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Some cultures are overtly emotional, while there are others which believe in keeping emotions concealed, or only reveal them to a "rational" degree. Naturally such differences often lead to problems. Following are two examples from international diplomacy, cited by the University of Colorado's Conflict Research Consortium, which illustrate that lack of awareness of a certain culture and its values can result in longstanding misunderstandings, whereas accommodating cultural differences and understanding them, can lead to fruitful results.
The first case pertains to the relations between U.S. And India. In 1954, the U.S. had provided arms assistance to Pakistan, which was India's adversary. India took exception to this assistance provided to Pakistan, and as a form of re-assurance, President Eisenhower dispatched a letter to the Indian Prime Minister, and mentioned that the U.S. would intervene if Pakistan used the assistance against India. Nehru indicated to the ambassador that he did not doubt America's intentions, but went on to relay his concerns on the matter. This restrained response was taken as an endorsement of the American action, and the case was closed, but in fact, it caused a great amount of misunderstanding between U.S. And India, which affected their relations for a long time.
The second example pertains to U.S. And Japan, and is indicative of the sort of success that is possible if inter-cultural differences are taken into account. During the 1971 U.S.-Japan currency crisis, America's intention was to convince Japan to re-value its currency. But Secretary of Treasury John Connally avoided pressure tactics, as they would have had undesirable effects. Instead, he accommodated the Japanese style, focused on building relationships, presented the American proposals as being of mutual interest rather than imposed demands, and thus won over the Japanese, allowing the crisis to dissipate.6
Thus, the bottom line is that cultural conflicts arise due to the difference in the norms, values and behaviors of people of different cultures. And a deliberate effort is required to mitigate the effects of these barriers. The most common problem is that people in a particular culture treat their culture as the 'ultimate' culture and other cultures as 'strange' or out-of-line. This attitude, dubbed as ethnocentrism, plays a significant part in multicultural conflicts. The following signs help in identifying cultural conflict. Firstly, complex dynamics are involved. Secondly, if the addressing of surface problems doesn't solve the issue, it is rooted in cultural differences. Finally, if conflict repeatedly occurs and raises strong emotions on seemingly trivial matters of disagreement, it's a sign of cultural conflict.
Solutions to cultural conflict resolution follow the identification of these issues. Firstly, it is important for the parties to recognize that a cultural dimension is involved in the problem. Thus, willingness should develop within the parties to satisfy all the aspects of the problem. Then a comprehensive process of rapprochement can occur. In that process, the parties discuss with each other the aspects in each others' behavior that they find offensive. Then they get to learn the cultural perceptions of the problem in each others' point-of-view. It is useful to understand how the problem is dealt with in the culture of the opponent. Finally, the parties can agree on a conflict resolution outline. A better form of getting rid of conflicts is to avoid them in the first place. It is a well established fact that most cultural conflicts occur due to a lack of information about the culture of others. Therefore, it is important, in today's multi-cultural environment, to be well acquainted with other cultures. Even if an in-depth understanding of the culture is not possible, at least one should be able to avoid the actions, gestures and statements that are considered to be offensive or insulting in the other culture. This would certainly help in improving the communication process between the people across different cultures. It would also help remove many of the stereotypes that exist in people's minds due to incomplete information. In the case of organizations, they should design the company charter and culture in such a way, that it doesn't just reflect the norms of one culture, thus sowing the seeds of cultural conflict.7
Several discussions on culture and values have tended to emphasize that cultural values and habits influence communication behaviors and patterns in individuals and groups. It is important to understand that culture and communication styles are inherently related. A study by Mobo Gao (1998) related to the Chinese immigrants to Australia concluded that when people become a part of a different culture than their own, the dimensions that they retain from their previous culture are that of language, values and customs. Interestingly, the use of the native language influence the way the person uses the new language in the new culture. This influence not only relates to verbal communication, but also to nonverbal communication.8
There are various ways in which culture manifests itself in concrete forms of expression. An important aspect to consider here is context. Communication in high-context situations and low-context situations is completely different, and need to be handled differently. This is an important reason why people from low context cultures like America have different communication styles, compared to someone living in a high-context culture, like China. Communication in low-context culture is similar to the behavior of a computer program, i.e. instructions have to be specified very clearly, and expressions should be very explicit and clear, otherwise the program wouldn't run. On the other hand, communication in high-context cultures is likened to the communication between twins, who have been raised in a common family, surrounding, and they share much of the environment and its understanding. Thus, the communication between them is usually intuitive, and makes use of context. Thus, to an American, the greeting "where are you going" might be rather uncomfortable as he might consider them an invasion of privacy. But to a Chinese, these greetings are the norm.
William Gudykunst opines that another way culture influences communication is in the way people answer questions. As an example, in Chinese cultures, an answer can have two meanings. For example, when offered tea, if the answer is "no," it can either mean that they do not need more tea, or they might be acting polite and actually want more tea. Whereas in the American case, a "no" means that they do not want any more tea. In cross cultural communications, such double interpretations are rather confusing, and it's important to keep them in mind. One way of getting around this ambiguity in interpretation is to repeat the question. Cultural ideas also contribute to the style of communication. In the Chinese culture, the saying "One word is worth a thousand pieces of Gold" indicates that Chinese generally are less talkative, and the stereotype of Chinese in American minds is that they talk less, work hard and are intelligent. On the other hands, Chinese stereotype Americans as people who cannot be trusted too much because they talk too much. Stereotypes are similar to rules of thumb; they are not accurate in all situations. A very vivid example of how these attitudes can influence communication styles can be understood by applying these stereotypes to a conversation between a Chinese and an American. If the Chinese is talkative, he won't fit the American's stereotype, and expecting him to be reticent, effective communication would not take place. Thus it is important for cross cultural interactions, to put aside stereotypes and to attempt an understanding based on personal learning, as stereotypes do not accurately describe specific members of a particular culture. It is important to know the influence of culture on the process of communication in order to overcome hindrances to communication.9
In order to be a good communicator in a multi-cultural setting, it is important to realize that communicating in a cross cultural environment is different from that of a uni-cultural environment. The person needs to have a good idea of the cultures of the people with whom he is communicating. If he is not sure about the sensitivities involved in the opposite party's culture, he should refrain from using excessive gestures, as they might inadvertently offend the other party. The ability to employ active listening is also important in this communication process, as the speaker can confirm whether his message has been rightly interpreted or not, by attentively concentrating on the verbal and nonverbal cues of the other party. The communicator should have a cool head, and in case a discussion becomes heated, he should have the ability to stop, think and to analyze the points which might be creating a misunderstanding in the communication process. It is also important in the communication process to know when intermediaries are required. In some cases, intermediaries who are sufficiently well-versed in the language and culture of both the parties can be helpful as they can help tone down inadvertent offences and can facilitate the passage of ideas smoothly. But an intermediary is not required in all situations, and…[continue]
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