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Communication- Cultural Influences

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Write an essay about the social context of communication and how cultural influences shape how people communicate with each other

In today’s 21st Century society through our day-to-day lives we encounter many different people from many different cultural backgrounds. It is almost inevitable that we will have to communicate with at least one other person on any given day. Whether this is at work, at school, while out shopping, or even when talking on the telephone, communication is vital in order to ensure that our wants and needs can be met and also to voice an opinion. As “different cultures have different approaches to communication” (Thompson, 2003 pg. 29), there will often be times when our interpretations of something communicated will differ from the intended message.

This essay attempts to explore the social context of communication by looking at what communication is, how people use communication, and also how cultural influences shape how people communicate with each other. This essay will point out that culture and communication are closely related if not inseparable; as illustrated by Hall (1977, cited by Samovar, Porter, and Stefani, 1998, pg 34), “Culture is communication and communication is culture”

In order to be able to explore communication’s social context it is firstly important to define what is meant by communication.

“It is difficult to find a single definition of human communication” (Samovar et al, 1998, pg 22).

This is mostly due to the fact that “communication is a complex process” (Veterans Affairs Canada, 2003). In any human conversation there are many elements and processes involved for communication to be successful. Physiologically it involves the brain sending signals to the mouth and vocal muscles in order to convey a message, and the receivers ears converting the soundwaves into electrical impulses to be interpreted by the brain; both of which require thousands of components to be working simultaneously.

Effective human communication requires skills in listening, speaking, observing, questioning, analysing and evaluating information so that one can make the appropriate response or take the necessary action. For the purposes of this essay we will use’s definition of communication

“The imparting or interchange of thoughts, opinions, or information by speech, writing or signs” (Communication вЂ", 2008)

This definition emphasises the complexity of communication as it can involve verbal, written and a symbolic gestures and symbols. It also stresses that communication involves a process and that information must be both sent and received in order for communication to be successful. This definition quite nicely sums up what communication is but what is communication’s purpose? Samovar et al (1998) proposes that its primary purpose is to find meaning in life,

“As we move from word to word, event to event, and person to person, we seek meaning in everything.” (Samovar et al 1998, pg 29)

It is a biological fact that “it is impossible to not respond to the observed actions of others” (Samovar et al, 1998, pg 30).

These responses vary in kind and degree. From easily understandable overt responses such as someone asking a question and receiving an observable response, to mental responses where a message may only trigger a thought response, right through to responding to often sub-conscious messages received through imitating, observing, and interacting with others (Samovar et al, 1998 pg 31).

Regardless of whether the messages are received through the conscious or the sub-conscious, the way in which we respond is grounded in and influenced by culture.

“Culture gives us a framework for making sense of our experiences. It gives us an interconnected set of shared ideas, assumptions, beliefs, values and unwritten rules.” (Thompson, 2003, pg 15)

As we grow up in a particular society we adopt that societies culture as our own. Firstly from our parents’ role-modeling of values and beliefs then perhaps our teachers’, we slowly but surely are shaped into a particular culture, even the act of eating takeaways every Friday night can be adopted into our own personal culture. As we integrate these different values and beliefs as our own we begin to establish a sense of unified belonging to those that share the same thoughts, beliefs, values and ideas as ourselves. In other words culture helps by “making the world a less mysterious and frightening place” (Thompson, 2003, pg 35), and also helps us to see the world as a bit more safe and predictable.

As with the communication process cultural perceptions and behaviours can either be learnt sub-consciously or consciously. For example a consciously learnt behaviour might be a parent teaching a child how to brush their teeth, and a sub-consciously learnt perception might be that it is ok to objectify women, through watching multiple television advertisements. It is of importance to note that both of these examples; as with lots of important messages of a culture get repeated and reinforced.

Because “it is through cultural signs and symbols that we are so often able to communicate with one another” (Thompson, 2003, pg 15), it is almost a given that in intercultural communication we will encounter barriers which will need to be overcome in order for communication to be productive.

In order for effective intercultural communication to occur one must be aware of the different aspects of communication. These can include but are not limited to language usage, types of non-verbal communication such as facial expressions and gestures, approaches to completing tasks and different cultures attitudes towards dealing with conflict.

Language usage can have an effect on cross-cultural communication. Take for example the word �Yes’. In New Zealand and most other western cultures the word �Yes’ in response to a question generally means �certainly’ or �definitely’, whereas in other cultures such as the Chinese culture the word �Yes’ means �OK, I want to respect you and not offend you’, it doesn't necessarily show agreement (Clark, G. 1999)

Non-verbal communication is an important aspect of communication, which can have large impact on intercultural communication. Non-verbal communication is



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