31 Cross-Cultural Communication

What is Culture?

Learning Objectives

Upon completing this chapter, you should be able to:

  • distinguish between surface and deep culture in the context of the iceberg model,
  • describe how cross-cultural communication is shaped by cultural diversity,
  • explain how the encoding and decoding process takes shape in cross-cultural communication,
  • describe circumstances that require effective cross-cultural communication, and
  • describe approaches to enhance interpersonal communication in cross-cultural contexts.

We may be tempted to think of intercultural communication as interaction between two people from different countries. While two distinct national passports communicate a key part of our identity non-verbally, what happens when two people from two different parts of the same country communicate? Indeed, intercultural communication happens between subgroups of the same country. Whether it be the distinctions between high and low Germanic dialects, the differences in perspective between an Eastern Canadian and a Western Canadian, or the rural-versus-urban dynamic, our geographic, linguistic, educational, sociological, and psychological traits influence our communication.

Culture is part of the very fabric of our thought, and we cannot separate ourselves from it, even as we leave home and begin to define ourselves in new ways through work and achievements. Every business or organization has a culture, and within what may be considered a global culture, there are many subcultures or co-cultures. For example, consider the difference between the sales and accounting departments in a corporation. We can quickly see two distinct groups with their own symbols, vocabulary, and values. Within each group there may also be smaller groups, and each member of each department comes from a distinct background that in itself influences behaviour and interaction.

Suppose we have a group of students who are all similar in age and educational level. Do gender and the societal expectations of roles influence interaction? Of course! There will be differences on multiple levels. Among these students not only do the boys and girls communicate in distinct ways, but there will also be differences among the boys as well as differences among the girls. Even within a group of sisters, common characteristics exist, but they will still have differences, and all these differences contribute to intercultural communication. Our upbringing shapes us. It influences our worldview, what we value, and how we interact with each other. We create culture, and it defines us.

Culture involves beliefs, attitudes, values, and traditions that are shared by a group of people. More than just the clothes we wear, the movies we watch, or the video games we play, all representations of our environment are part of our culture. Culture also involves the psychological aspects and behaviours that are expected of members of our group. For example, if we are raised in a culture where males speak while females are expected to remain silent, the context of the communication interaction governs behaviour. From the choice of words (message), to how we communicate (in person, or by e-mail), to how we acknowledge understanding with a nod or a glance (non-verbal feedback), to the internal and external interference, all aspects of communication are influenced by culture.

Culture in the centre pointing to 5 circles each with a different word in thee centre - Learned, Shared, Dynamic, Systemic, and Symbolic.
What Is Culture? by L. Underwood
Adapted from Understanding Culture; in Cultural Intelligence for Leaders (n.d.)

Culture consists of the shared beliefs, values, and assumptions of a group of people who learn from one another and teach to others that their behaviours, attitudes, and perspectives are the correct ways to think, act, and feel.

It is helpful to think about culture in the following five ways:

  • Culture is learned.
  • Culture is shared.
  • Culture is dynamic.
  • Culture is systemic.
  • Culture is symbolic.
Described in the text following.
The Cultural Iceberg by L. Underwood
Adapted from Lindner (2013)

The iceberg, a commonly used metaphor to describe culture, is great for illustrating the tangible and the intangible. When talking about culture, most people focus on the “tip of the iceberg,” which is visible but makes up just 10 percent of the object. The rest of the iceberg, 90 percent of it, is below the waterline. Many business leaders, when addressing intercultural situations, pick up on the things they can see—things on the “tip of the iceberg.” Things like food, clothing, and language difference are easily and immediately obvious, but focusing only on these can mean missing or overlooking deeper cultural aspects such as thought patterns, values, and beliefs that are under the surface. Solutions to any interpersonal miscommunication that results become temporary bandages covering deeply rooted conflicts.

Cultural Membership

How do you become a member of a culture, and how do you know when you are full member? So much of communication relies on shared understanding, that is, shared meanings of words, symbols, gestures, and other communication elements. When we have a shared understanding, communication comes easily, but when we assign different meanings to these elements, we experience communication challenges.

