According to Pauley (2010), communication refers to the exchange of information between two or more (sender and receiver) parties. Effective communication entails sufficient feedback to enable the sender to make appropriate action. Effective communication is an integral part of an organization because it ensures the smooth operation of activities, and this facilitates the achievement of the goals and objectives of the organization. With the current globalization and the proliferation of multi-national organizations, individuals from different cultural backgrounds continue to interact in the workplace. Differences such as race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation have emerged as major barriers to effective communication in the workplace. This is because of the differences in the cultural beliefs and attitudes of individuals from different backgrounds, and this has hampered organizational performance. The cultural differences have also been a major stumbling block in social interaction because it limits effective communication among parties. In line with these aspects, this paper is going to examine the impact that differing cultural backgrounds may have on effective communication between two groups.
How cultural difference impact effective communication
This refers to a particular method that a given community use for communication (Pathan, 2013). In a world of over 7billion population, there are numerous different languages based on the cultural backgrounds of the respective society. Individuals from different cultural backgrounds have established their own languages for communication. These languages have different dialects which are known and understood in the respective cultures. Language facilitates effective communication between two individuals or groups that belong to the same linguistic alienation. Conversely, the difference in linguistic alienation has emerged as a major cultural factor that negatively impacts the process of effective communication between two parties from different cultural backgrounds (Weiss, 2011). This is because individuals from different cultural background may speak a given language on two different levels of fluency. This difference influences an individual’s perception of the message sent, and this negatively affects the process of effective communication. New Zealand is a multi-cultural country, and it has ethnic groups with different languages, for example, Maori, Pacific people, and Asians. The dominant languages are English, Maori, and New Zealand Sign language. These differences hinder effective communication among individuals from different languages because they have different knowledge of English language.
The signs and symbols that are important elements of a communication process. Also referred to as macro-expressions, signs and symbols and other forms of non-verbal communication such as body language and facial expression are used to stress verbal communication especially in a face-to-face communication between two parties (Okon, 2011). Some forms of non-verbal communication such as gestures are very effective in passing on the intended message in a noisy place. Universal signs and symbols are also very important in circumstances where there is a language barrier, and hence, they are responsible for enhancing the communication process.
Despite the above advantages, the difference in culture has contributed to a breakdown in the communication process among parties using the non-verbal method. This is because the signs and symbols have different meanings in different cultural backgrounds (Wilton, 2011). For example, in New Zealand, the use of the thumbs up gesture is used to approve something or wish someone luck in a particular endeavor. Conversely, the same gesture is considered a serious insult to an individual in some Asian countries such a Bangladesh. In this regard, there will be a serious breakdown in communication between a citizen of New Zealand and a Bangladeshi when the individual from New Zealand gestures thumps up to the Bangladeshi.
Stereotypes and Prejudices
According to Turner and Reinsch (2007), stereotyping refers to the practice of developing a generalized image of individuals that belong to a particular cultural background. It entails the categorization of individuals of a particular cultural background to having similar characteristics. Stereotyping contributes to widespread prejudice in the society, for example, the formation of a negative picture regarding an individual makes one to have negative attitudes towards the individuals in question (Onea, 2012). Recent research shows that social perception determines how people understand one another, and this has a major impact in an effective communication process. Individuals who are viewed as stereotypes are not taken seriously, and this can turn out to be a major cause of serious communication breakdown. Racial stereotyping is widespread in New Zealand, and it is a major negative impact the process of the effective communication process. The Maori population of New Zealand are viewed by the European white population in New Zealand as backward individuals. In addition to this, the Maori language is believed to have a funny dialect that is not effectively compatible with the English language. This has led to the stereotyping of the Maori population particularly in a communication process that involves the use of English language. This has contributed to incidents of communication breakdown in New Zealand.
Cultural behavior, beliefs, and attitudes
Another important element that influences the communication process are the cultural behavior, beliefs, and attitudes of the members of a given cultural group. According to Hofstede, there are five vital cultural dimensions, for example, power distance, masculinity, and individualism (Yoo, Donthu, & Lenartowicz, 2011). The cultural dimensions determine the communication etiquettes of members of a given society. In New Zealand, power distance is considerable high. This means that there is a wide gap between the individuals who hold power and those who do not have power. In New Zealand, the level of masculinity as defined by Hofstede is considerable high in the country. This means that characteristics that are associated with male characters are embraced more than those that are associated with female gender. Based on these cultural belief and attitudes, the male gender is somehow placed high in the society, and this influences the communication process. In the New Zealand, it is expected that the female should be the first one to extend her hand to greet the male. This cultural behavior among the New Zealand population may be a major cause of communication breakdown between an individual from a different country and a New Zealand national. For example, the foreign gentleman may go ahead to extend his hand to greet a female New Zealand. This will make a female New Zealand to feel awkward, an experience that will have a negative impact on the effectiveness of the communication process.
