What is intercultural contact


Intercultural communication occurs when people from different cultures meet and interact with one another.

Effects on the private sector

In our globalized world this is no exception, but is part of everyday life for many. We go on vacation in other countries, maintain international business relationships, migrate to other cultures, make friends with people from the other end of the world.

Effects on the economic sector

In the economic context, increasing globalization is increasingly leading to international cooperation and more and more people are working abroad.

Why do misunderstandings arise in intercultural communication?

It is obvious that intercultural communication between individuals and organizations is prone to misunderstandings. The reasons for this can be found in the different traditions, religions and customs of the individual cultures. These aspects all affect our communication - whether we are aware of them or not.

Intercultural communication can be learned

In international companies in particular, it is essential to be aware of cultural differences and to react accordingly. Anyone who takes part in training courses on intercultural communication is better equipped for such challenges. In intercultural training, for example, the professionals from EHLION specifically train participants on important assignments abroad in new markets and give valuable tips to the entire workforce in coaching.

Outlook: this is what awaits you in this article

In this article you will find out how intercultural communication is precisely defined, which models there are in this context, what classic misunderstandings that arise in intercultural communication look like and how, for example, B. successful intercultural communication can take place in Russia. You will also receive valuable tips on how to improve your intercultural competence and what types of training courses are available in this context.

Definition of "intercultural communication"

According to Duden, "intercultural" means relating to relationships between different cultures. The term was officially recognized for the first time by the American ethnologist and lecturer Edward Hall. He is considered the founder of intercultural communication as an anthropological science. According to his definition, intercultural communication is “the interpersonal reaction of people belonging to different cultures”.

Differentiation between multicultural and intercultural communication

“Multiculturalism” describes a society in which many cultures coexist. The multicultural communication is designed in such a way that cultural differences are respected, but not adapted to the interlocutor. It works differently with intercultural communication. The goal there is exchange between the individual cultures.

Transcultural communication: theory according to Welsch

In contrast to interculturality and multiculturalism, the concept of transculturality assumes that cultures no are clearly distinguishable units. Rather, globalization has completely networked and blended them. So there is exactly one culture: global culture. The philosopher Thomas Welsch came up with this theory in 1997.

Intercultural training courses, such as that from EHLION, take into account the fact that there is not only a diversity of cultures in society as a whole, but that each individual combines several cultures.

Models of intercultural communication: Top 3

Various theories and models of intercultural communication exist in research. They all deal with the classification of cultural differences. Here are three of the most popular approaches.

Cultural dimensions according to Geert Hofstede

At the end of the 1960s, the cultural scientist Hofstede carried out a study with more than 110,000 employees from IBM (International Business Machines). Based on this, he developed the model of cultural dimensions. This states that there are universal topics that all cultures in the world deal with. Hofstede's cultural dimensions have had a decisive influence on further research in intercultural communication and practical use in the management practice of multinational companies.

4 main dimensions: cultural dimensions according to Hofstede

Another came later fifth dimension (long-term - short-term orientation) and sixth dimension (enjoyment - restriction) added. Important to note: Hofstede conducted research within the framework of a private company, which is why its dimensions are mainly related to values ​​in working life.

High or low context according to Hall

The concepts of high context and low context go back to the founder of intercultural communication: Edward Hall. With the two models, Hall describes the type of information acquisition or information processing and the degree of networking necessary for this. It is about the question of strong or weak contextual reference in communication.

Characteristics of high context cultures

  • Things are not called by name → communicate "through the flower"
  • A considerable amount of context information about the communication partner is required before private or business relationships are established
  • Heavy use of non-verbal signals
  • Business relationships are based on trust and develop slowly
  • There are hardly any fixed rules

Cultures with a strong contextual reference can be found in countries in southern Europe (Spain, France), many Asian (China, Japan) and African countries as well as in Latin America.

Characteristics of low context cultures

  • Communications are more verbal and less non-verbal
  • Communication is more direct → serves to exchange information
  • Conflicts are depersonalized and work can go ahead even in the face of conflict
  • Business relationships start and end faster and are based more on factual considerations than on the level of trust between partners
  • Specific instructions are given, information flows along formal, hierarchically defined channels

The "low-context" cultures include the USA, Canada, German-speaking countries, Scandinavian countries and Great Britain.

Verbal and non-verbal communication

Verbal intercultural communication

The verbal area of ​​communication primarily includes language or words. In addition, so-called paralinguistic phenomena belong in the area of ​​verbal communication. These include tone of voice, speed of speech, pauses, laughter and sighs.

Nonverbal intercultural communication

Nonverbal communication refers to non-verbal interpersonal communication. it includes Gestures, facial expressions, touches and the Use of space (proxemics), i.e. the distance and proximity of the communication partners. Non-verbal communication in particular offers plenty of room for interpretation and is therefore an important part of intercultural communication. Interpreting the non-verbal signs of the interlocutor when he or she comes from another culture is a sign of great intercultural competence.

