Communication Strategies in Multicultural Environment — A Focus on Nonverbal Communication

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CommunicationStrategies in Multicultural Environment — A Focus on NonverbalCommunication

CommunicationStrategies in Multicultural Environment — A Focus on Nonverbal

Theevolution of the world has been accompanied by heightenedglobalization, which is partly driven by technological developments(Suh, Diener, Oishi &amp Triandis, 2013). The most widely celebratedtechnological advances are those that serve information,communication and transport needs. These technologies are widelycelebrated because they have broken physical barriers, transformingthe world into a village. The outcome of these developments is thecurrent era is now characterized by increased interaction of peoplefrom different parts of the world. However, the growing globalizationhas been accompanied by cultural conflicts, which are associated withmisunderstanding and cultural shocks because people from various partof the world have varied cultures (Champaneria and Axtells, 2013).Indeed, cultural misunderstanding is common in communication and canaffect business success. This paper explores effective non-verbalcommunication strategies in a multicultural environment.

Ingredientsto Effective Communication

Thestrategy to effective communication is cultural competence, whichentails being aware of and recognizing other people’s communicationnorms. In consideration of the challenges inherent to interculturalcommunication, Champaneria and Axtells (2013) propose a modelreferred as the lens model that can be pivotal. Ideally, culturallens design enables people to recognize how cultural differencescould trigger misunderstandings in communication and strive to judgethem based on their cultural perspectives. The Cultural lens can beperceived to consist of various cultural elements that affect theinterpretation of the information. This model posits that, ifmulticultural people were to adopt cultural lenses of other people,they would be able to understand other cultures and even coexist inharmony. Non-verbal communication is one of the challenges affectingeffective communication in multicultural settings

Theliterature on non-verbal communication differences between culturesis documented and reveals differences that might cause communicationbarriers. Research essentially approaches the cultural differencesbased on two broad categories of culture — the collectivist andindividualist groups. In this case, the individualist societies arethose which personal goals precede the community interests. Theexamples of the individualist societies are the countries in the Westsuch as the United States. In contrast, collectivist societies arethose in which the community values and goals precede those of theindividuals. The examples of countries that people are collectivistinclude those in the East, for instance, Japan. Conyne (2014) hasstated that the collectivist and individualist dimensions arecritical in communication because they determine the elements thatmatter for those sending and receiving the message.

Basedon these two dimensions, Okabe (2012) has gone further to describetwo types of communication styles — the low context and the highcontext. The low context communication is a style in which themessage senders use direct [bold] form of communication, while thehigh context of communication employs a relatively indirect [soft]strategy of communication. The author considers that the low contextmethod would most likely correspond to the individualist communities,as collectivist societies would prefer high-context approach. Theauthor is assertive that this match is consistent because, unlike thecollectivist individuals, the individualist communities will seldomprioritize the interests of the other people, implying that they arelikely bold. Such societies are often concerned about the appeals ofthe message to the self-vested interests. The collectivist societiesoften insist on community-based principles to interpret thecommunication of other parties (Okabe, 2012).

Accordingto Suh, Diener, Oishi and Triandis (2013), collectivist societies areoften concerned about their minimizing the chances of hurting otherparties. Therefore, in collective organizations, the interactions,and communication between the group and other groups who do notespouse to their perspectives may be limited. These groups valueconformity and traditions. For this reason, they prefer to use highcontext communication, which happens to be appealing to them becauseit suits them (Suh, Diener, Oishi &amp Triandis, 2013).Additionally, collectivist societies have the tendency of withholdinginformation that they perceive could aggravate others. However, whenthey speak, they are likely to take longer than individualisticcultures because they have to integrate different techniques ofcommunication to make their message heard, as well as maintainrelationships. Their communication is meant to build relationships.Therefore, it is not even surprising that sociability ofcommunication is often extended to official communication while thefirst encounters are often punctuated by an acquaintance (Oyserman,Coon &amp Kemmelmeie, 2013). In contrast, the individualist groupsdo not consider acquaintance informal relationships to be important.Furthermore, they are less likely to be concerned about maintainingsocial relationships. Besides, it is worth noting that body language,including body and facial expression, are inherently complex becausea single signal could have various meanings for the collectivist andindividualist people. Norenzayan, Choi, and Nisbett (2012) havesuggested that even in non-verbal communication, the communicatorswill tend to exhibit certain traits that bring out the culturaldimension. Therefore, the success in effective communication isguided by the knowledge of these differences and congruent practice.