What shared understandings do people from the same culture have? Researchers who study cultures around the world have identified certain characteristics that define a culture. These characteristics are expressed in different ways, but they tend to be present in nearly all cultures:

  • rites of initiation
  • common history and traditions
  • values and principles
  • purpose and mission
  • symbols, boundaries, and status indicators
  • rituals
  • language

Terms to Know

Although they are often used interchangeably, it is important to note the distinctions among multicultural, cross-cultural, and intercultural communication.

Multiculturalism is a rather surface approach to the coexistence and tolerance of different cultures. It takes the perspective of “us and the others” and typically focuses on those tip-of-the-iceberg features of culture, thus highlighting and accepting some differences but maintaining a “safe” distance. If you have a multicultural day at work, for example, it usually will feature some food, dance, dress, or maybe learning about how to say a few words or greetings in a sampling of cultures.

Cross-cultural approaches typically go a bit deeper, the goal being to be more diplomatic or sensitive. They account for some interaction and recognition of difference through trade and cooperation, which builds some limited understanding—such as, for instance, bowing instead of shaking hands, or giving small but meaningful gifts. Even using tools like Hofstede, as you’ll learn about in this chapter, gives us some overarching ideas about helpful things we can learn when we compare those deeper cultural elements across cultures. Sadly, they are not always nuanced comparisons; a common drawback of cross-cultural comparisons is that we can wade into stereotyping and ethnocentric attitudes—judging other cultures by our own cultural standards—if we aren’t mindful.

Lastly, when we look at intercultural approaches, we are well beneath the surface of the iceberg, intentionally making efforts to better understand other cultures as well as ourselves. An intercultural approach is not easy, often messy, but when you get it right, it is usually far more rewarding than the other two approaches. The intercultural approach is difficult and effective for the same reasons; it acknowledges complexity and aims to work through it to a positive, inclusive, and equitable outcome.

Whenever we encounter someone, we notice similarities and differences. While both are important, it is often the differences that contribute to communication troubles. We don’t see similarities and differences only on an individual level. In fact, we also place people into in-groups and out-groups based on the similarities and differences we perceive. Recall what you read about social identity and discrimination in the last chapter—the division of people into in-groups and out-groups is where your social identity can result in prejudice or discrimination if you are not cautious about how you frame this.

We tend to react to someone we perceive as a member of an out-group based on the characteristics we attach to the group rather than the individual (Allen, 2010). In these situations, it is more likely that stereotypes and prejudice will influence our communication. This division of people into opposing groups has been the source of great conflict around the world, as with, for example, the division between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland; between Croats, Serbs, and Bosnian Muslims in the former Yugoslavia; and between males and females during women’s suffrage. Divisions like these can still cause conflict on an individual level. Learning about difference and why it matters will help us be more competent communicators and help to prevent conflict.

Theories of Cross-Cultural Communication


Social psychologist Geert Hofstede (Hofstede, 1982, 2001, 2005) is one of the most well known researchers in cross-cultural communication and management. His website offers useful tools and explanations about a range of cultural dimensions that can be used to compare various dominant national cultures. Hofstede’s theory places cultural dimensions on a continuum that range from high to low and really only make sense when the elements are compared to another culture. Hofstede’s dimensions include the following:

  • Power Distance: High-power distance means a culture accepts and expects a great deal of hierarchy; low-power distance means the president and janitor could be on the same level.
  • Individualism: High individualism means that a culture tends to put individual needs ahead of group or collective needs.
  • Uncertainty Avoidance: High uncertainty avoidance means a culture tends to go to some lengths to be able to predict and control the future. Low uncertainty avoidance means the culture is more relaxed about the future, which sometimes shows in being willing to take risks.
  • Masculinity: High masculinity relates to a society valuing traits that were traditionally considered masculine, such as competition, aggressiveness, and achievement. A low masculinity score demonstrates traits that were traditionally considered feminine, such as cooperation, caring, and quality of life.
  • Long-term orientation: High long-term orientation means a culture tends to take a long-term, sometimes multigenerational view when making decisions about the present and the future. Low long-term orientation is often demonstrated in cultures that want quick results and that tend to spend instead of save.
  • Indulgence: High indulgence means cultures that are OK with people indulging their desires and impulses. Low indulgence or restraint-based cultures value people who control or suppress desires and impulses.