Intercultural communication: examples

Misunderstandings in intercultural communication

In the context of intercultural communication, misunderstandings and prejudices can arise if the communication participants apply their own cultural interpretation system without reflection. misunderstandings in intercultural communication arise mainly from paraverbal and non-verbal misinterpretations.

Examples of differences in intercultural communication

  • Smile: In many Asian cultures (e.g. China, Japan, Korea) it is common practice to use the smile in a variety of ways. For example, for positive emotions, but also to hide socially undesirable negative emotions such as embarrassment or sadness. Someone from Germany could misinterpret the smile and tell a joke, even if that is not what the Asian business partner would like.
  • Nodding or shaking your head: In Central Europe and North America, nodding means approval and shaking the head means “no”. In the former Ottoman Empire (Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria), however, it is completely the opposite.
  • Eye contact: In the Arab world, the interlocutor is looked longer in the eyes than in Western cultures. If there is no eye contact at all, however, Europeans usually find it untrustworthy. Asians, on the other hand, often only look briefly at the person they are speaking to and then lower their gaze, as the look in the face could be seen as unfriendly. In Latin America it is considered disrespectful for someone from a lower social class to look directly at someone from a higher social class.
  • Showing emotions: In Japan, it is common not to express negative feelings through facial expressions. In complete contrast to western cultures, where it does take place.
  • Small talk: In some cultures, small talk is an essential part of a successful negotiation or business meeting. In the USA, for example, where private conversations often flow smoothly into professional ones. Germans usually see small talk only as a starting point for a conversation.

Communicate safely in all possible cultures?

Special features of intercultural communication in different countries

Intercultural communication in France

  • Indirect communication style: A lot is paraphrased in French. So the tone of voice plays an important role.
  • Delays: Time is relative and delays are common.
  • Mastery of the language: The French attach great importance to the fact that their business partners have a good command of the French language.
  • hierarchy: The decision-making structures are often hierarchical. If you want to conclude a contract with a French business partner, it is best to contact the highest authority right away.
  • Exterior: The French perceive a well-groomed appearance as a basic requirement and small talk is widespread.
  • Eat: Business lunch is an important part of communication. So study the table labels before your business trip to France.

Intercultural communication in Arab countries

  • Indirect communication: In the Arab world, people communicate indirectly and place great value on treating each other with respect. Direct communication is considered impolite and puts the sender in an uneducated light.
  • Person-oriented communication: If you only communicate on a factual level with an Arab, you have little chance of a successful business relationship.
  • Short-term scheduling: Another important feature for intercultural communication in the Arab world: the people there plan their time flexibly and at short notice - long-term planning is unusual.

Intercultural communication in Asia

Intercultural communication in Japan

  • Bow: One of the most important rules for intercultural communication in Japan concerns the greeting. Unlike in western countries, in Japan people do not shake hands, but bow. The deeper the bow, the greater the respect for the other person. 45 ° are common in business life.
  • Business Cards: Remember to always have enough business cards with you. If a potential Japanese business partner hands you his business card, you should give you your own in exchange.

Intercultural communication in China

  • Hierarchy: Anyone who wants to communicate successfully across cultures in China should consider the country's strong hierarchical orientation. It is important to understand complex relationships before closing a deal.
  • Preserving the face: Chinese culture demands not to lose face: Reputation, credibility and dignity must be preserved at almost any price. For this reason, try to avoid open conflicts.
  • Weak handshake: In China it is not customary to shake hands in greeting - however, Chinese people also deal with intercultural communication. Therefore, they know that it is desirable in our part of the world. Don't be frightened if that Handshake very weak fails. This is considered polite in China.
  • Avoid eye contact: Make sure that you do not look your counterpart in the eyes too hard or for too long while you are talking to them. What is considered a natural sign of attention in Germany causes a queasy feeling among Chinese interlocutors.

Intercultural communication in India

  • Delays: People from India do not attach great importance to punctuality, so expect delays - even for business appointments.
  • Use right hand: Make sure that you only hand over business cards with your right hand, as the left hand is considered dirty.
  • Avoid criticism: Intercultural communication in India is successful if no direct criticism is expressed. That is considered impolite.

Areas of application of intercultural communication

In view of globalization, there is an increasing number of intercultural overlaps in our world. This happens both in the professional as well as in the private area. In this section you can read how this works in the respective locations.

Intercultural communication in school

Social change is in full swing. Since the great wave of refugees in Europe in 2015 and 2016 at the latest, it has been clear that intercultural communication is also becoming increasingly important in schools. Both pupils and teachers are challenged to deal more intensively with cultural diversity and to develop specific skills.

Intercultural communication in the workplace

Larger and international teams, networking via Skype and Co., trade beyond national borders: globalization has us fully under control. This can be felt primarily in the workplace. Support is provided by intercultural training, which the company ideally offers itself for employees. Numerous situations that can arise in an intercultural work context are discussed.

