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Cultural Comminucation

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Understanding Cultures for Effective Communication

Robert Anthony Trejo

Spartan School of Aeronautics

Abstract

The purpose of this paper is to examine the many different cultural backgrounds as a whole and come to the realization and conclusion that other cultures have the exact same fears and misguided interpretations that we have and face today. To understand the vast many beliefs and traditions that each culture represents, so as to further advance our own culture and nation.

Understanding Cultures for Effective Communication

We all have an internal list of those we still don't understand, let alone appreciate. We all have biases, even prejudices, toward specific groups. Fears usually include being judged, miscommunication, and patronizing or hurting others unintentionally; hopes are usually the possibility of dialogue, learning something new, developing friendships, and understanding different points of view. At any moment that we're dealing with people different from ourselves, the likelihood is that they carry a similar list of hopes and fears in their back pocket.

From Waging Peace in Our Schools,

By Linda Lantieri and Janet Patti (Beacon Press, 1996)

We communicate with others all the time, in our homes, in our workplaces, in the groups we belong to, and in the community. No matter how well we think we understand each other, communication is hard. Just think, for example, how often we hear things like, "He doesn't get it," or "She didn't really hear what I meant to say." "Culture" is often at the root of communication challenges. Our culture influences how we approach problems, and how we participate in groups and in communities. When we participate in groups we are often surprised at how differently people approach their work together.

Culture is a complex concept, with many different definitions. But, simply put, "culture" refers to a group or community with which we share common experiences that shape the way we understand the world. It includes groups that we are born into, such as gender, race, or national origin. It also includes groups we join or become part of. For example, we can acquire a new culture by moving to a new region, by a change in our economic status, or by becoming disabled. When we think of culture this broadly, we realize we all belong to many cultures at once.

Our histories are a critical piece of our cultures. Historical experiences, whether of five years ago or of ten generations back, shape who we are. Knowledge of our history can help us understand ourselves and one another better. Exploring the ways in which various groups within our society have related to each other is the key to opening channels for cross-cultural communication. In a world as complex as ours, each of us is shaped by many factors, and culture is one of the powerful forces that acts on us. Anthropologists Kevin Avruch and Peter Black explain the importance of culture by saying, "One's own culture provides the 'lens' through which we view the world; the 'logic'... by which we order it; the 'grammar' ... by which it makes sense (Avruch and Black, 1993). In other words, culture is central to what we see, how we make sense of what we see, and how we express ourselves.

As people from different cultural groups take on the exciting challenge of working together, cultural values sometimes conflict. We can misunderstand each other, and react in ways that can hinder what are otherwise promising partnerships. Oftentimes, we aren't aware that culture is acting upon us. Sometimes, we are not even aware that we have cultural values or assumptions that are different from others. For this reason, six fundamental patterns of cultural differences, (ways in which cultures, as a whole, tend to vary from one another), are described below.

The first of the six is titled, 'Different Communication Styles'. The way people communicate varies widely between, and even within, cultures. One aspect of communication style is language usage. Across cultures, some words and phrases are used in different ways. For example, even in countries that share the English language, the meaning of "yes" varies from "maybe, I'll consider it" to "definitely so," with many shades in between. Secondly, is 'Different Attitudes toward Conflict', where some cultures view conflict as a positive thing, while others view it as something to be avoided. In the U.S., conflict is not usually desirable; but people often are encouraged to deal directly with conflicts that do arise. In fact, face-to-face meetings customarily are recommended as the way to work through whatever problems exist. In contrast, in many Eastern countries, open conflict is experienced as embarrassing or demeaning; as a rule, differences are best worked out quietly. A written exchange might be the favored means to address the conflict. Third is 'Different Approaches to Completing Tasks', and as we

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