Intercultural communication is the term used to describe the characteristic problems, management techniques and the academic study focused on the interactions between people from different cultures. Various aspects of intercultural communication such as linguistic differences, diverging stereotypes, social roles and belief systems lead tIntercultural communication is the term used to describe the characteristic problems, management techniques and the academic study focused on the interactions between people from different cultures. Various aspects of intercultural communication such as linguistic differences, diverging stereotypes, social roles and belief systems lead to misunderstandings and conflicts and are thus examined with the aim of facilitating resolution. Common problems inherent in intercultural communication are present in many human activities and pursuits such as education, business and diplomacy. Solutions to intercultural communication problems are interdisciplinary in nature and require a good understanding of the cultural factors involved.
In her book Communicating Across Cultures, Stella Ting-Toomey describes three principal reasons underlying the need to manage and study intercultural communication. First, globalization trends translate into greater workplace diversity. U.S. employment statistics indicate that an ever-growing portion of the workforce is composed of immigrants or is outsourced. Businesses that want to be effective and successful in the global marketplace should retain employees from different nationalities and cultural backgrounds and must make their workers collaborate efficiently and creatively.
Ting-Toomey describes a parallel trend of domestic diversity as a second motive to engage in intercultural communication. Increasingly societies, communities and families are composed of members from divergent cultures who interact with each other in numerous ways. While this is sometimes problematic, it may also be an invaluable learning opportunity, which is the third reason why studying intercultural communication is important.
According to the author, one of the most important aspects of intercultural communication is the conflict arising from miscommunication or misattribution of the position of others. Intercultural conflicts are sparked by either "perceived or actual incompatibility of values, norms, processes or goals." Typical fault lines around which such conflicts occur include differing degrees of individualism or collectivism, diverging values associated with power distance, and varyingly forthright or evasive styles of communication. Ethnocentricity is another significant factor that creates tension when present in ethnically-diverse communicating parties.
Ting-Toomey identifies an array of skills required for solving intercultural conflicts. Mindful listening is one such skill vital for correctly interpreting messages and intents of others. Mindful reframing is the next step essentially meaning to translate the statements and positions of others considering the cultural context of their origin. Face management is a term Ting-Toomey uses to define the skill of maintaining the self-esteem of a cross-cultural opponent through a conflict situation. Trust-building is a singularly important skill because mutual trust forms the basis of any working relationship.
Intercultural communication is often considered within the context of interpersonal dialogue between members of different cultures. However, the term may also be applied more generally to include non-verbal interaction, as well as other forms of communication via the man-made physical environment or through media. The anthropologist Riall W. Nolan explores some of the non-verbal aspects of intercultural communication in his book Communicating and Adapting across Cultures: Living and Working in the Global Village. He differentiates several types of non-verbal communication relevant in the intercultural communication context.
Environment language is the most general and impersonal communication form and includes architectural styles and functions of buildings, as well as the arrangement and function of spaces within buildings. On a more tangible level, Nolan identifies object language as a cultural communication form rooted in designed objects or signs such as dress, hairstyles or corporate logos. The physical object such as an item of clothing may not be as important as the cultural function it serves or the message it relays, for example by covering or exposing parts of the human body.
On a personal level, non-verbal cultural communication may be manifested through body language, including positioning, gesture and gaze. Common body language signs listed by Nolan include eye contact pattern, affirmative or negating nods, or even the application of odors such as perfumes, which are interpreted differently in different cultures. Chronemics is a more complex indicator variable of non-verbal communication, as it pertains to the culturally rooted appreciation and usage of time, evident for instance in the habits of being punctual or interrupting another speaker.
As a concept intercultural communication is linked with a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives and fields of study including management science, linguistics, negotiation theory, game theory, and political theory. Important associated notions include cross-cultural adaptation, which is the ability to adapt to living in another culture, and social evolution - the study of how societies and cultures evolve over time.