Culture shock is driven by the anxiety that results from not knowing what to do or how to behave socially, or how to interpret what we see. We don't know when to shake hands or what to say when we meet someone new, or when and how to leave a proper tip. In our home cultures, all of these cadences are taken for granted, yet in the new culture they are completely unknown. We begin to recognize the importance of intercultural learning and intercultural competence skills when we begin to feel very inept in the new culture and our peace of mind is suddenly jolted.
Cultural characteristics within language use
The spectrum between self enhancement and a self-humbling verbal style represents another verbal pattern. In the self-enhancement style , it is important to draw attention to or exaggerate one's credentials, outstanding accomplishments, and special abilities. In the self-humbling style , it is important to downplay oneself via modest talk, restraint, hesitation, and self-deprecation concerning one's performance or effort. Some cultures, such as the U.S. and Switzerland, encourage their members to be loud and proud, to sell themselves and boast about their achievements. Other cultures however, including many of those of Latin America, Asia, and Native American nations are not comfortable with the idea of selling oneself.
There are also different conceptualizations surrounding the use of silence and talk. Silence is used as a critical communication tool in many Native American and Asian cultures. Silence holds strong contextual meanings in high context cultures, furthering interpersonal understanding. On the other hand, prolonged silence is often viewed as "empty pause" or "ignorant lapses" in the Western world. Silence can be the determiner of language superiority and inferiority, and can have both positive and negative effects.
We can take several steps to improve our intercultural communication flexibility. These can include 1) understand languaculture, or the necessary interdependence between language and culture. Variations in a particular language, from syntax to semantics, reflect a speaker's worldviews, values, and premises; 2) we can practice verbal tracking, which is to pay close attention to the content meaning of a message, beyond accent; 3) we can practice verbal patience, employing empathy and patience for non-native speakers and slowing our pace, using less complex words, consciously pausing, and trying to rephrase statements to convey intended meanings; 4) we can pay attention to our nonverbal tone of voice, and ensure that it conveys patience and receptivity as opposed to impatience and skepticism; 5) we can use multiple modes of presentation, such as pictures, gestures, or written summaries, to reinforce our points; 6) we should master the cultural pragmatic rules, which is well beyond language and into the realm of appropriate communications; 7) we can understand the differences between low context in high context communication patterns and be aware of our own ethnocentric tendency to negatively evaluate those with communication characteristics different from our own; 8) finally, we can practice verbal code switching mindfully, fluently switching between low context in high context styles as appropriate. In these ways, we can be more culturally appropriate and reduce the anxiety that can accompany intercultural interactions.
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