics reiterate, culture and communication are complex systems that intersect with and diverge from many contexts. A better understanding of all these dialectics helps us be more critical thinkers and competent communicators in a changing world.

“Getting Critical”

Immigration, Laws, and Religion

France, like the United States, has a constitutional separation between church and state. As many countries in Europe, including France, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden, have experienced influxes of immigrants, many of them Muslim, there have been growing tensions among immigration, laws, and religion. In 2011, France passed a law banning the wearing of a niqab (pronounced knee-cobb ), which is an Islamic facial covering worn by some women that only exposes the eyes. This law was aimed at “assimilating its Muslim population” of more than five million people and “defending French values and women’s rights” (De La Baume & Goodman, 2011). Women found wearing the veil can now be cited and fined $150 euros. Although the law went into effect in April of 2011, the first fines were issued in late September of 2011. Hind Ahmas, a woman who was fined, says she welcomes the punishment because she wants to challenge the law in the European Court of Human Rights. She also stated that she respects French laws but cannot abide by this one. Her choice to wear the veil has been met with more than a fine. She recounts how she has been denied access to banks and other public buildings and was verbally harassed by a woman on the street and then punched in the face by the woman’s husband. Another Muslim woman named Kenza Drider, who can be seen in Video Clip 8.2, announced that she will run for the presidency of France in order to challenge the law. The bill that contained the law was broadly supported by politicians and the public in France, and similar laws are already in place in Belgium and are being proposed in Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, and Switzerland (Fraser, 2011).

  • Some people who support the law argue that part of integrating into Western society is showing your face. Do you agree or disagree? Why?
  • Part of the argument for the law is to aid in the assimilation of Muslim immigrants into French society. What are some positives and negatives of this type of assimilation?
  • Identify which of the previously discussed dialectics can be seen in this case. How do these dialectics capture the tensions involved?

Video Clip 8.2

Veiled Woman Eyes French Presidency

(click to see video)

Intercultural Communication and Relationships

Intercultural relationships are formed between people with different cultural identities and include friends, romantic partners, family, and coworkers. Intercultural relationships have benefits and drawbacks. Some of the benefits include increasing cultural knowledge, challenging previously held stereotypes, and learning new skills (Martin & Nakayama, 2010). For example, I learned about the Vietnamese New Year celebration Tet from a friend I made in graduate school. This same friend also taught me how to make some delicious Vietnamese foods that I continue to cook today. I likely would not have gained this cultural knowledge or skill without the benefits of my intercultural friendship. Intercultural relationships also present challenges, however.

The dialectics discussed earlier affect our intercultural relationships. The similarities-differences dialectic in particular may present challenges to relationship formation (Martin & Nakayama, 2010). While differences between people’s cultural identities may be obvious, it takes some effort to uncover commonalities that can form the basis of a relationship. Perceived differences in general also create anxiety and uncertainty that is not as present in intracultural relationships. Once some similarities are found, the tension within the dialectic begins to balance out and uncertainty and anxiety lessen. Negative stereotypes may also hinder progress toward relational development, especially if the individuals are not open to adjusting their preexisting beliefs. Intercultural relationships may also take more work to nurture and maintain. The benefit of increased cultural awareness is often achieved, because the relational partners explain their cultures to each other. This type of explaining requires time, effort, and patience and may be an extra burden that some are not willing to carry. Last, engaging in intercultural relationships can lead to questioning or even backlash from one’s own group. I experienced this type of backlash from my white classmates in middle school who teased me for hanging out with the African American kids on my bus. While these challenges range from mild inconveniences to more serious repercussions, they are important to be aware of. As noted earlier, intercultural relationships can take many forms. The focus of this section is on friendships and romantic relationships, but much of the following discussion can be extended to other relationship types.

Intercultural Friendships

Even within the United States, views of friendship vary based on cultural identities. Research on friendship has shown that Latinos/as value relational support and positive feedback, Asian Americans emphasize exchanges of ideas like offering feedback or asking for guidance, African Americans value respect and mutual acceptance, and European Americans value recognition of each other as individuals (Coller, 1996). Despite the differences in emphasis, research also shows that the overall definition of a close friend is similar across cultures. A close friend is thought of as someone who is helpful and nonjudgmental, who you enjoy spending time with but can also be independent, and who shares similar interests and personality traits (Lee, 2006).

