Cross-cultural communication: Let’s start at the beginning

Obviously, any topic concerning cross-cultural aspects hits home for me. It is always interesting to learn new dimensions – especially when it is related to our professional field. That being said, Spilka’s chapter “Understanding Digital Literacy Across Cultures” was a great read. Then I tried to find information how German technical communicators would see this development. Unfortunately, the only article really relevant came from a UK author – and from 4 years ago. At least it is published in the tc-world, which is an online magazine published by the tekom (the German equivalent to the STC).

Choosing media strategically for cross-border team communications

To bring another aspect into this discussion, I have to disagree with many authors who categorize Western cultures on one site of the cross-border work and cultures from Asian, African or South American countries on the other side. Even within the entire Western cultures (U.S. and many West-European countries) the cultural differences are larger than first thought of. Look at you and me: we experience differences in our cultural upbringings.

  • Small ones – like different expressions for the same feeling. For example, Americans sit on cloud 9, when they are happy. Germans sit two-doors down on cloud 7. Thank God for Cloud computing.
  • Bigger ones – like the use of social network sites. Concerning the relations of communication media and communicative situations, to many Americans being on Facebook is a daily or even hourly way of connecting with others. Germans just started out using it. The majority of my friends in Germany are not Facebookers.

The three values, Barry Thatcher describes are a great way of analyzing the differences between two cultures. The question is how often do we actually take that extra step and do this kind of research about other cultures. I believe the biggest obstacle we (all earthlings) have to overcome is our mindset. The old question and attitude about being superior to others has to be eliminated out of our way of thinking. Being proud of your country is one thing, feeling superior to other countries is a different story. If both parties can settle for tolerance, we will conquer any upcoming challenges. I guess what I want to say is that even though this topic concerning digital literacy is very interesting to know and to explore, I believe that is one of the last steps we have to undertake. First steps first. Pankaj Ghemawat states in his TED talk: “Actually the world isn’t flat”.

So, we might have to rethink our approach when it comes to cross-cultural communication, no matter if the means are digital or not. Let’s start at the beginning.

Posted on November 11, 2012, in Literacy, Society. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. Great article find! Can you explain the cloud 9 and cloud 7 bit better? Is it just a turn of phrase?

    • Wouldn’t Americans say: “I am so happy, I am on cloud nine”? Germans would use exactly the same phrase and wording for the same kind of feeling, just the number differs: “I am on cloud seven”.

      • I love to hear your multi-cultural takes on things, Britta. Your assertion that the first step toward successful intercultural communication is to get over ourselves a little sounds fairly simple, but in reality is quite a tall order. We love ourselves, and our natural propensity is to assume we are right because according to our own “world,” we are right. I vaguely remember learning about that concept and the terminology Bob discusses in his post – that we are naturally self-absorbed and relate everything to ourselves and what we know. I also think that as a species, we are pretty lazy. When “culture” can be broken down to an individual level, there are hundreds of levels of culture between each of us and people in an entirely different country. Genuine effort needs to be put forth to dig through those levels to find the best way to communicate with a certain group of people, and the result would still be a generalization. Not many people or companies are willing or able to put forth the effort (and likely the money) to cater to vastly different cultures. It’s what we should do, but it’s not what we actually do.
        So who’s on Cloud 8? French people? Canadians? 🙂

        • I know, coming back to my post, I think I just left on the note “Let’s change the world” with not a single suggestion how we could proceed. Not a good move. I also didn’t mean to be negative about this whole aspect, I just wanted to be realistic, that’s why Ghemawat’s thoughts were kind of interesting, especially with him making the connection to Friedman’s “The world is flat” statement.
          Well, I don’t know who occupies Cloud 8. Some other country might have a similar saying like that. That would be actually a great question to post on Twitter for the whole world community to solve. Mmh, there is an intriguing thought. Wonder if somebody else started already a thread for a similar question.

  2. You make a good point. Social media is not the pig that gives milk and wool. I got that saying from a German guy I work with. My boss has a whole book started on sayings that the British and Germans use. We all share some laughs about each other’s sayings.

    In my experience working with German people in techcomm they take a similar approach to writing as American and British writers, but as you point out, there is a big difference even between individuals within a culture.

  3. Really interesting post. It is nice to hear your perspective, and how there are these differences within western and european cultures that we don’t realize. Further, we really probably don’t take enought time to consider the characteristics of other cultures..it takes time. It is easy to be consumed by our own little lives, and forget that there are other people out there who do things differently!

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