5.4 Cross-Cultural Miscommunication

Speaking English as a lingua franca refers to the global phenomenon of people who use English as a common language when they do not comprehend each other’s native languages. Despite their limited skills, users of English as a lingua franca manage to overcome considerable linguistic and cultural communication barriers by focusing on meaning and purpose. The fact that users of English as a lingua franca can communicate effectively, gain trust, maintain respect, and avoid conflict speaks volumes about the ingenuity of human communication skills.
A room with roughly 200 people sitting and watching a speaker on stage.
People sitting on chairs watching a game by Alexandre Pellaes is free to use under the Unsplash License.

The Swedish journalist Thomas Larsson has defined globalization as “the process of world shrinkage, of distances getting shorter, things moving closer. It pertains to the increasing ease with which somebody on one side of the world can interact, to mutual benefit, with somebody on the other side of the world” (p. 9). Enhanced by the revolutionary advances in communication technologies, globalization has facilitated direct contact among people from various countries, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. Face-to-face or technology-mediated, cross-cultural encounters are typically friendly, respectful, and positive despite cultural and linguistic barriers and differences. This chapter will explore the nature and causes of cross-cultural miscommunication and identify key strategies for effective cross-cultural persuasion.

The Root of Cross-Cultural Miscommunication

When people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds meet, the interaction is usually friendly and respectful. In cross-cultural communication, people are typically proud of their acceptance and tolerance and emphasize shared values with different people. Many people dream of traveling to foreign countries to learn about other nations, cultures, traditions, and religions. Unfortunately, misunderstandings and conflicts may occur when people from differing linguistic and cultural worldviews argue about controversial political or social issues.

While respect and tolerance can go a long way in reducing conflict among people from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds, misunderstandings can still result in severe disagreements and conflicts due to differences in worldviews and communication styles. Personal, social, and cultural factors usually shape a person’s communication style. However, how individuals express themselves reflects their socio-economic status and the influence and power in society. For instance, people who belong to a dominant or privileged group tend to speak in a way that reflects their influential status. Privileged individuals in some societies may project their dominant position over less privileged groups or individuals by using direct, assertive, and goal-oriented language. On the other hand, individuals with less power may reflect their lack of influence by using indirect or implicit expressions.

Despite sharing universally accepted values such as harmony, trust, sincerity, honesty, and loyalty among world cultures, traditions, and religions, cross-cultural communication can still be distrustful and tense due to differences in values, beliefs, and worldviews. Gender roles are perceived differently in different cultures and religions and are usually controversial. For example, in many cultures, men are protective of women and show respect by preventing or shielding them from working or doing demanding jobs. In contrast, barring women from work or doing challenging jobs is viewed as violating gender equality and fundamental workplace rights in other cultures. Thus, the different perceptions of gender roles may lead to miscommunication and serious misunderstandings in cross-cultural settings.

Miscommunication between people from different linguistic or cultural backgrounds may result from differences in values, beliefs, or communication styles. For example, people in some cultures emphasize direct and explicit communication to express individualism, independence, and pride. Furthermore, the straightforward communication style is viewed positively in Western cultures as an honest and practical approach to personal and professional interactions.


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SOURCE: https://open.maricopa.edu/com225/chapter/persuasion-across-cultures/

“Cross-Cultural Miscommunication” by Dr. Kathryn Weinland is an adaptation of “Persuasion Across Cultures” by Naseer Alomari, Ph.D., from Public Speaking by Dr. Layne Goodman, Amber Green, M.A. and various, licensed CC BY-NC-SA.


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5.4 Cross-Cultural Miscommunication Copyright © 2023 by Kathryn Weinland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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