Intercultural friendship formation may face challenges that other friendships do not. Prior intercultural experience and overcoming language barriers increase the likelihood of intercultural friendship formation (Sias et al., 2008). In some cases, previous intercultural experience, like studying abroad in college or living in a diverse place, may motivate someone to pursue intercultural friendships once they are no longer in that context. When friendships cross nationality, it may be necessary to invest more time in common understanding, due to language barriers. With sufficient motivation and language skills, communication exchanges through self-disclosure can then further relational formation. Research has shown that individuals from different countries in intercultural friendships differ in terms of the topics and depth of self-disclosure, but that as the friendship progresses, self-disclosure increases in depth and breadth (Chen & Nakazawa, 2009). Further, as people overcome initial challenges to initiating an intercultural friendship and move toward mutual self-disclosure, the relationship becomes more intimate, which helps friends work through and move beyond their cultural differences to focus on maintaining their relationship. In this sense, intercultural friendships can be just as strong and enduring as other friendships (Lee, 2006).

The potential for broadening one’s perspective and learning more about cultural identities is not always balanced, however. In some instances, members of a dominant culture may be more interested in sharing their culture with their intercultural friend than they are in learning about their friend’s culture, which illustrates how context and power influence friendships (Lee, 2006). A research study found a similar power dynamic, as European Americans in intercultural friendships stated they were open to exploring everyone’s culture but also communicated that culture wasn’t a big part of their intercultural friendships, as they just saw their friends as people. As the researcher states, “These types of responses may demonstrate that it is easiest for the group with the most socioeconomic and socio-cultural power to ignore the rules, assume they have the power as individuals to change the rules, or assume that no rules exist, since others are adapting to them rather than vice versa” (Collier, 1996). Again, intercultural friendships illustrate the complexity of culture and the importance of remaining mindful of your communication and the contexts in which it occurs.

Culture and Romantic Relationships

Romantic relationships are influenced by society and culture, and still today some people face discrimination based on who they love. Specifically, sexual orientation and race affect societal views of romantic relationships. Although the United States, as a whole, is becoming more accepting of gay and lesbian relationships, there is still a climate of prejudice and discrimination that individuals in same-gender romantic relationships must face. Despite some physical and virtual meeting places for gay and lesbian people, there are challenges for meeting and starting romantic relationships that are not experienced for most heterosexual people (Peplau & Spalding, 2000).

As we’ve already discussed, romantic relationships are likely to begin due to merely being exposed to another person at work, through a friend, and so on. But some gay and lesbian people may feel pressured into or just feel more comfortable not disclosing or displaying their sexual orientation at work or perhaps even to some family and friends, which closes off important social networks through which most romantic relationships begin. This pressure to refrain from disclosing one’s gay or lesbian sexual orientation in the workplace is not unfounded, as it is still legal in twenty-nine states (as of November 2012) to fire someone for being gay or lesbian (Human Rights Campaign, 2012). There are also some challenges faced by gay and lesbian partners regarding relationship termination. Gay and lesbian couples do not have the same legal and societal resources to manage their relationships as heterosexual couples; for example, gay and lesbian relationships are not legally recognized in most states, it is more difficult for a gay or lesbian couple to jointly own property or share custody of children than heterosexual couples, and there is little public funding for relationship counseling or couples therapy for gay and lesbian couples.

While this lack of barriers may make it easier for gay and lesbian partners to break out of an unhappy or unhealthy relationship, it could also lead couples to termination who may have been helped by the sociolegal support systems available to heterosexuals (Peplau & Spalding, 2000).

Despite these challenges, relationships between gay and lesbian people are similar in other ways to those between heterosexuals. Gay, lesbian, and heterosexual people seek similar qualities in a potential mate, and once relationships are established, all these groups experience similar degrees of relational satisfaction (Peplau & Spalding, 2000). Despite the myth that one person plays the man and one plays the woman in a relationship, gay and lesbian partners do not have set preferences in terms of gender role. In fact, research shows that while women in heterosexual relationships tend to do more of the housework, gay and lesbian couples were more likely to divide tasks so that each person has an equal share of responsibility (Peplau & Spalding, 2000). A gay or lesbian couple doesn’t necessarily constitute an intercultural relationship, but as we have already discussed, sexuality is an important part of an individual’s identity and connects to larger social and cultural systems. Keeping in mind that identity and culture are complex, we can see that gay and lesbian relationships can also be intercultural if the partners are of different racial or ethnic backgrounds.

