Communication, which is the exchange of information between two entities, is essential for most living organisms and especially so for humans. Communication allows people to exchange thoughts, plans, requirements, and beliefs. As such, communication drives civilizations and development since people can cooperate on projects and address issues. The ability to communicate clearly is thereby a necessity for humans as can be shown by the development of sophisticated channels of communication allowing people to convey information faster and with greater accuracy. An example of such a channel is the internet that has revolutionized the way people communicate.
Conveying information requires that the people involved be able to comprehend the other signs, syntax and semantics. As such, the communicators have to share backgrounds that will allow them to exchange their information. This may be a challenge for people who are from different cultural backgrounds and may not share the same signs, semantics, or syntax. This may result in misinformation, lack of information, and misunderstandings that may escalate to conflicts between the communicators. Cross cultural; communication is therefore important especially in view of the increase in the migration of people throughout the globe. For people to prosper, they have to live peacefully and in harmony and hence effective communication is ever more necessary to ensure that people from varying cultures and backgrounds get along together.
Empirical research looks at a subject through experimentation and observations made on its variables. As such, it provides invaluable raw information that can be analyzed for patterns and similarities with subjects. Therefore, an empirical approach to the problems of intercultural or/and cross-cultural communication would provide data that could point to methods that can be used to address them. This is especially important since data obtained can help linguists and communication experts develop useful programs and channels that could promote understanding between communicators.
Cultural differences amount to differences in the way people relate to their environment and to other people. There are familiar patterns that are set up whenever a group of people communicate and live in the same environment for some time. Therefore, the people are likely to adopt these patterns whenever they communicate with others. This may lead to lack of communication whenever they try to communicate with people with whom they do not have the same communication patterns (Aneas & Sandín, 2009). As a result, misunderstandings arise and hence the need for study into the best ways in which to remedy this problem.
In my experience, cultural or even slight background differences may bring up large differences in communication. I have not met a person with whom I had a complete communication breakdown although I once met an old man who could communicate well enough but with a very strange accent. He asked me for directions to some place I knew well but I could not help but laugh at his pronunciations. He seemed surprised by my response and although I tried to direct him, he went to another person while rather angry at my laughing. I could not be said to have been unable to decode his information but I had problems with the way he put his questions. I believe that small differences may actually cause major communication breakdowns especially when the communicators are not willing to accept what others offer with their inadequate communication skills.
In an article on the cultural impacts that determine the design of websites, the question whether the choices that are made in designing a website can affect traffic and responses from people who come from different backgrounds is looked at (Lo & Gong, 2005). The concern of the paper is how e-commerce websites could increase their traffic and positive responses from local groups thereby improving profitability. The challenge faced by these e-commerce websites is that they may be culturally challenged in being able to obtain positive responses. The article notes that although most business websites are in English, the preferred business language of many international firms, the combined Sino-Japanese online speakers are bound to outrank them in population. However, through analysis of differences in web design, the presence of these powers is bound to change.
In another article, Michelle LeBaron (2003) lists time and space, communication done non-verbally, fate and individual responsibilities, and saving face as the main issues in cross-cultural communication. She states that all communication is influenced by culture since one must interact with others, no matter how remotely, and hence one cannot ignore the cultural heritage or similarities one shares with the other. Since most communication by an individual is done locally, then the individual absorbs that characteristics of the place where he/she is located thereby making the communication cultural. She goes on to enumerate the fact that no matter how much good will the communicators may have, miscommunication is bound to bring up conflicts and mistrust between the communicators.
In the research on e-websites, the researchers chose a hundred websites, half from the US and the other half from China. The lists were chosen such that they were the most popular sites in the US and China. This was achieved by obtaining lists from website rank compilers based on the sites’ regional ranking, evaluation by experts, customer responses, as well research conducted into the market. The US list was obtained by looking into the list posted by the ranking website Ranking.com. The characteristics that were looked into with regard to culture include the color of the web pages, their layout, the content of the sites, as well as their interactivity. Occurrences of certain characteristics were then noted as frequencies and were tabulated for ease of comparison between the websites. Additionally, statistical tests were carried to determine mathematically the differences in the two types of websites. By being specific to a given subject, e-commerce websites, the authors were making it possible for customized solutions to be applied to the particular subject (Lo & Gong, 2005).
Michele LeBaron (2003) went about her research differently by looking at specific causes for differences in cross-cultural communication rather than looking at a specific subject. By generalizing cross-cultural communication, she makes it possible for people to see the bigger picture about it. The study could therefore be used to apply general principles to a specific case to save a given situation. The study also helps one appreciate the diversity present in the world and show that it is possible to overcome the communication differences brought about by differences in culture.
In their results, Lo and Gong (2005) found out that websites in China used more colors than those in the US. There were further differences in the choice of colors that were used to depict hyperlinks in the websites. Those in US used blue color for their hyperlinks while those from China used all types of color for them. The use of blue was also dominant in the US websites as well as white, yellow and black. Chinese websites made use of colors such as blue, yellow, red, and black. Therefore, there were similarities in the choice of colors for the two countries with blue being the most popular color. In addition, the color white was the most for backgrounds with the trend appearing to move towards standardization.