In New Zealand, it is a cultural belief that maintaining a constant eye contact while communicating is important for successful communication process; however, in some African countries, keeping an eye contact while communicating with the elders is considered a sign of disrespect (O'Rourke, 2010). Therefore, in New Zealand, it is expected that communicating parties should maintain a close eye contact regardless of the age differences between the communicating parties. Maintaining a close eye contact in New Zealand is considered a symbol of honesty, which is also a major cultural requirement in the country. This cultural difference will be a major cause of breakdown in the effective communication breakdown when a young African is speaking to an elderly from New Zealand because, during the communication process the young African will not keep an eye contact as expected by the elderly New Zealand (Srivastava & Nandan, 2010). In this regard, the elderly individual will perceive the African as dishonest, and hence, a serious communication breakdown due to lack of trust.
Religion and ethnocentrism
Religion in this context refers to the religious affiliation of an individual, for example, being a Christina, Muslim or a Buddhist. Religion is a major cultural element that impacts the communication process (Reynolds & Valentine, 2011). Individuals from the same religious group can easily understand one another because of their commonly shared religious beliefs. However, in an instance where the communicating parties are from different religious groups, there will be major communication breakdown because of the differences. New Zealand is a Christian dominated country, followed closely by Muslims. The religious schism in the country has had negative impacts on the communication process because of the widely held idea of Orientalism and Occidentalism (Said, 2001). The European white population views the Muslims in the country as terrorists due to the social perception that all Muslims are terrorist. The Europeans believe that Islam as a religious group is uncivilized and incompatible with democracy, and as a population that promotes hostility and violence (Reilly, 2010). The difference in religious beliefs in New Zealand has had negative impacts in the communication process in the country as the Christians, and the Muslims do not trust one another.
In summary, the effective communication process is vital for smooth organizational operation. Feedback is an essential element of communication. However, in various occasions, the process of effective communication is negatively impacted by the differences in the cultural background of the communicating parties. Some of the major cultural differences that negatively impact the process of communication are religious differences, the difference in language, the different interpretation of symbols and signs, different cultural beliefs and attitudes. Individuals from different languages are not able to communicate effectively. The above factors negatively impact the process of communication not only in New Zealand but in all countries across the globe, and therefore, effective strategies should be implemented to overcome them.
Okon, J. J. (2011). Role of Non Verbal Communication in Education. Mediterranean Journal of Social Sciences, 2(5).
Onea, A. A. (2012). Levels of culture and barriers in organizational communication. The USV annals of economics and public administration, 2(16), 123-128.
O'Rourke, IV, J. S. (2010). Management Communication. (4th Ed.). Upper Saddle, River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.
Pathan, A. K. (2013). Major Linguistic barriers of Oral Communication in English as Perceived by the Tertiary level ESL Students. ISSN 1930-2940, 13(3).
Pauley, J. A. (2010). Communication: The key to effective leadership. Milwaukee, WI: ASQ Quality Press
Reilly, R. (2010). The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist: Wilmington, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute.
Reynolds, S., & Valentine, D. (2011). Guide to Cross-Cultural Communication. (2nd Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall publishing.
Said, E. W. (2001). Orientalism. New Delhi: Penguin Books.
Srivastava, V., & Nandan, T. (2010). A study of perceptions in society regarding unethical practices in advertising. South Asian Journal of Management, 17(1), pp. 59-67.
Turner, J. W. & Reinsch, N. L. (2007). The business communicator as presence allocator: multi-communicating, equivocality and status at work. Journal of business communication, 44(36), 36-58.
Weiss, B. (2011). How to understand language: A philosophical inquiry. Montreal, QUE: McGill University Press.
Wilton, N. (2011). An Introduction to Human Resource Management. Great Britain: TJ International Limited.
Yoo, B., Donthu, N., & Lenartowicz, T. (2011). Measuring Hofstede’s Five Dimension of Cultural Values at the individual level: Development and Validation of CVSCALE. Journal of International Consumer Marketing, 23(3), 193-210.