While interracial relationships have occurred throughout history, there have been more historical taboos in the United States regarding relationships between African Americans and white people than other racial groups. Antimiscegenation laws were common in states and made it illegal for people of different racial/ethnic groups to marry. It wasn’t until 1967 that the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Loving versus Virginia , declaring these laws to be unconstitutional (Pratt, 1995). It wasn’t until 1998 and 2000, however, that South Carolina and Alabama removed such language from their state constitutions (, 2011). The organization and website commemorates the landmark case and works to end racial prejudice through education.

Even after these changes, there were more Asian-white and Latino/a-white relationships than there were African American–white relationships (Gaines Jr. & Brennan, 2011). Having already discussed the importance of similarity in attraction to mates, it’s important to note that partners in an interracial relationship, although culturally different, tend to be similar in occupation and income. This can likely be explained by the situational influences on our relationship formation we discussed earlier—namely, that work tends to be a starting ground for many of our relationships, and we usually work with people who have similar backgrounds to us.

There has been much research on interracial couples that counters the popular notion that partners may be less satisfied in their relationships due to cultural differences. In fact, relational satisfaction isn’t significantly different for interracial partners, although the challenges they may face in finding acceptance from other people could lead to stressors that are not as strong for intracultural partners (Gaines Jr. & Brennan, 2011). Although partners in interracial relationships certainly face challenges, there are positives. For example, some mention that they’ve experienced personal growth by learning about their partner’s cultural background, which helps them gain alternative perspectives. Specifically, white people in interracial relationships have cited an awareness of and empathy for racism that still exists, which they may not have been aware of before (Gaines Jr. & Liu, 2000).


The Supreme Court ruled in the 1967 Loving v. Virginia case that states could not enforce laws banning interracial marriages. – CC BY-NC 2.0.

Key Takeaways

  • Studying intercultural communication, communication between people with differing cultural identities, can help us gain more self-awareness and be better able to communicate in a world with changing demographics and technologies.
  • A dialectical approach to studying intercultural communication is useful because it allows us to think about culture and identity in complex ways, avoiding dichotomies and acknowledging the tensions that must be negotiated.
  • Intercultural relationships face some challenges in negotiating the dialectic between similarities and differences but can also produce rewards in terms of fostering self- and other awareness.
  • Why is the phrase “Know thyself” relevant to the study of intercultural communication?
  • Apply at least one of the six dialectics to a recent intercultural interaction that you had. How does this dialectic help you understand or analyze the situation?
  • Do some research on your state’s laws by answering the following questions: Did your state have antimiscegenation laws? If so, when were they repealed? Does your state legally recognize gay and lesbian relationships? If so, how?

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Stanley O. Gaines Jr., S. O., and James H. Liu, “Multicultural/Multiracial Relationships,” in Close Relationships: A Sourcebook , eds. Clyde Hendrick and Susan S. Hendrick (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000), 105.

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Loving Day, “The Last Laws to Go,” , accessed October 11, 2011, .

Lustig, M. W., and Jolene Koester, Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication across Cultures , 2nd ed. (Boston, MA: Pearson, 2006), 128–29.

Martin, J. N., and Thomas K. Nakayama, Intercultural Communication in Contexts , 5th ed. (Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2010), 4.

Martin, J. N., and Thomas K. Nakayama, “Thinking Dialectically about Culture and Communication,” Communication Theory 9, no. 1 (1999): 14.

McLuhan, M., The Medium Is the Message (New York: Bantam Books, 1967).

Peplau, L. A. and Leah R. Spalding, “The Close Relationships of Lesbians, Gay Men, and Bisexuals,” in Close Relationships: A Sourcebook , eds. Clyde Hendrick and Susan S. Hendrick (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000), 113.

