“People are alike, and people are different.” What a profound statement. This statement is an important concept in learning how to deal with intercultural communication issues, and with today’s population shift it is more important than ever to grasp it. In this essay we will examine how people are alike, and how people are different in relations to intercultural communication.
First, let’s look at how people are alike, and how these similarities relate to intercultural communication. Without trying to state the obvious, physiologically we are all basically the same, heart, lungs, blood, brains, etc. Also we all try to “seek pleasure and avoid pain.” (Samovar and Porter, 2001, 29). Protection of the ego is also a commonality among the human race as well. At some point in life we all realize that life is finite, that we are “isolated from all other human beings” (29), we all must make decisions, and that the world is given meaning by personal experiences. Also every culture has a language, a set of social rules based on the group member’s age and gender, and systems to regulate the community. (29). If we remember that we have these similarities then it is obvious that we are more alike than different. Using these similarities we can then relate to someone we thought we could not understand because they were “different.” And by altering slightly our views on the similarities, we can then begin to understand the differences in cultures.
“Members of different cultures look differently at the world around them. Some believe that the physical world is real. Others believe that it is just an illusion. Some believe everything around them is permanent, while others say it is transient. Reality is not the same for all people.” (Samovar and Porter, 2001, 29-30). Realizing that people “see” things different is key to intercultural communication. Knowing how to “see” as a member of another culture is difficult, because no two people are exactly alike, and therefore no two people communicate exactly the same way. If you can pick out the key elements to that cultures’ codes of conduct it will greatly increase the success rate of your communication attempts. Such differences in communication may include personal conduct such as how close or far away do you stand, is touching permitted, and if so, what kind of personal contact is permitted and what is expected. For example, because of the population density in Europe, people tend to stand very close together and touch a lot while conversing, while Americans, coming form a country with a relatively low population density tend to leave a great deal of space between themselves and others while they are speaking.
Another way in which people are different is their view of the world. For example the Egyptian worldview is based on Arabic culture. Businesses are closed on Friday because that is their holy day, as opposed to the Christian holy day of Sunday, when most American businesses are closed. The Hindus’ worldview, on the other hand, is based on a “set of interrelated assumptions and beliefs about the nature of reality, the organization of the universe, the purpose of human life, God, and other philosophical issues concerned with the concept of being.” (Samovar and Porter, 2001). As you can see knowing some of these differences will greatly increase your ability to understand and communicate more efficiently in an intercultural situation.
Knowing that “people are the same, and that people are different” is essential to effective intercultural communication. By learning to identify commonalties and adjusting them to the culture you are trying to communicate, and by learning the key communication codes of a culture you can avoid misunderstandings, and get your intentions across clearly.
Samovar, Larry A. and Porter, Richard. (2001). Communication Between Cultures, Fourth Edition. New York: Thomas Learning Publications.