Barriers to Cross-Cultural Communication

With 195 countries spread across the globe, where each constitutes a host of a specific culture, understanding them can be difficult. Each conforms to a set of norms and behaviors considered as the backbone of their foundation and history. These include the beliefs, mentality, and customs of the individuals under each of their groups (Kreuz 54). The systems that people use from a particular background form part of their identity that differentiates them. The onset of globalization amplified the world’s interconnectivity paving the way for more interaction opportunities among these different communities of the world. However, these differences pose challenges to all sets of people due to their unique ways of thinking and perceptions towards others. As a result, cross-cultural communication tries to bridge the gap by creating meaningful conservations that respect people’s uniqueness. Therefore, although cross-cultural communication provides the avenue for interactions without boundaries, challenges such as ethnocentrism, language barriers, stereotypes, misinterpretations, and assuming similarity instead of difference affect its efficiency.

A significant barrier to cross-cultural communication lies in ethnocentrism, which refers to the use of an individual’s culture as a reference point when evaluating others. In this case, people assume that their beliefs set the precedence concerning all matters under discussion. Colonialism represents an example of ethnocentrism in which a country invades another one, intending to enforce social change and dominate others in the region (Sorrells and Sekimoto). In such instances, the invading country perceives the systems and behaviors of the other as inappropriate, thus the need to take action exists. Therefore, when one party perceives their standpoint as superior to another, the ability to communicate effectively diminishes. Trying to force one’s views on others further shows a disregard for their beliefs, hence a sign of disrespect. This means that one party does not consider the other’s thoughts as valid for any argument they may engage in at any given time. Consequently, such communication fails to produce results leading to further problems in understanding each other.

Apart from that, language barriers also pose a problem for cross-cultural communication among various people. On occasions where people from different backgrounds interact, some inadequacies occur when trying to understand particular points (Jenifer and Raman 334). For instance, global teams that use English as the common language of communicating may face challenges with team members with a poor grasp of the language. Such scenarios lead to isolation whereby such members may withdraw from conversations since they can neither adequately pass their message nor understand their colleagues appropriately. As a result, the creation of factions under a singular organization may occur, with each community preferring to interact with their people rather than mingle as a whole. Furthermore, it can create negative perceptions of the intellectual abilities of such individuals leading to poor relationships among the different groups. Therefore, the inability to use a common language to express themselves poses a danger of destroying cohesion and understanding among people from different communities.

The use of stereotypes when interacting with a group from a different culture also hampers cross-cultural communication. Stereotypes mainly involve oversimplified clichés about the behavior or actions of others from a particular community. Most of them may emanate from gender roles, cultural beliefs, religion, or racial profiling, where significant variances occur in most people. Believing that all people from one specific nationality behave the same and possess similar traits can create a problematic scenario (Hussain 46). For instance, the belief that all Arabs and Muslims engage in terrorism represents a widely accepted global perspective that leads to the discrimination of people with such backgrounds. Therefore, the tendency to try and predict the behaviors of others based on previous experiences or encounters can destroy the opportunities to understand their individuality. As a result, assumptions can further create misunderstanding, especially if the affected party does not condone such perceptions about them. This can prevent the building of relationships with unique people due to such thinking when evaluating a person without first learning about them. Consequently, stereotypes can disrupt communication channels based on the observations made beforehand by other parties.

Furthermore, misinterpretations of non-verbal cues may also cause misunderstandings among different cultures. When communicating, people use various signals to show attention, satisfaction, agreement, or disagreement. However, others use unique cues when responding under different contexts. The ease at which individuals can misinterpret clues creates the potential for unwanted conflicts that hinder the communication process (Kreuz 165). These cues thus provide an important addition to the communication process, with humans heavily relying on them. Without them, communication becomes very problematic, especially between people of different nationalities. Therefore, when people from different regions communicate, one might misinterpret a cue as offensive while it was meant positively. Such misleading interpretations affect the communication between the two individuals resulting in an unwarranted backlash that can ruin the conversation. The differences in the perceptions of nonverbal cues thus can mislead others from different backgrounds, affecting their ability to talk efficiently.

Lastly, the assumption of similarity among cultures can pose a significant challenge to cross-cultural communication. Diverse people interpret actions and behave differently, hence when traveling to a new area, the idea that any two systems can overlap may cause misunderstandings. For instance, some may perceive the display of public affection as inappropriate, while to others, it represents an entirely normal behavior (Sorrells and Sekimoto). Therefore, in such a case, one may assume that others lack emotional intelligence and the ability to control their urges. On the other hand, the other party may consider the person as intrusive and disrespectful when people showcase their love. Assuming similarity instead of difference, and vice versa can further cause a lack of recognition of unique cultures and behavior across borders. Thus, this affects the relationship of such individuals from the onset due to the generalized assumptions that the beliefs of individual communities can apply to all.

Despite the ability of cross-cultural communication to provide the avenue for interactions without boundaries, challenges such as ethnocentrism, language barriers, stereotypes, assumption of similarity instead of difference, and misinterpretations affect its efficiency. Ethnocentrism leads to the perception that an individual’s culture supersedes any other belief system. On the other hand, language barriers can cause communication problems due to inadequacies in understanding the other party. The use of stereotypes to judge people’s behavior without knowing them can reduce interaction effectiveness. Additionally, the assumption of similarity instead of differences concerning conduct across different nationalities can cause the misrepresentation of their intentions. Lastly, the misinterpretation of non-verbal cues by others from different areas can lead to misunderstandings based on each party’s definition of such cues. Therefore, cross-cultural communication barriers can prevent the effectiveness of passing on messages involving people from different backgrounds and nationalities in a highly interconnected world.

Works Cited

Hussain, Shafaat. “Managing Communication Challenges in Multicultural Organizations.” International Journal of Media, Journalism and Mass Communications, vol. 4, no. 2, 2018, pp. 44-49.

Jenifer, Delecta, and G. P. Raman. “Cross Cultural Communication Barriers in the Workplace.” International Journal of Management, vol. 6, no. 1, 2015, pp. 332-35.

Kreuz, Roger, and Richard M. Roberts. Getting Through: The Pleasures and Perils of Cross-Cultural Communication. MIT Press, 2017.

Sorrells, Kathryn, and Sachi Sekimoto. Globalizing Intercultural Communication: A Reader. SAGE Publications, 2015.