Pratt, R. A., “Crossing the Color Line: A Historical Assessment and Personal Narrative of Loving v. Virginia ,” Howard Law Journal 41, no. 2 (1995): 229–36.

Sias, P. M., Jolanta A. Drzewiecka, Mary Meares, Rhiannon Bent, Yoko Konomi, Maria Ortega, and Colene White, “Intercultural Friendship Development,” Communication Reports 21, no. 1 (2008): 9. doi:10.1080/08934210701643750.

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6 Barriers to Intercultural Communication essay

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There are six particular barriers to communication between people. These are anxiety, assuming similarities instead of difference, ethnocentrism, language problems, prejudice and stereotyping, and misinterpretation of nonverbals. According to LaRay M. Barna (1997), the developer of the list of six barriers, actual difficulties are mostly related to people with different cultures. The first barrier going to be discussed is high anxiety. The meaning of it is when a person feels inconvenient when he or she does not know how to behave in some situations. The result is that the communication transaction fails. Along with my personal experience troubles occurred when I came to the Swiss Hotel Management School for the first time. Everything was new and very unusual for me. For the first week I could never understand what people expected from me. The style of living was absolutely dissimilar, that is why sometimes I did not how to behave. The next barrier to intercultural communication is assuming similarity instead of dissimilarity. When people are acting in a home manner in the different culture it might cause a lot of problems. In order to prepare yourself for various circumstances it is very important to assume laws, habits, and attitudes of another society. For example, in Russia there is no such a thing as a ground floor. It starts directly from the first one. Some time ago in the age of seven I went to England, not having enough information about its customs and traditions at all. Thus I was totally lost in that system. Ethnocentrism is a third issue on the barrier list. It is based on the idea that your own race, nation, or group is better than any other. Usually ethnocentrism is common for people who come across the " culture shock ". During the period of time when an individual is learning the new culture he might find this novel worst than his home culture. Taking as an example the Swiss Hotel Management School students. Some of them, especially students from Middle East, find Switzerland as a really " cold " country. The reason for this is that in Arabic countries people used to express them self in a very emotional manner. The result is that Middle East students are behaving very arrogant with the citizens of Switzerland. The fourth barrier is the language problems. According to Jandt (2000) the definition of language is the set of symbols shared by a community to communicate meanings and experiences. There are five actual factors that generally produce the difficulties in the translation. They are lack of equivalences in vocabulary, idioms, grammar and syntax, experiences, and concepts. Indonesian students are having a lot of inconveniences with studying foreign languages for the reason that in Indonesian language there is no gender rules. That is very complicated for them to understand why for example the French word " une table " is feminine. Talking about nonverbal misinterpretations as another barrier to communication, it can be stated that in a conversation this is more problematical to understand the nonverbal symbols without sharing the same nonverbal codes.

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Intercultural understanding and sensitivity exists on a continuum from denial to integration in Bennett’s Intercultural Sensitivity Model (2011). It is not uncommon for someone to assume that if they have an open mind or good intentions that they can communicate effectively cross-culturally. Although this may help us get by in the short term, minimizing the differences between cultural groups simply applies the same rule to everyone and is a form of ethnocentrism resulting in a disregard for different world views and experiences. Possibly the best way to achieve better long term outcomes and integration of cultural differences is by immersing ourselves in the target culture itself. Unfortunately, this is not possible for most people. The most practicable way, therefore, is through intercultural training and study of how cultural biases are formed and affect cross-cultural communication. In this paper, we shall discuss several hidden biases that are created by cultural schema and how they can be problematic in cross-cultural communication.