Employees with intercultural skills have an advantage

People who have intercultural competence are very valuable to a company. They are often very empathetic and very attentive to colleagues from other countries. In addition, they are more aware of numerous aspects of corporate processes than colleagues without intercultural knowledge.

Challenges in intercultural communication: 4 examples

There are certain barriers that disrupt communication. Most of them have their origins in the low level of awareness of intercultural issues. Below are four examples.

  1. Prejudices: Prejudices are preconceived ideas about a particular unit or group. The source of prejudice is usually the unwillingness to accept another group. Prejudices are strongly colored emotionally. They aim at external characteristics and certain properties that are attributed to some cultures.
  2. Identity: In this context it relates to the feeling of belonging to certain groups. Identities are variable and their meaning is culturally determined.
  3. Stereotypes: In contrast to prejudices, stereotypes are not necessarily characterized by emotions. Rather, they are thought constructs that convey a simplified picture of reality. Stereotypes can make it much more difficult to contact a business partner from another cultural area.
  4. Ethnocentrism & Cultural Relativism: Ethnocentrism assumes the uniqueness of one's own national group. Those who value their own group the most may face stereotypes and prejudice about others. The opposite is cultural relativism. Relativism is an attitude that is associated with getting to know other cultures and evaluating them according to their own values ​​for a particular culture. The consequences are sometimes social distance.

Advantages of conscious intercultural communication

Anyone who works in an international company is confronted with intercultural communication on a daily basis. In this section you can read about the advantages of using it professionally.

Effective information and knowledge transfer

Anyone who is familiar with intercultural communication can explain important information more quickly - even if it goes to a marketing manager in Japan or the graphic designer in Spain.

Successful negotiations

Body language, gestures, facial expressions, tones: non-verbal language in particular reveals a lot about our counterpart. Those who can read the characters correctly have a clear advantage in negotiations. Do you feel that your negotiating partner does not speak the language? Then we recommend a professional negotiation interpreter from EHLION.

Successful management

What is considered polite in China may be frowned upon in France. Our tip: familiarize yourself with the common work and leadership styles in your target country.This enables you to adapt your communication accordingly and to motivate employees in all countries. Communication that is well received is more fun for everyone. It also leads to greater satisfaction and saves time and money.

Make advertising channels effective

Localize apps successfully

Translating apps for new markets increases visibility for all smartphone and tablet users. However, a professional translation or localization of the app is a prerequisite for acceptance by the target group. If you take intercultural aspects into account, you will localize the apps more successfully.

Professionally translate website localization

If you localize your website, you adapt it not only in terms of language, but also in terms of appearance and content to an international target market. So it's about much more than just translating the texts into the foreign language - with intercultural background knowledge much more promising than without.

3 tips to improve intercultural communication skills

Anyone who sees intercultural communication as a learning process and gets involved in it will quickly improve their skills. The aim of this learning process is to perceive the foreign culture as such and to be conscious of the differences.

  1. Raise awareness: Communication between people from different cultures is so difficult not only because of different languages, but also because the respective cultural standards influence the process. It is therefore of crucial importance for the success of intercultural communication that one is aware of these differences and that they are constantly recalled.
  2. Practice tolerance and acceptance: Those who learn to tolerate and accept other approaches and forms of expression can show this to their communication partner. They will automatically feel more comfortable with you. And over time you will find it easier to remain calm in certain situations.
  3. Show willingness to learn: If you are willing to view intercultural situations as learning situations and not as a threat or a necessary evil, you will find intercultural communication a lot easier. Combined with a curiosity about the unfamiliar, you will find fun in it.

Improve intercultural skills with EHLION:

Intercultural competence: practical application

In connection with the improvement of one's own skills, intercultural competence should also be briefly explained. It is an essential aspect of social competence. It's about behaving appropriately to the situation and communicating with others.

  • Reflection on one's own communication behavior
  • Adaptation to the communication style of the interlocutor
  • Active listening
  • Conscious perception of the non-verbal signals of the other person

Training for intercultural communication

Anyone who is new to the international arena should work on their intercultural competence. The intercultural training with the specialists from EHLION is just as interesting for managers of international companies as it is for their workforce.

Advantages of an intercultural training

  • Sensitization to all challenges in dealing with customers and colleagues from other cultures
  • competent coaches who will accompany you on important appointments as a negotiation interpreter
  • Build and maintain global business relationships better
  • learn to deal constructively with intercultural conflicts
  • Perfect communication in a multinational team

Conclusion on the importance of intercultural communication

Intercultural communication is omnipresent in our networked world. Whether at school, in our free time or at work: we are constantly in contact with other cultures. The recipe for success in intercultural communication is not just learning another language.

Rather, one should be sensitized to the fact that every person is the "product" of the socialization of their culture. Successful business relationships are in store for those who correctly interpret verbal and non-verbal signals from their interlocutor. With intercultural training, you can quickly improve your own intercultural skills. Take advantage of a free initial consultation with the EHLION professionals today.