Barriers to cross-cultural communication

Barriers to cross-cultural communication


In business, cross cultural communication plays a critical role in successfully carrying out business with teams and stakeholders in other areas of the globe. When the communication is effective, everyone benefits from increased bandwidth, institutional knowledge, and competitive advantage. Ineffective communication however, can offend, confuse or send a misconstrued message which could lead to broken relations with customers, partners, vendors, and employees. Some common cross –cultural barriers are discussed below:

1. Language

 Misunderstandings are common among people who speak the same language, so it’s not surprising that people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds face communication barriers. Anything from the mispronunciation of a word to a lack of specificity can lead to misunderstandings. Although English is regarded as the common international language of business, not every business globally uses English on a regular basis. Employees may have more difficulty when communicating in English, which can lead to misunderstandings when taking direction, understanding level of urgency and communicating issues or concerns.

2. Stereotypes

These are assumptions made about a group of people and are applied to individuals irrespective of their personal characteristics because of their affiliation with a certain group. Stereotypes can be positive, negative or neutral. Many stereotypes are negative or even hostile and are a serious barrier to workplace communication. The concept of the stereotype is used in various contexts. For example, the distinctiveness of Chinese cultural characteristics has been recognized in these ways. Chinese are often described as: emotionally more reserved, introverted, fond of tranquillity, overly considerate, socially overcautious, habituated to self-restraint and so forth.

For example, compared with American people, English people are considered cold and not very open; Making friends with them takes a very long time; They like a certain distance when talking, etc. American is thought to be impatient and arrogant as well as friendly and tolerant. The danger is entertaining stereotypes is that an individual is thought to possess characteristics that are ascribed to the group. Obviously, not all Americans are impatient and arrogant, nor are they all friendly and tolerant. Prejudging an individual can lead to misconceptions and barriers to communication.

3. Body Language

Body language, includes all the communication through the non-verbal channel. This can include how we greet others, how we sit or stand, our facial expressions, our clothes, hair styles, tone of voice, eye movements, how we listen, how we breathe, how close we stand to others, and how we touch others. The pressure of body language can especially be felt in emotional situations where body language usually prevails over words .The study of body language is known as kinesics. Eye contact, posture and facial expressions carry different meanings throughout the world.

The ring gesture. (The tip of the thumb and the tip of a finger meeting to create a ring.)

— In America – “OK”

— In Japan -“money”

— In France -“zero or worthless”

— In Tunisia – ” I’ll kill you! “


 Tapping the nose is more common in Europe than in the United States. It means ‘confidential’ in England but ‘watch out!’ in Italy


 Some cultures, like the Italians, use their arms freely. Others, like the Japanese, are more reserved; in Japan it is considered impolite to gesture with broad movements of the arms.

Eye movement

In the U.S., it is important to make eye contact with someone who is speaking to you or they may think you are distracted or uninterested. However, in many Asian countries, eye contact can be a sign of disrespect or a challenge to authority.

 There are many other cultural differences in body language that can create barriers to effective communication. Those include differences in facial expressions, the use of nodding to indicate agreement or understanding, and the amount of space to give someone with whom you are having a conversation.

4. Emotional Display

What is considered an appropriate display of emotion can differ from culture to culture. In some countries, displaying anger, fear or frustration in the workplace is considered inappropriate in a business setting. People from these cultures keep their emotions hidden and only discuss the factual aspects of the situation. In other cultures, participants in a discussion are expected to reveal their emotions. You can imagine what misunderstandings can arise if a businessperson displays strong emotion in the company of employees who feel that such behaviour is out of place.

5. Ethnocentrism 

It is a tendency to judge other groups according to standards and values of ones own group. Ethnocentric value not only act as communication barrier but can hinder one student morale and productivity. Ethnocentrism is the assumption that the culture of one’s own group is moral, right and rational, and that other cultures are inferior. When confronted with a different culture, individuals judge it with reference to their own standards, and make no attempt to understand and evaluate it from its members’ perspective. Sometimes ethnocentrism will be combined with racism – the belief that individuals can be classified into distinct racial groups and that there is a biologically-based hierarchy of these races. In principle, however, one can reject a different culture without in any way assuming the inherent inferiority of its members . But ethnocentrism also can create obstacles to communication with those who are culturally different from you. It can also lead to hostility toward outside groups and may blind you to seeing other perspectives, other values, other ways of doing things.

6. Prejudice

Prejudice arises from the ‘pre-judging’ of someone’s characteristics simply because they have been categorised as belonging to a particular group. It is usually associated with negative attitudes to that group. This attitudinal barrier can be devastating for organizational communication because it can cause entire segments of the workforce to be left out on important information

Barriers to cross-cultural communication

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