Cross-Cultural Communication Differences and Similarities

Syntax – Orderly or systematic arrangement of parts or elements; constitution (of body); a connected order or system of things; to put together in order; Connected system or order; union of things; a number of things jointed together; organism. The arrangement of words (in their appropriate forms) by which their connection and relation in a sentence are shown.

Semantics – A science dealing with the sources of and vehicles for conveying meaning between two or more human beings. Some say that words have intrinsic and universal meaning; others say they are conventional and are used loosely; that the exchange of information requires an open semantic system. Relating to signification or meaning.

Kinesics – The study of those body movements and gestures by which, as well as by speech, communication is made; body movements and gestures which convey meaning non-vocally.

Cross-cultural communication – Everything that occurs in communication involves the act of sharing information. Communication is not only oral it also involves body language. It is culture bound. The way an individual communicates comes from his or her culture. People with different cultural norms have the possibility of not being understood if the people they are communicating with have little knowledge, compassion or understanding of the variety of communication styles.

When you are not familiar with cultural communication differences it can lead to you to misinterpret, misunderstand and even unintentionally insult someone. Therefore to communicate better you should not only consider the differences but the similarities as well. People may also inadvertently mistake certain communication behaviors as signs of disorder. Body language can actually help or confuse the person you are trying to communicate with. Let’s consider eye contact. Children that were raised in Latin American and Asian cultures show respect by avoiding the glance of authority figures. However in the United States this is considered an act of disrespect. Culture also greatly effects a person’s perception about physical contact, whether it’s a handshake, hug, or pat on the back. In Asia, it is quite normal for female friends to often hold hands and for men to casually embrace one another as they walk down the street. Americans, however, may feel uncomfortable with such public behavior. You also need to understand that different cultures will have different meanings for words. When translating words, from one language to another, you need to take into consideration the actual meaning of the word in their culture.

In cross-cultural communications the order of the words in combination with the meaning of the words and the body gestures of the people involved all contribute to whether the communication will be successful or not. Below are some comparisons in regards to two different cultures:

Some African Americans Some Anglo Americans

Hats and sunglasses may be considered by men as adornments much like jewelry and may be worn indoors. Hats and sunglasses are considered utilitarian by men and as outwear to be removed indoors

Touching another’s hair is generally considered offensive. Touching another’s hair is a sign of affection.

Asking personal questions of a person met for the first time may be seen as improper and intrusive. Inquiring about jobs, family and so forth of someone one has met for the first time is seen as friendly.

Use of direct questions is sometimes considered harassment, e.g., asking when something will be finished is like rushing that person to finish. Use of direct questions for personal information is permissible.

“Breaking in” during conversation by participants is usually tolerated. Competition for the floor is granted to the person who is most assertive. Rules on taking turns in conversation dictate that one person has the floor at a time until all of his or her points are made.

Conversations are regarded as private between the recognized participants; “butting in” may be seen as eavesdropping and not tolerated. Adding points of information or insights to a conversation in which one is not engaged is sometimes seen as helpful.

The term “you people” is typically seen as pejorative and racist. The term “you people” is tolerated.

Listeners are expected to avert eyes to indicate respect and attention. Listeners are expected to look at a speaker directly to indicate respect and attention.

Speakers are expected to look at listeners directly in the eye. Speakers are expected to avert eyes, especially in informal speaking situations.

Confederate flags and Black lawn ornaments are considered offensive and racist. Symbols of the Old South, such as confederate flags and Black lawn ornaments, are considered acceptable by many.

Purposely including a minority person in group activities is seen as tokenism. Including a minority person in group activities is seen as democratic.

Adoption of dance patterns or music of another cultural group is suspect or considered offensive. Adoption of dance patterns or music of another cultural group is seen as a free and desirable exchange.

Talking “Black” by outsiders without authorization is an insult. Borrowing of language forms form another group is permissible and encouraged.

Showing emotions during conflict is perceived as honesty and as the first step toward the resolution of a problem. Showing emotions during conflict is perceived as the beginning of a “fight” and an interference to conflict resolution.


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