?omplex term that is influenced by various cultural dimensions, many researchers have tried throughout the years to build theories in order to provide a clear description and explanation of this concept. The following list represents the most common theories and models about intercultural communication and the importance of some cultural factors in building intercultural communication.
Social identity theory:
this theory is formulated by the social psychologists John Turner and Henri Tajfel in the 70s. This theory is based on the idea of the intergroup behavior developed by individuals due to their membership in a particular group (Vinney, 2019). It explains the reasons behind the identification of people within groups and describes how social identity can affect intercultural communication (Malik, n.d). In order to understand how intergroup behavior is being developed among individuals, an experiment using the Minimal Group Paradigm methodology has been conducted to explore the minimal conditions that lead to discrimination or ethnocentrism within different groups. The experiment consisted of taking people and splitting them into random groups in such a way that they are all strangers to each other. Throughout the process of asking them many questions, it was noticeable that most participants tend to favor people from the same group and shy away from those from different groups. (Chi, R. B, 2015). The finding reveals that the distinctions in cultures and differences between groups can create a tendency to favor one’s culture or group and not others. This leads in most cases to ethnocentrism (belief that one’s ethnic group is superior) and out-group discrimination which are one of the major challenges that intercultural communication faces. In other words, the intergroup behavior developed by those people make it very hard for them to accept others’ differences; therefore, it makes communication much more difficult.
Linguistic Relativity Theory:
Also known as the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis ; it is a theory formed by linguist Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Whorf and it states that the native language people speak influences and shapes their perception of the world. In fact, the grammatical structure of language determines how people perceive things, react to situations and interact in society which implies that certain behaviors or thoughts of individuals who speak a specific language cannot be understood by others who use different language. In support of Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, we can refer to the movie “Arrival”, a science fiction movie, directed by Denis Villeneuve and based on the linguistic relativity theory. In this movie, twelve alien spacecrafts went to twelve different countries on earth and linguists must find a way to communicate with them. (Tamek, 2017) After many attempts to decipher their mysterious language, Louise Banks, a linguist, learns that their language is circular and that it does not progress from cause to effect as human language. Hence their perception of time is not linear, but circular. “They use nonlinear orthography,” Banks says, “Do they think like that, too?”(Hooper.R, 2016). While she was trying to work on the alien language, her thought patterns started to change which brings us again to Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis that emphasizes the relationship between the language spoken and the way the world is perceived. (Tamek, 2017).
Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory:
One of the best known and most used models in the study of intercultural communication; it was developed over the years by the psychologist Geert Hofstede in order to understand how some cultural variables can affect people’s behaviors and therefore intercultural communication. Those six cultural dimensions that form a framework for cultural differences are power distance, individualism vs. collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, masculinity vs. femininity, long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation, and indulgence vs. restraint. To have a better understanding of how these dimensions differ from a culture to another, Hofstede and IBM organization conducted a large survey study in 76 countries (source). The survey led to the creation of an online model that provides a scale from 1 to 100 for each dimension in each country. The higher the score, the higher is the effect of the dimension in question on the culture.
The following is an elaboration of each dimension:
It refers to the degree to which people who are less powerful accept and expect that power is unequally distributed in society. (source). Countries with a high degree of power distance tend to accept inequality of power without demanding any justification. However, in countries with low power distance, people tend to expect equality of power and demand a justification when it is not the case. To illustrate this, we can take the situation of a person who is about to get a superior position in an organization. In low power distance societies, the distributed power should be justified with merit and high competition, but in high power distance societies, the power can easily be distributed to allies without any competition.
It refers to the degree to which people in society avoid uncertain and ambiguous situations. Nations showing high score for this dimension are the ones which have no tolerance for uncertainty; these cultures often try to control the future and deal with unpredictable situations through laws and rules.(source). Countries with low uncertainty avoidance are the ones which have tolerance for ambiguity, accept unclear situations and are willing to take risks. For example in the business world, a manager from a culture with low uncertainty avoidance will encourage employees to make decisions, take initiatives, and be creative. In contrary, a manager from a culture with high uncertainty avoidance will insist on taking no risks and following the predictable rules.
Individualism vs. Collectivism:
It refers to the degree to which a society gives importance to group interests over individual interests or vice-versa.(source).The high score of this dimension represents individualism; it is usually associated with societies where individuals care only about themselves. However, collectivism which is represented by the low score is associated with societies where people care about one another and protect the group’s interest. To illustrate, we can take the case of the United States as one of the most individualistic countries in the world where individual needs and accomplishments are more important than those of the group. On the contrary, Japan is a country with high collectivism where team work and group’s achievements are above individual’s accomplishments.
Femininity vs. Masculinity:
It refers to the kind of values a society gives importance to. Masculinity represents the cultural preference for achievement, material rewards, competitiveness and heroism. On the contrary, femininity represents the cultural preference for good relationships, cooperation, team work and quality of life.(source) For example, the primary educational system in masculine countries gives more importance to the student’s performance and encourages public praise to reward good students. However, in highly feminine countries, it focuses on the student’s social adaptation and promotes public praise to encourage weak students.(source) https://www.jmu.edu/global/isss/resources/global-campus-toolkit/country-information/country-info-files/hofstedes-masculinity-femininity.pdf)
Long-Term vs. Short-Term Orientation:
It refers to the time orientation of a society and shows if people’s focus is on the past, present or future. Cultures demonstrating long term orientation (high score) are future oriented. They tend to focus on the future and give more value to perseverance, adaptiveness and thrift. In its contrary, societies showing short term orientation (low score) are past and present oriented. They tend to be concerned about traditions and give importance to quick results and current stability. For example, an organization is willing to motivate its employees through incentives. If the employee belongs to a long term oriented society, the organization will opt for an incentive like additional contribution to the employee’s retirement fund, or reward incentives like gifts or awards if they belong to a short term oriented society.
Indulgence vs. Restraint:
This last dimension was recently added by the sociologist Michael Minkov in 2010. It was based on a research conducted about the perception of happiness in different cultures. This index refers to the degree of freedom individuals have in fulfilling their natural human needs and desires.(source).An indulgent society will be more concerned about people’s happiness and satisfaction. It gives importance to leisure time, freedom of speech and personal control (source). In counterpart, restrained societies tend to control people’s satisfaction through regulations and societal norms. It emphasizes moral discipline and accord less importance to desires related to enjoying life.
In conclusion, intercultural communication is an important concept in today’s world. People who have to deal with others from different cultures either through social media or real life might face communication problems and misunderstandings. That is why it is important to have a good understanding of what intercultural communication is about and how it can facilitate the interaction between people from various backgrounds. In fact, believing in stereotypes and lacking knowledge about other cultures is what makes the communication difficult. Therefore, being culturally aware is one of the best ways to manage intercultural communication and avoid conflicts because once the cultural differences are recognized, the encoding and decoding of the message becomes easy.
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