Cultural Barriers

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Culture is the core concept in diversity. Culture is defined as learned patterns of perceptions, values and behaviors shared by a group of people that is also dynamic and heterogeneous. Culture also involves our emotions and feelings. Cultural groups share perceptions—ways of looking at the world. Culture is the lens through which we view the world. All the information we receive passes through this perceptual lens. We select, evaluate and organize information from the external environment through perception. Culture influences communication. All cultural groups influence the ways in which their members experience and perceive the world. Members of a culture create a world view, which in turn influences communication.

In the intercultural communication context, there are barriers, including the following:

Ethnocentrism – the belief that one’s own cultural group, usually equated with nationality, is superior to all other cultural groups. Ethnocentrism becomes a barrier when one believes that another culture’s values are not equally good or worthy, which prevents trying to see another’s point of view.

Stereotyping – widely held beliefs about a group of people and are a form of generalization, a way of categorizing and processing information we receive. Stereotypes become a barrier when negative thoughts about a group of people are held rigidly and acted upon.

Prejudice – a negative attitude toward a cultural group based on little or no experience. Stereotypes tell us what a group is like, prejudice tells us how to feel about that group.

Color-blind approach – not to notice race/color. This approach discourages any meaningful conversations about race relations and allows people to ignore, deny, disregard and continue to support the status quo – the existence of racial inequalities. It allows blame to be placed on the minority group.

Discrimination – the behavior that results from stereotyping or prejudice – overt action to exclude, avoid, or distance oneself from other groups. Discrimination may be based on racism or any of the other “isms”, sexism, ageism, and elitism, related to belonging to a cultural group. Discrimination belongs to a more powerful group that holds prejudices toward another less powerful group resulting in actions toward members of that group that are discriminatory.

Tips on Breaking Cultural Barriers

  • Become more conscious of the identity groups to which you belong. Identify how the group values influenced the way you perceive other cultural groups.
  • Become more aware of your own communication in intercultural encounters. Think about the message you are sending, verbally and nonverbally. Think about your tone of voice, your posture, your gestures and your eye contact to determine if you are sending the messages you want to send.
  • Think about why you have or don’t have diverse friends and what you can learn from seeing the world through their lenses.
  • Become more knowledgeable about different cultures by reading local ethnic newspapers and seeing foreign films.
  • Notice how different cultural groups are portrayed in the media to see if minority groups are represented and how.
  • Recognize negative stereotypes, and obtain information that will counteract the stereotype and work consciously to reject them.
  • When speaking about other groups, use tentative words that don’t reflect generalizations, like generally, "many times", "it seems to me", or "in my experience."
  • Practice speaking up when someone tells a joke that is harmful toward another group.

Readings

Brislin, R. (1993) Understanding Culture’s Influence on Behavior Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Hofstede, G. H. (1991) Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Orbe, M. O. (1998) Constructing Co-Cultural Theory: An Explanation of Culture Power, and Communication. Thousand Oaks. CA: Sage.

Singer, M. R. (1998) Perception and Identity in Intercultural Communication. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.



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