Barriers in Cross-Cultural Communication

Cultural noise refers to barriers and impediments to successful communication among people of different cultures. Sources of cultural noise are numerous and could be consist of:

  • Difference in language for instance the same words have different meanings in two languages which can creates noise in communication.
  • Dissimilarity in non-verbal cues such as interpretation of body language.
  • Differences in values such as importance of being on time in a culture.
  • Self-reference criterion (SRC) which refers to one’s unconscious reference to one’s own cultural values when attempting to understand another culture.

In the process of organizational communication model, fail in communication at any point can happen. Breakdowns occur when the sender fails to influence the receiver in the ways that are intended or when the receiver fails to do the same. The sender may convey the message in a way which is not received. The receiver might decode the message inaccurately, misinterpret the sender’s intention, and respond incorrectly. Incompatible verbal and non-verbal channels may indicate that the receiver doubts the true intention of the sender and does not respond at all.

Potential “barriers” to effective organizational communication are classified as:

  1. Interpersonal barriers: barriers that come from individual characteristics and difference cultures and include:
    • Semantics
    • Perception and perceptual selection processes
    • Inconsistent verbal and non-verbal communication
    • Channel selection
  2. Organizational barriers: barriers that come from an organization’s structures, systems, and processes and include:
    • Technical and in-group language
    • Physical distractions
    • Time pressure
    • Information overload
    • Status differences
    • Absence of formal communication channels
    • Task and organization structure requirements

Minimizing Cross-Cultural Noise in Organizational Communication

People who are involved in international communication and dealing with different cultures should be aware of obstacles that might distress the message interpretation in the way that the sender proposed. This necessitates particular understanding of the communication process and a variety of sources relevant to cultural noise which may hinder that process. Previous discussion about various aspects of culture can provide better scope to identify the possible ways which the noise in cross-cultural communication could be created as well as better understanding of sources of noise. Effective Cross- cultural Communication with identifying the right communication channel will minimize noise and generally could be achieved through developing Cross-cultural Communication skills, capabilities, competency and improving awareness about cultural values regarding business relationship in cross-cultural communication. To minimize cross-cultural noise the ability to communicate effectively must be improved and the interpersonal and organizational barriers must be reduced. The following discussion is offering a number of ways to overcome the barriers and minimize cultural noises in organizations:

Interpersonal Barriers

  • Semantics – Semantics defines as “study of words or symbols meaning” and can create noise in communication as words can be used unclearly, inaccurately, or may mean different things to different people. Traditionally, it has been suggested that to reduce this barrier, careful attention must be paid to choice of words and language. Consequently misunderstanding or offence could be avoided. This argument conceptualizes language and meaning as a potential “trouble” for communicators in organizations. Managers must be very communicative and use bright language to signify passion, positive energy, self-reliance and personal confidence. 
  • Perception & Perceptual Selection Processes – Perception is defined as the dynamic psychological process responsible for attending to, organizing, and interpreting sensory data. Communication depends on the way people`s motives and intentions has been perceived. Perceptual selection is consciously and unconsciously process of selection from flow of sensory information, which affects what and how they have been heard and willingness to respond. Conventionally, the way to minimize these barriers are to develop self-awareness of personal values, beliefs, and attitudes and the ways which they affect perception as well as improving understanding and compassion to other people. For instance, avoid stereotyping and improve listening skills. In organizations, the process of communication can raise awareness of essential organizational goals and enlighten people about the appropriate means to achieve the goals.
  • Inconsistent Verbal and Non-verbal Communication – Inconsistent verbal and non-verbal communication can lead to a communication breakdown as inconsistency confuses a receiver who attempts to understand the “true” message of the sender and then relies greatly on the non-verbal actions to decode meaning. Usually, managers have been advised to minimize any inconsistencies between their words and their manner of speaking, posture and facial expressions. Attention to non-verbal manners is essential for effective communication. The process of communicating with non-verbal manners, physical space, measures, and rewards provides consistent information about organizational values.
  • Channel Selection – When communicating in organizations, attention must strictly be paid to the selection of a channel (oral or written media) and ways to send the message. Selecting an inappropriate channel may result to breakdown in communication. For example, emotional or complex messages are usually communicated most effectively via face-to-face. A complicated message should be sent through a “rich” channel, such as a face-to-face meeting. Matching characteristics of the message (clear/ambiguous, rational/emotional) to the channel can minimize the miscommunication. In addition, implementing multiple channels to convey the same and constant message regarding central organizational values can enhances assurance about key organizational values.

Organizational Barriers

  • Technical and In-Group Language – In organizations, technical and professional vocabularies make it difficult for individuals or groups to communicate mainly when organizational members are extremely professionalized or organizational subunits are highly differentiated. It has been recommended to minimize specialist vocabularies whenever possible in organizations. Consolidation of the various aspects of an organization and highlighting organizational interest, or the common goals over self-interest can reduce these kinds of noises. Using images and symbols when communicating is an effective way which stresses the similarities of subunits and professions over the differences.
  • Physical Distractions – Physical distractions in organizations comprise noise, interruptions, and equipment breakdowns and it has been suggested to minimize them in any possible way. Practicality, in the best effort, they could be minimized instead of elimination as in reality; distractions would never be eliminated in the workplace.
  • Time Pressure – Time pressure is another apparent impediment to organizational communication. Managers must be aware of sensitivity of organizational time periods. For instance, it has not been recommended that a manager in an accounting firm declare a key organizational change in the last week of the tax year. Patently about the manager`s values, employee`s own values, and shared values and what is expected of them, will lead to better handling of stress and reduce miscommunication.
  • Information Overload – As managers deal with huge volume of information and data on a daily basis and information-processing is an important part of a manager’s responsibilities developing time-management skills to cope with high amounts of information or attempt to reduce information to the level which is essential for processing, have been recommended.
  • Status Differences – Status differences could be huge or small in an organization. Large status differences are more likely to cause miscommunication. To minimize status differences, the responsibility should be more on the higher status person to reduce the distance. Enhancing employee`s sense of value and purpose concerning organizational goals must be used by managers to reduce this barrier. Managers can use ceremonies, honoring events and celebrations of importance to the organization to convey significant values and beliefs.
  • Absence of Formal Communication Channels – Channels are required for organizations to transmit information about objectives and goal achievement, performance and to promote harmonization and problem solving across the organization. Absence of formal communication channels lead to difficulty to exchange information between employees, managers, subunits and suppliers. Many techniques have been developed to improve upward communication such as performance reports, proposition systems, and position surveys. For downward communication newsletters, conferences and meetings and for horizontal communication quality circles, electronic networks and intranets have been developed. the power of informal channels of communication, including symbols, artefacts, and rituals must be considered to minimize noise as they are visible reminders of key organizational values and they communicate even when the manager is absent.
  • Task and Organization Structure Requirements – The performed tasks will affect type of the required information people need to share and the urgency and speed of messages. As a direct outcome of hierarchy filtering (intentionally or unintentionally leaving out parts of a message), distortion (to serve individual goals), and refusal to communicate (either because of oversight or deliberately not sharing information) could be found. To minimize, it has been suggested to decentralize decision making and implementing structural devices such as task forces, multifunctional teams or integrating managers. Minimizing this barrier could be facilitate by prevail over the tendency to filter, distort, and refuse to communicate. A focus on teamwork and achievements should be highlighted by the measurement of results and the reward system.

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