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In today’s changing business scenario increasing number of firms extends their business abroad. Effective communication with people of different cultures is especially challenging. Cultural awareness shapes how business firms behave in cross-culturally reflected international markets. It is broadly recognized that cultural factors act as invisible barriers in international business communications. Understanding cultural differences is one of the most significant skills for firms to develop in order to have a competitive advantage in international business. Organizations should focus on eliminating the cross cultural communication barriers. Understanding of cultural diversity is the key to effective cross-cultural communications. Firms which fail to understand the cross cultural communication barriers face several issues in many aspects of international business communication. It impacts free trade policies, localization and standardization strategy decisions, advertising, brand effectiveness, business relationships, international business management, international marketing, international negotiation, and consumer behavior, staffing, industrial relations, interpersonal relationships, negotiation, and teambuilding. Cross-cultural communication presents a fine opportunity to foster global peace and prosperity. It may also present unpleasant consequences if not well managed. Many problems arise in our workplace today as a result of the barriers cultural diversity imposes on cross cultural communication. Cross-cultural communication barriers such as anxiety, uncertainty, stereotyping, and ethnocentrism are caused by inadequate cultural knowledge and the lack of intercultural communicative skills. Adequate training in cross cultural communication and exposure to other cultures is essential in eliminating these barriers. This paper INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF MANAGEMENT (IJM) ISSN 0976-6502 (Print) ISSN 0976-6510 (Online) Volume 6, Issue 1, January (2015), pp. 348-351 © IAEME: Journal Impact Factor (2014): 7.2230 (Calculated by GISI)   IJM © I A E M E International Journal of Management (IJM), ISSN 0976 – 6502(Print), ISSN 0976 - 6510(Online), Volume 6, Issue 1, January (2015), pp. 348-351 © IAEME 349 R. Delecta Jenifer and G. P. Raman, “Cross Cultural Communication Barriers in Workplace” – (ICAM 2015)  concludes with a suggestion for the understanding of the effect of cross cultural communication barriers on international business.

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Home Essay Examples Sociology Intercultural Communication

Barriers In Intercultural Communication

  • Category Sociology
  • Subcategory Communication
  • Topic Intercultural Communication

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Cultural diversity in our community has grown as a trend with the increase of globalization in the world. The existence of variety of culture and ethnic groups has brought new challenges like intercultural communication. Since, our language shapes the way we perceive our surroundings, we ought to understand to create effective communication with different cultures for the greater good of humanity.


Culture is an abstract idea to grasp, it has different classification depending on the society. The simple way to explain culture would be ‘the arts and the way of life, especially the general customs and beliefs, of a particular group of people at a particular time’ (dictionary, 2019). Our culture shapes the way we understand the world and influences our perception. However our world has change drastically, it has become increasingly diverse and has directly affected our communication with each other. Communicating with a person with different culture and tradition can be scary, confusing, overwhelming but it can also be exciting, enlightening, and be a learning experience for us. Thus, we will always experience barriers while intercultural interactions however we can work to navigate the obstacle and create a sound business environment.

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Culture surrounds everything we do, it is an integrated system of behavior patterns that reflects the traits of the society and its members. Our culture is the synergy of our social structure, political systems, language, religion, education, and philosophy. According to EDWARD SCHIEN, there are three levels to any of the culture. The first level is visible patterns, behavior, and artifacts. For example, food and dress. The second is less visible and is made up of cultural communication that includes strategies, goals and philosophies. The third is invisible which includes the ideas, assumptions, values, beliefs, and norms. This level is at the unconscious level of human mind. It basically shapes out reality and help us understand humans and human relationship. The picture given in appendices will help understand more about the levels of culture.

Our culture is the culmination of ideas, concepts, and practices, And Language is the part of that synergy. Language is an important part of culture, and they both are intertwined. Our language reflects our culture. One can learn about a whole nation’s culture and tradition through language and the way they interact (QIAN, 2018). In other word, culture and language have a homologous relationship. They were establish together and influenced each other as they evolved. In order to clearly understand the relationship between our culture and language we can look at example like one trying to learn Spanish. In such process, one ought to learn the alphabets, word arrangement, and rules of grammars and while learning that one learns about the customs and behaviors of Spanish people. In order to fully grasp and learn the language one must understand the workings behind the language that is culture. Furthermore, if there is an interaction between two different cultures, we can always expect communication complications between two groups as they have distinctive background, beliefs and language. However, we can learn each other’s culture in addition to the language to avoid mistakes in intercultural communication (jiazu, 2002).

