Cross-Cultural Communications Case

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In this module, you will engage in your cross-cultural experience. To document your experience, prepare a 5-minute video or a PowerPoint presentation with photos (at least 6 slides) describing the experience. This assignment should be strictly factual, as if you were preparing a news story on the event. You want to convey to the reader the look and feel of the contact experience or event. Concentrate on “who, what, when, where, and how.” The “why” question is what we will focus on in the Module 4 Case Assignment.

Assignment Expectations

  • Your presentation should be professionally prepared, as if you were making a presentation to your boss.
  • Presentations should be thoroughly edited and error-free.
  • Any photos should be accompanied by descriptions naming the participants and circumstances.
  • PowerPoint presentations may include voice-overs or other audio (e.g., music representative of the culture.)

Background Information

All readings are required unless noted as “Optional” or “Not Required.”

High and Low Context
The definitive work on context was originated by anthropologist Edward T. Hall. He differentiated between high- and low-context cultures. Context refers to the background or framework within which communication takes place.

High-context cultures place a high value on relationships. Business transactions cannot be successful unless based on a foundation of trust, so taking the time to build trust is an essential first step to any commercial activity. Hall explained that these cultures are collectivistic, placing greater value on group harmony than individual success.

Because these cultures are intuitive, people rely on impressions and feelings more than reason or logic. What is expressed in words is less important than the context—things like gestures, tone of voice, general affect, or even the speaker’s family history and position in society. These cultures tend to be homogeneous, and enjoy a shared history.

High-context communication tends to be indirect. However, if you force a direct yes or no answer, the response is likely to be yes (even if the “real” answer is no), lest the speaker risk offending you. Outsiders may find high-context communication to be overly formal and even obsequious. Flowery language, self-effacement, and elaborate apologies are common. Clusters of high-context cultures can be found in Asia, Africa, South America, and the Middle East.

Low-context cultures are logical, evaluative and analytic. Decisions are made not on intuition or emotion, but facts and data. Business transactions are consummated with explicit contracts and written agreements, a practice which persons from high-context cultures may interpret as signifying a lack of trust. Low-context cultures tend to be individualistic.

Communications tend to be straightforward, direct, and action-oriented. Arguments are linear. Language is efficient and precise, and statements are taken literally. Clusters can be found in Western Europe and North America.

The following video offers more insight into high- and low-context communication:

Schwander, J. (2013). Low and High Context Culture: Interpersonal communication. Retrieved from

Application: Negotiation

The following article by Brett is an excellent overview of how negotiations are influenced by culture. There is an excellent section on the role high and low context plays in negotiation strategies and tactics.

Brett, J. M. (2000). Culture and negotiation. International Journal of Psychology 35(2), 97–104. Retrieved from: http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic551848….

Relationship to Time

Hall also did a considerable amount of work on the topic of time and how it is perceived in different cultures. He proposed that time is experienced along a continuum, from monochronic (time is linear) to polychronic (time is simultaneous).

In monochronic culture, people tend to do just one thing at a time. Schedules and time commitments are taken very seriously and interruptions are not valued.

Polychronic cultures are characterized by people doing many things at the same time. Interruptions are handled with ease as plans can be changed easily and often. Relationships are more salient than schedules, so promptness is less important than the bond between the individuals involved.

Interactions between the two cultural types can be frustrating. Monochronic individuals cannot understand why a meeting doesn’t start on time and is continually interrupted with phone calls. They can interpret such behavior as insulting, indicating disinterest or disrespect.

On the other hand, an individual from a polychromic culture cannot understand why schedules and task completion takes such precedence over relationships. He or she may not think that measuring output in terms of time is relevant.

Hall’s writings bring to life this type of culture clash over the way time is conceptualized. Since he was trained as an anthropologist, his writings on the topic take on a decidedly ethnographic flavor. The following slide show provides a bit of background on Hall and his writings on time orientation.

Add, M. M. (2013). Monochronic and Polychronic Time, Prezi. Retrieved from http://prezi.com/e08xcxjafzli/monochronic-and-poly…

Application: Diplomacy and Cultural Differences in Communication

The following interview with Dr Hans J. Roth, Ambassador for Cross-Border Cooperation at the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, highlights the challenges that are created by divides in the ways people communicate and think about space and time.

Roth, H. J. (2012). Culture, space, and time—Problems in intercultural communication, The International Relations and Security Network. Retrieved from http://www.isn.ethz.ch/Digital-Library/Articles/De…

Gestures, Personal Space and Eye Contact

Over 90% of what you communicate is non-verbal—through gestures, body language, and tone of voice. This section considers the question of what are you communicating through your body language—or non-verbal behavior. These messages can vary across cultures and convey very different meanings depending on which cultures are interacting. So it is important to be well versed on what different types of non-verbals actually mean in different cultures.