Oneof the communication inhibitors in a cross-cultural context is eyecontact. Indeed, these views supported by Scherer, Wallbott,Matsumoto and Kudoh (2013), who have also singled out somedifferences in other culture. For instance, the Anglo-Americans tendto enjoy long durations of eye contact during communications. ForAnglo-American, breaking eye contact implies that something is amiss.They prefer to look straight in the eyesof the speakers when listening. The Asians, such as the Japanese, arelikely to look away, which may be perceived by Anglo-Americans as adepiction of indifferences or dishonesty. On the other hand, theAmerican Blacks consider such type of eye contact to be invasive(Scherer, Wallbott, Matsumoto and Kudoh, 2013).

TheExample Based on Experience

Ihave been able to experience these cultural differences in real lifesituation, especially when working with Japanese. For the Americans,frequent eye contact, alongside other nonverbal cues, are pivotal inthe portraying sincerity, believability, and trust. The people in theservice sectors are asked to avoid the use of nonverbal cues thatimply unconcern or superiority such as lack of any eye contacts.People are likely to break the eye contact when asked a question thatdemeans them or makes them feel guilty or when they are notinterested in what is being discussed. The Japanese, on the otherhand, pay attention to the information conveyed through the short eyecontact. The Japanese perceive extended eye contact as a signal ofrudeness and boldness. Therefore, the Japanese people prefer shorteye contacts.It seems the Japanese see the direct eye contact as ashow of arrogance and disobedience. Moreover, any direct eye contactconfrontation could result in physical confrontation.

Besides,I have heard a Japanese friend saying that he came to America and wasshocked to see how people relate. For instance, an employer looked atan employee in the eye. He thought a physical fight was ‘brewing.`Therefore, it can be inferred that the two cultural groups (Americansand the Japanese) differ significantly regarding their nonverbalcommunications. Leaders working in the multicultural environment needto be aware of such weaknesses.


Champaneria,M.C. &amp Axtells, S. (2013). Cultural competences training at USmedical schools.AmericanMedical Association.291(17): 2142.

Conyne,R. (2014). “Cultural Differences and Similarities in Teamwork”.TheoryPractice and Research,3(1): 40-50.

Norenzayan,A., Choi, I., &amp Nisbett, R.E. (2012). Cultural similarities anddifferences in social inference: Evidence from behavioral predictionsand lay theories of behavior. Personalityand Social Psychology Bulletin, 28, 109-120.

Okabe,R. (2012) Cultural assumptions of east and west. In W. B. Gudykunst(Ed.), InterculturalCommunicationTheory. NewburyPark, CA: Sage.

Oyserman,D., Coon, H. M., &amp Kemmelmeier, M. (2013). Rethinkingindividualism and collectivism: Evaluation of theoretical assumptionsand meta-analyses PsychologicalBulletin, 128,3-72.

Scherer,K. R., Wallbott, H. G., Matsumoto, D., &amp Kudoh, T. (2013).Emotional experience in cultural context: A comparison betweenEurope, Japan, and the United States. In K. R. Scherer (Ed.), Facetsof Emotion. Hillsdale,NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Suh,E., Diener, E., Oishi, S., &amp Triandis, H. C. (2013). The shiftingbasis of life satisfaction judgments across cultures: Emotions versusnorms. Journalof Personality and Social Psychology, 74,482-493.