As mentioned previously, these tools can provide wonderful general insight into making sense of understanding differences and similarities across key below-the-surface cross-cultural elements. However, when you are working with people, they may or may not conform to what’s listed in the tools. For example, if you are Canadian but grew up in a tight-knit Amish community, your value system may be far more collective than individualist. Or if you are Aboriginal, your long-term orientation may be far higher than that of mainstream Canada. It’s also important to be mindful that in a Canadian workplace, someone who is non-white or wears clothes or religious symbols based on their ethnicity may be far more “mainstream” under the surface. The only way you know for sure is to communicate interpersonally by using active listening, keeping an open mind, and avoiding jumping to conclusions.


Fons Trompenaars is another researcher who came up with a different set of cross-cultural measures. A more detailed explanation of his seven dimensions of culture can be found at this website (The Seven Dimensions of Culture, n.d.), but we provide a brief overview below:

  • Universalism vs. Particularism: the extent that a culture is more prone to apply rules and laws as a way of ensuring fairness, in contrast to a culture that looks at the specifics of context and looks at who is involved, to ensure fairness. The former puts the task first; the latter puts the relationship first.
  • Individualism vs. Communitarianism: the extent that people prioritize individual interests versus the community’s interest.
  • Specific vs. Diffuse: the extent that a culture prioritizes a head-down, task-focused approach to doing work, versus an inclusive, overlapping relationship between life and work.
  • Neutral vs. Emotional: the extent that a culture works to avoid showing emotion versus a culture that values a display or expression of emotions.
  • Achievement vs. Ascription: the degree to which a culture values earned achievement in what you do versus ascribed qualities related to who you are based on elements like title, lineage, or position.
  • Sequential Time vs. Synchronous Time: the degree to which a culture prefers doing things one at time in an orderly fashion versus preferring a more flexible approach to time with the ability to do many things at once.
  • Internal Direction vs. Outer Direction: the degree to which members of a culture believe they have control over themselves and their environment versus being more conscious of how they need to conform to the external environment.

Like Hofstede’s work, Trompenaars’s dimensions help us understand some of those beneath-the-surface-of-the-iceberg elements of culture. It’s equally important to understand our own cultures as it is to look at others, always being mindful that our cultures, as well as others, are made up of individuals.


Stella Ting-Toomey’s face negotiation theory builds on some of the cross-cultural concepts you’ve already learned, such as, for example, individual versus collective cultures. When discussing face negotiation theory, face means your identity, your image, how you look or come off to yourself and others (communicationtheory.org, n.d.). The theory says that this concern for “face” is something that is common across every culture, but various cultures—especially Eastern versus Western cultures—approach this concern in different ways. Individualist cultures, for example tend to be more concerned with preserving their own face, while collective cultures tend to focus more on preserving others’ faces. Loss of face leads to feelings of embarrassment or identity erosion, whereas gaining or maintaining face can mean improved status, relations, and general positivity. Actions to preserve or reduce face is called facework. Power distance is another concept you’ve already learned that is important to this this theory. Most collective cultures tend to have more hierarchy or a higher power distance when compared to individualist cultures. This means that maintaining the face of others at a higher level than yours is an important part of life. This is contrasted with individualist cultures, where society expects you to express yourself, make your opinion known, and look out for number one. This distinction becomes really important in interpersonal communication between people whose cultural backgrounds have different approaches to facework; it usually leads to conflict. Based on this dynamic, the following conflict styles typically occur:

  • Domination: dominating or controlling the conflict (individualist approach)
  • Avoiding: dodging the conflict altogether (collectivist approach)
  • Obliging: yielding to the other person (collectivist approach)
  • Compromising: a give-and-take negotiated approach to solving the conflict (individualist approach)
  • Integrating: a collaborative negotiated approach to solving the conflict (individualist approach)

Another important facet of this theory involves high-context versus low-context cultures. High-context cultures are replete with implied meanings beyond the words on the surface and even body language that may not be obvious to people unfamiliar with the context. Low-context cultures are typically more direct and tend to use words to attempt to convey precise meaning. For example, an agreement in a high-context culture might be verbal because the parties know each other’s families, histories, and social position. This knowledge is sufficient for the agreement to be enforced. No one actually has to say, “I know where you live. If you don’t hold up your end of the bargain, …” because the shared understanding is implied and highly contextual. A low-context culture usually requires highly detailed, written agreements that are signed by both parties, sometimes mediated through specialists like lawyers, as a way to enforce the agreement. This is low context because the written agreement spells out all the details so that not much is left to the imagination or “context.”