The following video focuses on gestures, and how the same gestures can have different meaning in different cultures, with footage of people “acting naturally” in various cultures. Initially the video is a bit burred, but it quickly clears.

Morris, D. (2011). The Human Animal: A Personal View of the Human Species. Retrieved from:

Here is a short “cheat sheet” on the meaning of common gestures and non-verbal behavior across cultures:

Diversity Tip Sheet: Cross-Cultural Communication: Translating Nonverbal Cues. (2008). Diversity Council. Retrieved from http://media.wix.com/ugd/585763_8ea8dab2b7574c1a85…

Social Identity: Gender and Ethnicity

The last factor that we will examine in the context of cross-cultural communication is the area of social identity on styles of verbal and non-verbal communication. Social identity is a broad term that signifies any group or collective of which an individual feels a part. So, for example, your social identity might be female, baby boomer, African American, Buddhist, and/or Texan. When we communicate and interact with others, it often highlights the ways in which people from other identity groups are similar or different from our own. Indeed, it is common to assume greater similarity from a member of one of our own identity groups and greater difference between members of other groups. Although there are many bases of social identity, in this module, we will focus on two key identities—that of gender and ethnicity.

Research studies have found numerous differences between men and women in the realm of communication—even across cultures. Differences have been found in pronunciation (females have better pronunciation than males), intonation (women’s pitch is higher), vocabulary (women use more adjectives), diminutives (women use more), pronouns (women prefer first-person plural while men tend to use the first-person singular for self and second-person singular for others).

Other types of gender differences in communication involve greater use of modulation by women (“I might be wrong, but …”) whereas men are more direct. Women also tend to ask more questions as a way of engaging others in conversation, whereas men frequently view asking questions as a sign of ignorance or weakness. Men use imperative sentences more often when issuing orders, but women will modify the tone by using adverbs like “maybe,” “perhaps,” or “probably.”

Reference: Xia, X. (2013). Gender differences in using language. Theory and Practice in Language Studies, 3(8), 1485–1489.

Deborah Tannen, a noted writer in the area of gender differences in communication, developed Genderlect Theory, which held that it is best to approach communication between genders as a cross-cultural activity because men and women have different approaches to communicating, including different dialects. While her theory gained widespread notoriety, it has not been widely adopted by the academic or scholarly community.

Furthermore, Tannen’s work has been criticized as being “male-centric,” recommending that women adopt more forceful and direct methods of communicating. More recent work on gender and communication suggests that in a globalized and service-oriented economy, advantage can be gained by a communication approach that is more empathetic and inclusive.

For a brief sketch of the differences in male and female communication styles, read:

Gillespie, D. (2013). Communication styles: Understanding gender differences. WorkHealthLife blog. Retrieved from http://blog.workhealthlife.com/2013/03/communicati…

For a more thorough, cross-cultural exposition of the social, historical, and cultural influences on gender and communication view the following video. Some segments are serious, some are funny; the segment beginning at 12:10 is a good example. The video is rather lengthy but worth the time, and it raises some controversial issues. Do you agree?

Archer, D. (2013). Gender and communication: male female differences in Language and non-verbal communication. Retrieved from

The United States is a country characterized by a great deal of ethnic diversity, and so it is particularly important to consider the extent to which ethnic identity influences communication. Ethnic identity is often subsumed under the term “social identity,” which can mean any social group with which one identifies. Just as with the above factors, identity issues in communication also concern differences in the way the world is conceived or experienced. These differences can lead to misunderstanding or unsuccessful communication when the viewpoint of the “other” is assumed to be the same as that of one’s own group.

Ethnic identities are “socially constructed.” That is, how we think about our ethnicity is influenced by the environment in which we grow up, are educated, and choose to live as adults. Who we interact with and our relationship to the dominant or majority ethnic group can shape the content and strength of our own ethnic identities.

The following animated PowerPoint presentation illustrates the complexity of ethnic identity. It is taken from Chapter 4 of Understanding Intercultural Communication by Stella Ting-Toomey and Leeva Chung. Take your time when viewing the slides. Because it is animated, the tendency is to click fast, but you will get more out of it if you slow down and take the time to understand each slide.

McKissick, C. (2013). Chapter 4: What are the keys to understanding cultural and ethnic identities? Retrieved from http://prezi.com/qxa61oj8zv_k/ch-4-what-are-the-ke…

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