COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE
The debate which always rant and rave whenever there is a talk about communication is the mystery of cultures which vary from place to place and through times and which cause perhaps the strongest hurdles in understanding of what has been said (by people of one culture) and what has been understood (by people of an other culture).
Before we start to examine as what factors are responsible to generate this debate, it seems only logical that we understand what culture is.
Though no definition of culture exists on which all will agree, the one which is close to everyone’s belief is the way people live, or say the living style of people of a particular area is denoted as their culture. This includes their living habits, eating and cooking style, dressing up, language they speak in, social values and traditions they observe along with the religion they follow. Well, for a student of communication – who
believes that a slight change on part of the sender or receiver may effect a huge change in the meaning of a message – the definition of culture and its little explanation offers only an embarrassing situation for there is plenty in the name of change that can vary (or destroy) the meaning and hence the process of communication may face hurdles.
The process of passing on culture from one generation to the next is referred to as enculturation.
Most people are encultured – they receive their cultural values from their parents including language, religion, dressing up eating and living habits etc. The impact of enculturation is very strong. You generally carry this culture with you wherever you travel or even settle for some time. For instance a Pakistani settling in UK will continue to practice its eating, living habit along with other cultural values. In the field of communication he or she would remain on the look out to find another Pakistani with whom he/she could talk in Urdu or they sit together and dine the way they have been doing back home. The two would enjoy the enculturation to the utmost by communicating to each other matters pertaining to their life style.
The most difficult part in the process of communication and cultural conflicts is the process of acculturation. In this process one tends to learn the rules and norms of a culture different from one’s native culture. Easy said than done. It may take years even to those who command some expertise on communication techniques for it is very difficult to break the shell of your own culture only to adopt another. But people do tend to do so if they have to live longer in another land. For instance if a Pakistani is settling in America, he will have to acculturate himself by learning the living style of that part of the world –at least in areas where it could be adopted. It does not mean to scrap your religion but it certainly means living by the rules and practices of that part of the world if you want to stay there for generations. If one resists acculturation, one is bound to face embarrassment in every day communication for every message from him / her will be understood differently (wrongly) by fellow people there and vice versa.
The communication problems arising out of cultural conflicts will simply make life miserable. And not to be seen as a cross country phenomenon, the cultural differences may exist among different shades of culture within one society. For instance all the Muslims around the world make one community but vary drastically in their life style. There being dressing up, traditions at the time of child-birth, weddings and other major events in life are very contrasting. Within a country these traditions may vary. A Sindhi life style is different from Baluchi’s and Punjabi traditions on scores of matters are different from what are observed by Pashtoons. The existence of sub-cultures also leads to communication snags and problems may arise only due to these factors when people from sub-cultures undertake a joint business.
This phenomenon in communication is very common around the world. It occurs when people from one culture have to live in another culture where normal life values are radically diverse. One may not like to send his daughter to join dancing, or swimming classes at school in Pakistan, it is a must in certain 28 countries. You may have separate colleges, universities or even medical colleges for boys and girls in Pakistan and some other Islamic countries. But there is no such concept in the west. A family going to the west will have to face the cultural shock – which is complete breakdown of communication, as long as they live there without conceding to the concept of acculturation.
Principles of Intercultural Communication Prepare yourself
The best to overcome communication gaps in multicultural society is to prepare yourself in advance about the new culture you may face. These days videos, newspapers and magazines are widely available which tell about the social norms of a society. By learning a good deal on these values, the process of communication is eased out to a great extent.
Overcoming fears of unseen
Scholars believe that even learned people have a sense of fear when they tend to communicate to the people of a different culture. At ordinary people level this fear exists even more. That is one reason you would not find foreign tourists mixing up with local people frequently. Not that they feel superior, but the fear that any miscommunication by way of words and gestures should not infuriate a local and put the visitor in an embarrassing situation. The solution here is again in making a fair assessment of what you want to communicate juxtapose to the social values of the people to whom you want to communicate. Once getting a positive feedback on your message would dispel the earlier fear and equip you with confidence for more communication.
Know different meanings due to change in culture
One most important aspect of improving communication in a new culture is the consideration of meanings of different phrases, gestures and body language in the new culture. Some body gestures which stand for certain meaning to you due to enculturation may be entirely different in the other culture. A study of some basic differences in meanings of words and actions between the two cultures is obviously going to ease the communication gap hence making the process of communication gainful for all involve in the interaction.
Knowing some hard and fast values
As mentioned earlier, certain societies are strongly under influence of their centuries old traditions. For instance Muslims do not like eat with left hand or even shake left hand. Others may not find any problem in using the left hand. In Indonesian culture direct eye contact is a case of disrespect especially when talking to older people. For
Americans avoiding eye contact means disinterest. Think if a young Indonesian is talking to an American and the two do not know cultural values of each other, where the communication end up! There are some times few small things but which have strong implications in the sense of communication. In America if some one says ‘come over and pay us a visit’, it amounts to only a friendly gesture and not a formal invitation. In some other cultures the same set of words make the listener (receiver) take the words seriously and a formal invitation. Think of a situation when an American family says this to a family from a different culture.
World moving towards acculturation
But with the advancements in electronic media, internet chatting and enhanced movement of people due to increased traveling facilities, the level of understanding of each other’s culture is going up and so is the communication. It appears that the communication hurdles raging for the last many centuries would be reduced as people see more of each other’s living style on the high number of TV channels now available in most parts of the world.