Thanks largely to the Internet, the world has become a global village; cultures that were previously light years removed from our own are now literally next door. We are just a click away from 1.5 billion Internet users. In a matter of seconds we can get in touch with anyone, anywhere, yet dealing with cultural differences that took centuries to shape will take a little longer. These differences are very often deeply embedded in our culture and include the way in which we frame and solve problems, how we communicate, how we convey bad news (one that fascinates me is that ‘very interesting’ in Japanese means ‘no’).
The protocols we can learn quite easily: sitting in the Arab world without showing the soles of our feet; avoiding the number 4 in China, or the number 13 in Europe; shaking our head in Bulgaria when we mean ‘yes’ and nodding it when we mean ‘no’. But it is much more difficult for us to understand the ‘cognitive patterns’ of our interlocutors.
As Tanya Mohn’s article in the New York Times shows, one of the ‘camouflaged’, but very serious problems in intercultural communication is the presumption that by speaking English we understand each other. Understanding the language is the minimum requirement for understanding the message. To reach the level of successful intercultural communication, we have to understand the way in which other cultures frame problems and ideas. Understanding the words simply isn’t enough.
Here is the link to the New York Times article that inspired my blog post http://tr.im/RcJt
Here is the link to Diplo’s book on intercultural communication and diplomacy: http://tr.im/R3KH