Verbal and Non-Verbal Differences

Cultures have different ways of verbally expressing themselves. For example, consider the people of the United Kingdom. Though English is spoken throughout the UK, the accents can be vastly different from one city or county to the next. If you were in conversation with people from each of the four countries that make up the UK—England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, you would find that each person pronounces words differently. Even though they all speak English, each has their own accent, slang terms, speaking volume, metaphors, and other differences. You would even find this within the countries themselves. A person who grew up in the south of England has a different accent than someone from the north, for example. This can mean that it is challenging for people to understand one another clearly, even when they are from the same country!

While we may not have such distinctive differences in verbal delivery within Canada, we do have two official languages, as well as many other languages in use within our borders. This inevitably means that you’ll communicate with people who have different accents than you do, or those who use words and phrases that you don’t recognize. For example, if you’re Canadian, you’re probably familiar with slang terms like toque (a knitted hat), double-double (as in, a coffee with two creams and two sugars—preferably from Tim Hortons), parkade (parking garage), and toonie (a two-dollar coin), but your friends from other countries might respond with quizzical looks when you use these words in conversation!

When communicating with someone who has a different native language or accent than you do, avoid using slang terms and be conscious about speaking clearly. Slow down, and choose your words carefully. Ask questions to clarify anything that you don’t understand, and close the conversation by checking that everything is clear to the other person.

Cultures also have different non-verbal ways of delivering and interpreting information. For example, some cultures may treat personal space differently than do people in North America, where we generally tend to stay as far away from one another as possible. For example, if you get on an empty bus or subway car and the next person who comes on sits in the seat right next to you, you might feel discomfort, suspicion, or even fear. In a different part of the world this behaviour might be considered perfectly normal. Consequently, when people from cultures with different approaches to space spend time in North America, they can feel puzzled at why people aim for so much distance. They may tend to stand closer to other people or feel perfectly comfortable in crowds, for example.

This tendency can also come across in the level of acceptable physical contact. For example, kissing someone on the cheek as a greeting is typical in France and Spain—and could even be a method of greeting in a job interview. In North America, however, we typically use a handshake during a formal occasion and apologize if we accidentally touch a stranger’s shoulder as we brush past. In contrast, Japanese culture uses a non-contact form of greeting—the bow—to demonstrate respect and honour.

Meaning and Mistranslation

Culturally influenced differences in language and meaning can lead to some interesting encounters, ranging from awkward to informative to disastrous. In terms of awkwardness, you have likely heard stories of companies that failed to exhibit communication competence in their naming and/or advertising of products in another language. For example, in Taiwan, Pepsi used the slogan “Come Alive With Pepsi,” only to find out later that, when translated, it meant, “Pepsi brings your ancestors back from the dead” (Kwintessential, 2012). Similarly, American Motors introduced a new car called the Matador to the Puerto Rican market, only to learn that Matador means “killer,” which wasn’t very comforting to potential buyers.

At a more informative level, the words we use to give positive reinforcement are culturally relative. In Canada and the United Kingdom, for example, parents commonly reinforce their child’s behaviour by saying, “Good girl” or “Good boy.” There isn’t an equivalent for such a phrase in other European languages, so the usage in only these two countries has been traced back to the puritan influence on beliefs about good and bad behaviour (Wierzbicka, 2004).

