Intercultural Communication Competence: A Lingo on Foreign Grounds

Having travelled all my life and having lived the life of an expat most of my life taught me a great deal about the importance of communication with an intercultural twist to it. I was born bilingual, speaking Russian and Hungarian simultaneously and already as a child I innately knew that although there were some universal values connecting the two languages, there were other aspects of ‘foreign’ communication there that were quite different. These differences had to be treated in a particular way, a way I learned via my lifelong international experience.

Communication on Foreign Grounds

Truthfully, I have always been excited about foreign languages and international grounds and I was proud that I was able to speak two languages simultaneously from the very beginning. I went to an American High school in Belgium surrounded by 27 nationalities, and I have completed my Master Degree in Denmark. I always wanted to travel to understand the world a little better.  I wanted to convey my thoughts effectively and I learned that communication between two foreigners was about more than just a combination of linguistic, phonetic, and semantic rules. Such communication was rooted in thoughts, cultural values, beliefs, and individual personality traits and was layered dependent on each encounter.  It was about communication between two people occurring in a space where values either clashed or connected, just like opposites and attractions.  

Aspects of Intercultural Communication Competence

Today, even more than before, I believe that there are a great number of variables that influence this type communication and after years of personal experience, expat adventures, international education, and a Master thesis on the subject, I have become inspired to share some of the most important facets of this type of communication from my personal perspective.

First of all, it is important to be inquisitive and acquire information/knowledge about your foreign communicator. It is also important to learn a bit about the world and other cultures via geography, politics, and cultural studies because being familiar with your co-communicator’s possible behaviors and thoughts facilitates the communication itself. It is important to listen and be patient in order to acquire any additional information about the individual to respond accordingly.  As follows, it is also important to be empathetic and open to new values and forms of expression.  Personally, empathy is a favorite because even when all rational arguments fail, empathy is usually a great common ground.  Human beings rely on their senses and are able to feel that you are trying to understand them, and will most likely make an extra effort to understand you too.

Additionally, it is important to use appropriate means of communication to make sure the appropriate message is conveyed. Communication is influenced by culture, and is therefore is rooted in the context of certain cultural norms and values. I must add that the definition of culture is complex, and in my opinion it is not only limited to national culture. Culture may be related to the individual’s occupation, hobby, interests, and many other factors. Thus, it is important to be reflexive about the knowledge you have acquired about your opponent’s background and apply it cautiously using appropriate gestures you expect them to use. This is no easy task, but with a bit of observation and experience it gets better with time. Thus it is important to note that it is necessary to adapt your own behavior to accommodate their behavior, but it is also necessary to be confident as well to avoid losing yourself in the conversation.

The effectiveness of the communicative encounter depends greatly on each individual. For instance, it is important to avoid being prejudice at all costs. There is a difference between understanding culture and assuming that it is a rigid structure. The worst possible outcome of such an assumption is stereotyping that only increases anxiety and sets a negative atmosphere. Thus, even if we assume or know about our communicators, we must still be mindful and open to novelty, and be tolerant and flexible, and understand at all times that we must never judge a book by its cover.

Overall, communication is a beautiful and complex activity that is based on both innate and universal rules, but also specific and diverse beliefs and values. It is therefore important to learn, adapt, and continuously develop by exposing yourself to foreign values and life. I still believe that most people should try expat life, because it is probably the experience that teaches most about intercultural communication.

Bio: Xenia has written a Master thesis on the subject of intercultural communication competence, and she has an interest in modern lifestyle, and travelling. She currently works in digital marketing and she has a background in Communications and EU Studies.

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