We live in a world of globalization where everything is accessible through means of transportation and communication. Communication is a means of expressing and conveying our intentions and motives. Similarly, at some point in our life we ought to communicate with a person of different culture and may have to deal with many barriers while exchanging dialogues. Some barriers to intercultural communication could be linguistic, emotions, preferences, perceptions, culture and attitudes. Although there are thousands of barriers preventing our smooth intercultural communication, we can generalize the barriers into ethnocentrism, stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination (Dr. Jorde jakamovski, 2019). Firstly, ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s cultural norms and value are superior to those of other social groups. Such concept tend to scale and rate others with references. For example, Americans often feel disgusted when they see Indians eating food with their hands. They believe it is unhygienic and unhealthy and prefer to eat with cutlery. However, Americans do not understand the culture behind the use of hands. Hindus believe that eating with hands evokes emotion as the fingers stimulates the five elements (air, fire, water, earth and space) and helps in bringing forth digestive juices in the stomach. Secondly, stereotypes are the distorted views towards other cultures and traditions. One has a pre-conceived notion that some cultures are naturally evil and menace. Moreover, stereotypes impede smooth communication. For example, people have a bad idea about Russian people, people tend to think that Russians are naturally rude the way they speak and known to be merciless as portrayed in movies. However, that may not be the case. Thirdly, prejudice in intercultural barriers means to have negative thinking towards other people based on faulty stereotypes. Such irrational attitudes may result in conflict in opinions. People with prejudices may be hostile, violent and hurt a group of people. For example, the movie “American history X,’ where two brothers involved in white supremacy killed dozens of immigrants in USA. And lastly, Discrimination refers to prejudicial treatment to categories of people. In other word, discrimination is the behavioral manifestation of the prejudice and be the major obstacles in communication. Discrimination can be seen in various forms like verbal insults, turning back, genocide, showing hatred, creating boundaries and caste. Discrimination is an extreme case to barriers in communication because when one discriminates a person from another culture, he/she is not only insulting that person but also questioning and disrespecting the whole collective community of that culture. Such may result in massive outrage and brawl.

As humans we always have room to improve ourselves by learning from our mistakes. We can understand more about other’s culture by having a free mindset. In order to avoid misunderstanding in intercultural interaction, one must be careful not to offend others by their unjust words or actions. One should closely pay attention to their own words and actions. Secondly, the root of any problem or confusion is ones prejudged assumptions, one must be able to control their biased opinions and channel it through the medium of curiosity and humility. Thirdly and most importantly, one must learn to engage in transfection—the process of empathizing across cultures, gaining knowledge and experience. One can tune in with different culture and cherish the uniqueness and variety of being a human being. Thus, by following certain steps and being ethical we can improve intercultural communication. (Dr. jorde jakamovski, 2019)

Cultural diversity has grown as a trend in the workplace, and the impacts of such diversity can be both favorable and unfavorable depending on how we use the cultural differences. Many research and studies have been done in order to turn cultural differences into a workplace advantage. For example, Indians and Pakistani have two different view regarding the ongoing conflict of Kashmir but Credit to researches, we are now able abridge the gap of differences and leave in harmony in the workplace. Some negative effects of cultural diversity are interpersonal conflicts, lost productivity, and lack of peace in groups. However, the pros are better results created by a variety of culture experiences, expanding business in other countries, understanding of others culture (Martin, 2014). Cultural diversity can help in the expansion of an organization’s tactics, approach marketing plan, and creation of new idea, new operation, and launching new products.

In conclusion, cultural differences will exist till the end of humanity and we need to accept the fact. Learning and gaining experiences while accepting each other’s differences and looking for similarities will create a sound environment for effective communication across culture.

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Home / Essay Samples / Sociology / Ethnocentrism / Intercultural Communication Barriers: Ethnocentrism, Stereotypes, Prejudice, Non-verbal Communication And Language

Intercultural Communication Barriers: Ethnocentrism, Stereotypes, Prejudice, Non-verbal Communication And Language

  • Category: Sociology , Culture
  • Topic: Ethnocentrism , Multiculturalism , Stereotypes

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Ethnocentrism, stereotyping, bibliography.

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  • Garcia, N. 2006. Language Barriers in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. [15 July 2019]
  • Sumner, W. G. 1906. Folkways a Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages Manners Customs Mores and Morals. [17 March 2019]
  • Voves, J. 2005. Non verbal communication. [15 July 2019]

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