One of the most publicized and deadliest cross-cultural business mistakes occurred in India in 1984. Union Carbide, an American company, controlled a plant used to make pesticides. The company underestimated the amount of cross-cultural training that would be needed to allow the local workers, many of whom were not familiar with the technology or language/jargon used in the instructions for plant operations, to do their jobs. This lack of competent communication led to a gas leak that killed more than 2,000 people and, over time, led to more than 500,000 injuries (Varma, 2012).

Language and Culture

Through living and working in five different countries, one of the authors notes that when you learn a language, you learn a culture. In fact, a language can tell you a lot about a culture if you look closely. Here’s one example:

A native English speaker landed in South Korea and tried to learn the basics of saying hello in the Korean language. Well, it turned out that it wasn’t as simple as saying hello! It depended on whom you are saying hello to. The Korean language has many levels and honorifics that dictate not only what you say but also how you say it and to whom. So, even a mere hello is not straightforward; the words change. For example, if you are saying hello to someone younger or in a lower position, you will use (anyeong); but for a peer at the same level, you will use a different term (anyeoung ha seyo); and a different one still for an elder, superior, or dignitary (anyeong ha shim nikka). As a result, the English speaker learned that in Korea people often ask personal questions upon meeting—questions such as, How old are you? Are you married? What do you do for a living? At first, she thought people were very nosy. Then she realized that it was not so much curiosity driving the questions but, rather, the need to understand how to speak to you in the appropriate way.

In Hofstede’s terms, this adherence to hierarchy or accepted “levels” in society speak to the notion of moving from her home country (Canada) with a comparatively low power distance to a country with a higher power distance. These contrasting norms show that what’s considered normal in a culture is also typically reflected to some degree in the language.

What are the implications of this for interpersonal communication? What are the implications of this for body language (bowing) in the South Korean context? What are the ways to be respectful or formal in your verbal and non-verbal language?

Comparing and Contrasting

How can you prepare to work with people from cultures different than your own? Start by doing your homework. Let’s assume that you have a group of Japanese colleagues visiting your office next week. How could you prepare for their visit? If you’re not already familiar with the history and culture of Japan, this is a good time to do some reading or a little bit of research online. If you can find a few English-language publications from Japan (such as newspapers and magazines), you may wish to read through them to become familiar with current events and gain some insight into the written communication style used.

Preparing this way will help you to avoid mentioning sensitive topics and to show correct etiquette to your guests. For example, Japanese culture values modesty, politeness, and punctuality, so with this information, you can make sure you are early for appointments and do not monopolize conversations by talking about yourself and your achievements. You should also find out what faux pas to avoid. For example, in company of Japanese people, it is customary to pour others’ drinks (another person at the table will pour yours). Also, make sure you do not put your chopsticks vertically in a bowl of rice, as this is considered rude. If you have not used chopsticks before and you expect to eat Japanese food with your colleagues, it would be a nice gesture to make an effort to learn. Similarly, learning a few words of the language (e.g., hello, nice to meet you, thank you, and goodbye) will show your guests that you are interested in their culture and are willing to make the effort to communicate.

If you have a colleague who has travelled to Japan or has spent time in the company of Japanese colleagues before, ask them about their experience so that you can prepare. What mistakes should you avoid? How should you address and greet your colleagues? Knowing the answers to these questions will make you feel more confident when the time comes. But most of all, remember that a little goes a long way. Your guests will appreciate your efforts to make them feel welcome and comfortable. People are, for the most part, kind and understanding, so if you make some mistakes along the way, don’t worry too much. Most people are keen to share their culture with others, so your guests will be happy to explain various practices to you.

Culture Shock by L. Underwood

You might find that, in your line of work, you are expected to travel internationally. When you visit a country that is different from your own, you might experience culture shock. Defined as “the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture, way of life, or set of attitudes” (OxfordDictionaries.com, 2015), it can disorient us and make us feel uncertain when we are in an unfamiliar cultural climate. Have you ever visited a new country and felt overwhelmed by the volume of sensory information coming at you? From new sights and smells to a new language and unfamiliarity with the location, the onset of culture shock is not entirely surprising. To mitigate this, it helps to read as much as you can about the new culture before your visit. Learn some of the language and customs, watch media programs from that culture to familiarize yourself, and do what you can to prepare. But remember not to hold the information you gather too closely. In doing so, you risk going in with stereotypes. As shown in the figure above, going in with an open attitude and choosing to respond to difficulties with active listening and non-judgmental observation typically leads to building rapport, understanding, and positive outcomes over time.

