Effectively communicating with people from different cultures has become increasingly important in a world where physical boundaries are so easily negotiated by the use of technology. We increasingly find that we now work, attend school, communicate professionally, and socially intermingle with people of cultures and environments different than our own.
Bridging cultural gaps is an essential step in the process of creating harmonious relationships between people of different backgrounds. Making the attempt to better understand differences in why people live, think, and believe the way that they do enables us to improve as a society, and also gain the respect of those with whom we are attempting to communicate.
Understanding differences between your culture and that of the group or individual with whom you are trying to communicate is important to better interpretation. This is especially true when language barriers are an issue. The better each side understands some of the cultural differences of the other, the more effective their communication will be with one another.
Navigating through cultural differences does not always mean that we must overcome language barriers. Even in a society where one language predominately ties people together, understanding cultural diversity is an essential tool in the efficient exchange of the thoughts, ideas, and social interactions which separate people. In other words, overcoming the boundaries of cultural understanding is just as critical as the effective interpretation of language or dialect.
Cultural interchange has long been an accepted practice in many countries around the world, but is a relatively new concept in the United States. On some continents, cultural changes can be experienced in traveling short distances. And though U.S borders have always been open to legal immigration, it was always expected that people crossing into U.S. territory adopt the language and customs already established here.
One of the primary reasons why cultural interchange and cultural intermingling has taken longer in the U.S. is because of geographical isolation. Two of the four U.S borders are separated from the rest of the world by the Atlantic Ocean on the east coast, and the Pacific Ocean in the west. These oceanic borders make it much more difficult for uncontrolled or mass immigration into the country.
Until recently, cultural differences in the U.S. existed primarily between the northern and southern parts of the country, and between ethnic minorities attempting to establish social acceptance will maintaining their own ethnic and cultural identities. The distinct lines between many of those differences have become blurred, thanks in part to education, social and cultural integrations, and because of increased media exposure to different aspects of those cultural differences through music, film, television, dance and personal interactions.
Elements of Communication
Communicating across cultural differences is also necessary because culturally diverse people are now immigrating into new geographical areas because of work, educational opportunities, and the chance to live a better quality of life.
Many of the same elements of effective communication that are essential when communicating between individuals within the same culture become increasingly more important when communicating with people of different cultures.
Communication elements include:
-Visual or non-verbal communication may include facial expressions, eye contact and eye movement, posture, hand and facial gestures, and head and body movements. Abrupt and Sudden movements may also be interpreted differently from one culture to another.
-Tactile communication includes certain touching gestures such as a handshake, a hug, or a kiss.
- Vocal communication includes more than just speaking words. It also includes the use of vocal tone, voice inflection, pitch, and projection.
Also, it is not impolite to ask when in doubt. People never mind sharing different aspects of their culture, and it's much better to experience a moment of learning than one of embarrassment. Many people across cultural boundaries share the same hopes, dreams, love of family, and professional aspirations as we do. Many of our differences are simply based on lack of knowledge about our differences.