When I was in Sydney, Australia in early 2006, I had an odd experience that took me quite a while to digest and understand. I planned to travel up the East Coast, and two Finns who stayed at my hostel shared my plans. They approached me to ask if I would like to come with them in their rental car. I agreed and a short time later we set off. The intention at the beginning was clear in my eyes: it was supposed to be a fun journey. A few days later when I parted company in a town called Newcastle, I thought much differently and was more than relieved to be on my own again. What had happened?
From my perspective, these two young men just didn’t talk. Whenever I had tried to start a conversation, I had received one-word answers at best. I tried again and again, but after some time it all became pretty annoying. What was their problem? I thought. After all, they had asked me to come with them. As the situation got more and more uncomfortable, I decided to leave. I concluded the two just didn’t like my company any more and tried to show me this fact by not talking to me.
Much later when I talked to a friend about the experience, it occurred to me that I had most likely been in the company of two regular Finns when I was reminded by my friend that Finns are not used to talk a whole lot when meeting other people. It just wasn’t within their nature.
Suddenly I realized that I had dealt with an issue in intercultural communication without knowing it.
This personal story of intercultural misunderstanding has had practically no negative effect. Both parties went their way and no damage was done. But when one thinks about the fact that such misunderstandings happen in business life everyday (which they certainly do!), one gets an idea of the importance of intercultural communication. Just by knowing this one fact about the communication of Finns I would have had a huge advantage in dealing with them and could have engaged in a more relaxed conversation. And just by knowing many of these communication patterns of different cultures, businessmen and –women around the world could have huge advantages over others by enlarging their intercultural awareness.
In this essay I want to show why the importance of intercultural communication must not be underestimated at all costs and why the more the world becomes a global village, the more important it is to be aware of other cultures and ways to interact with their representatives.
Why is intercultural communication being regarded as so important in our modern world?
We live in a globalized world or “global village” and we’ve all heard the phrase a thousand times. Nevertheless it becomes more real to us every year.
Several factors contribute to this fact: first of all, due to the rapid technological progress in the last decades, economic processes have been dramatically accelerated. Take the transmission of information for example: if one needed to send a document from Stuttgart to New York 20 years ago, one had to write a letter and carry it to the next letterbox. With the Internet as a revolution in information technology, the sending of documents is now possible within seconds.
In fact, the Internet has become something like a synonym or the perfect epitomy of globalization. The reason for this is very simple: here you have the whole world in one spot. You can visit the website of an Indian company, send an e-mail to some organization in a remote part of Kenya or you can take part in an exchange of ideas with people around the world who share your political values.
Besides the revolution in information technology that has taken place, it is also worth mentioning that flights have become affordable for the average citizen which makes it easier for everybody to travel the world. A kid born in Germany in the 1950s may have seen Italy or France by the age of ten if he or she was lucky. Today, a ten year old kid that has not seen an aeroplane from the inside is a rarity. Flying and traveling long-distance has not only become affordable but is an absolute standard nowadays.
This new development that has been created, if it is in private life through social networks like Twitter or Facebook in the e-business area, brings with it opportunities that have consequences which even today can hardly be foreseen, but also a responsibility to communicate well with people all over the world. For within the progress depicted above lies a great danger: the more people around the world come together and shape a global village,
the more likely it is that misunderstandings ocurr. Misunderstandings on a personal level, on a business level or even on a political level.
For cultures are different. This simple truth can easily be overlooked these days: everything seems so close and connected through technology that one easily forgets the simple fact that cultures have different norms, value orientations, different cultural themes, and last but not least, different images of one another.
The fact is also, as many commentators have already stated, that the world has become a global village, but has not yet managed to become a global community.
And this is the reason why intercultural communication and intercultural awareness are so important: because they can fill the gap between the huge advantages offered by the global village and the lack of understanding each other that naturally comes with it. Enhanced awareness of intercultural differences and taking (aimed) action based on the knowledge of cultures could indeed be the factors that make the difference, that build the bridge from a global village to a global community.
So, the tighter the web of the global village becomes, the more knowledge in the field of intercultural communication logically is needed. The more different cultures interfere with each other, the more important becomes not only that they communicate with each other but that they communicate well as a result of their understanding each other on an intercultural level.
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- Tilman Baur (Autor), 2009, Why is intercultural communication regarded as being so important in our modern world?, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/143863