Culture Shock

Experiencing culture shock does not require you to leave Canada. Moving from a rural to an urban centre (or vice versa), from an English-speaking to a French-speaking area, or moving to or from an ethnic enclave can challenge your notion of what it is to be a Canadian.

In one example, one of the authors participated in a language-based homestay in rural Quebec the summer before her first year of university. Prior to this, she had attended an urban high school in Toronto where the majority of her classmates were non-white and into urban music. When she went to take the train and saw that all the other kids were white, listening to alternative music, and playing hackey sack, she began to worry.

When she met her house mother upon arrival, the house mom looked displeased. Out of four students to stay in her home, two were non-white. The students discovered quickly that the house dad was a hunter, evident by the glass cabinet full of shotguns and the mounted moose heads on the wall. To add to all these changes, the students were forbidden to speak English as a way to help make the most of the French language immersion program. About two weeks into the program, the student from Toronto, a black girl, overheard the house mom talking with her roommate, a white girl from London, Ontario. She said, “You know, I was really concerned when I saw that we had a black and an Asian student, because we never had any people like that in our house before, so I didn’t know what to expect. But now, you know especially with your roommate from Toronto, I can see that they’re just like normal people!”

The urban to rural transition was stark, the language immersion was a challenge, and the culture of the other students as well as that of the host family was also a big change. With so many changes happening, one outcome that is consistent with what we know about one aspect of culture shock, is that most of the students on this immersion program reported sleeping way longer hours than usual. It’s but one way for your mind and body to cope with the rigours of culture shock!

Despite all the challenges, however, the benefit for the author was a 30 percent improvement in French language skills—skills that later came in handy during bilingual jobs, trips to France, and the ability to communicate with the global French-speaking community.

A Changing Worldview

One helpful way to develop your intercultural communication competence is to develop sensitivity to intercultural communication issues and best practices. From everything we have learned so far, it may feel complex and overwhelming. The Intercultural Development Continuum is a theory created by Mitchell Hammer (2012) that helps demystify the process of moving from monocultural approaches to intercultural approaches. There are five steps in this transition, and we will give a brief overview of each one below.

See if you can deduce the main points of the overview before expanding the selection.

The first two steps out of five reflect monocultural mindsets, which are ethnocentric. As you recall, ethnocentrism means evaluating other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture (OxfordDictionaries.com, 2015).

People who belong to dominant cultural groups in a given society or people who have had very little exposure to other cultures may be more likely to have a worldview that’s more monocultural according to Hammer (2009). But how does this cause problems in interpersonal communication? For one, being blind to the cultural differences of the person you want to communicate with (denial) increases the likelihood that you will encode a message that they won’t decode the way you anticipate, or vice versa.

For example, let’s say culture A considers the head a special and sacred part of the body that others should never touch, certainly not strangers or mere acquaintances. But let’s say in your culture people sometimes pat each other on the head as a sign of respect and caring. So you pat your culture A colleague on the head, and this act sets off a huge conflict.

It would take a great deal of careful communication to sort out such a misunderstanding, but if each party keeps judging the other by their own cultural standards, it’s likely that additional misunderstanding, conflict, and poor communication will transpire.

Using this example, polarization can come into play because now there’s a basis of experience for selective perception of the other culture. Culture A might say that your culture is disrespectful, lacks proper morals, and values, and it might support these claims with anecdotal evidence of people from your culture patting one another on the sacred head!

Meanwhile, your culture will say that culture A is bad-tempered, unintelligent, and angry by nature and that there would be no point in even trying to respect or explain things them.

It’s a simple example, but over time and history, situations like this have mounted and thus led to violence, even war and genocide.