Black, yellow and blue were the main foreground colors with red being the most prominent color in Chinese websites. This may be attributed to the fact that red is traditionally considered as having good luck, marriage, as well as wealth. White may have been less used due its association in the country with death and mourning. In the West, white may be associated with joy, purity, and love. These are all positive qualities and hence the possible dominance of the color as a website background in the US. Therefore, some colors may be thought of as luckier than others may, as are some numbers and images. The 13th floor and room do not exist in many hotels in the West and in Japan since the number is considered unlucky by many people (Kwentissential, 2010). Therefore, this shows a clear trend in which people living in a certain society taking up certain iconographic elements to represent something that is then associated to its representative purpose permanently. Therefore, for cross-cultural communication to survive, and thrive successfully, each other’s iconography has to be studied carefully to ensure that misinformation is not spread in the name of information.
The research by LeBaron established that the variables involved in cross-cultural communication, particularly where goodwill does not exist between the parties, are very complex. This means that to approach these problems would mean taking the other’s view and reasons for their reactions. This may be difficult given the differences in backgrounds but it can be achieved if the communicating parties are willing to find common ground on which they can communicate. Western style professionalism has had great impact on the world especially since the Western countries hold a lot of power in world politics. Therefore, they have been adopted for conducting business and many other aspects of society by other nations and communities. However, they are tempered with local ideologies and practices and hence the need to understand other’s background remains. This will help prevent growth or causing of conflicts since people will work extra hard to understand their differences and apply their knowledge to overcoming them (LeBaron, 2003).
In both these researches, the hypothesis is that conflict and escalation of conflict because of lack of communication across cultures can be avoided by studying each other’s cultures and tolerating differences in each other. By establishing and portraying the fact that these differences do not arise because of contempt or ignorance but the background from which people originate, they are made less serious and can therefore be addressed for easier communication. Their hypothesis is justified since most nations have adapted to others mode of communication especially after the establishment on the internet. People are more exposed to others cultures and outlook and hence miscommunication and offence occur only if one of the parties is grossly misinformed or contemptuous of the other’s requirements.
The research on websites points to the emergence of a global e-commerce culture that can be attributed to the fact that the internet is used by the global community and hence every community that participates has some input into its culture. Additionally, the internet is a new phenomenon and has therefore not had many of its inputs from a single community but from many differing communities that have adapted to its iconography and communication methods. As such, the communities have created a culture in which almost everyone participates making it a unique and separate culture from that of locales. Fast and effective communication channels may also have contributed to this culture’s proliferation and the promotion of understanding between its members.
Therefore, the similarities found in the internet such as the adoption of white as a background and blue for marking hyperlinks may be a direct product of this cooperation. Even though there may not be consensus over what to use, popular sentiment carries the day thereby forcing others to adopt changes that have been established in a system. This eventually constitutes the system’s culture. Variety is also attributed to the culture and local practices since they determine how an individual reacts to a certain stimulant. For example, in the US, individualism is encouraged and natured and hence websites in the US have greater variety as opposed to Chinese culture where collectivism is encouraged. Therefore, cultures have great influence over our choices and the way we deal with others.
The researches were both limited in their approach to the subject of cross-cultural communication. In the study by LeBaron (2003), researcher sought to generalize the subject and list variables that affect cross-cultural communication that is face and face-saving, communication without verbal exchanges, personal responsibility, as well as the way time and space are treated. The research is therefore not specific enough to be applicable to the unique problems of a given instance but it is a general treatment of problems affecting communication. It is, however, useful in understanding why and how these problems arise.
In the research on e-commerce websites, the research is very specific and hence it provides specialized information about a given situation. This is useful in solving problems associated with the particular subject, the internet, and in instituting changes towards better communication between cultures. Therefore, businesses can apply the solutions developed by the study to increase their profitability. This type of localized study is therefore important for understanding local cultures and adopting solutions that straighten communication between different communities. Therefore, empirical research can be useful in providing evidence for cultural trends and to help people, organizations, and negotiators adopt changes that help improve communication between parties of different cultural settings.
Aneas, M. A. & Sandín, M. P. (2009). “Intercultural and Cross-Cultural Communication Research: Some Reflections about Culture and Qualitative Methods” [57 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 10(1), Art. 51, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0901519.
Kwentissential (2010).Cross Cultural Advertising. Retrieved March 27, 2010 from: http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/cultural-services/articles/cross-cultural-advertising.html
LeBaron, M. (2003, July). Cross-Cultural Communication. Retrieved March 27, 2010 from: http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/cross-cultural_communication/
Lo, W. N. B. and Gong, P. (2005). “Cultural Impact on the design of E-Commerce Websites: Part 1-Site Format and Layout”. Issues in Information. Volume VI, No. 2, 2005 182 Systems. Retrieved March 27, 2010 from http://iacis.org/iis/2005_iis/PDFs/Lo_gong.pdf