According to Hammer (2009) the majority of people who have taken the IDI inventory, a 50-question questionnaire to determine where they are on the monocultural–intercultural continuum, fall in the category of minimization, which is neither monocultural nor intercultural. It’s the middle-of-the-road category that on one hand recognizes cultural difference but on the other hand simultaneously downplays it. While not as extreme as the first two situations, interpersonal communication with someone of a different culture can also be difficult here because of the same encoding/decoding issues that can lead to inaccurate perceptions. On the positive side, the recognition of cultural differences provides a foundation on which to build and a point from which to move toward acceptance, which is an intercultural mindset.

There are fewer people in the acceptance category than there are in the minimization category, and only a small percentage of people fall into the adaptation category. This means most of us have our work cut out for us if we recognize the value—considering our increasingly global societies and economies—of developing an intercultural mindset as a way to improve our interpersonal communication skill.


In this chapter on cross-cultural communication you learned about culture and how it can complicate interpersonal communication. Culture is learned, shared, dynamic, systemic, and symbolic. You uncovered the distinction between multicultural, cross-cultural, and intercultural approaches and discovered several new terms such as diplomatic, ethnocentric, and in-/out-groups.

From there you went on to examine the work three different cross-cultural theorists including Hofstede, Trompenaars, and Ting-Toomey. After reviewing verbal and non-verbal differences, you went on to compare and contrast by doing your homework on what it might be like to communicate interpersonally with members of another culture and taking a deeper look into culture shock.

Finally, you learned about the stages on the intercultural development continuum that move from an ethnocentric, monocultural worldview to a more intercultural worldview.

The ability to communicate well between cultures is an increasingly sought-after skill that takes time, practice, reflection, and a great deal of work and patience. This chapter has introduced you to several concepts and tools that can put you on the path to further developing your interpersonal skills to give you an edge and better insight in cross-cultural situations.

Key Takeaways and Check In

Learning highlights

  • The iceberg model helps to show us that a few easily visible elements of culture are above the surface but that below the surface lie the invisible and numerous elements that make up culture.
  • Ethnocentrism is an important word to know; it indicates a mindset that your own culture is superior while others are inferior.
  • Whether a culture values individualism or the collective community is a recurring dimension in many cross-cultural communication theories, including those developed by Hofstede, Trompenaars, and Ting-Toomey.
  • Language can tell you a great deal about a culture.
  • The intercultural development model helps demystify the change from monocultural mindsets to intercultural mindsets.

Further Reading, Links, and Attribution

Further Reading and Links


Allen, B. (2010). Difference matters: Communicating social identity. Waveland Press.

culture shock. (n.d.). In Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/culture-shock

ethnocentric. (n.d.). In Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved from http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/ethnocentric.

Face-Negotiation Theory. (n.d.). Communication Theory. Retrieved from http://communicationtheory.org/face-negotiation-theory/.

Hammer, M.R. (2009). The Intercultural Development Inventory. In M. A. Moodian (Ed.). Contemporary Leadership and Intercultural Competence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Hofstede, G. (1982). Culture’s consequences (2nd ed.). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Hofstede, G. (2001). Culture’s consequences: Comparing values, behaviors, institutions, and organizations across nations (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Hofstede, G. (2005). Cultures and organizations: Software of the mind (Revised and expanded 2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Lindner, M. (2013). Edward T. Hall’s Cultural Iceberg. Prezi presentation retrieved from https://prezi.com/y4biykjasxhw/edward-t-halls-cultural-iceberg/?utm_source=prezi-view&utm_medium=ending-bar&utm_content=Title-link&utm_campaign=ending-bar-tryout.

Results of Poor Cross Cultural Awareness. (n.d.) Kwintessential Ltd. Retrieved from  http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/cultural-services/articles/results-of-poor-cross-cultural-awareness.html.

The Seven Dimensions of Culture: Understanding and managing cultural differences. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/seven-dimensions.htm.

Varma, S. (2010, June 20). Arbitrary? 92% of All Injuries Termed Minor. The Times of India. Retrieved from http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2010-06-20/india/28309628_1_injuries-gases-cases.

Wierzbicka, A. (2004). The English expressions good boy and good girl and cultural models of child rearing. Culture & Psychology, 10(3), 251‒278.

Attribution Statement (Cross-Cultural Communication)

This chapter is a remix containing content from a variety of sources published under a variety of open licenses, including the following:

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