Intercultural Communication - Definition, Theories, Skills | EHLION (2023)

Failure in international businessunderstand cultural differencescan have serious consequences. In fact, entire campaigns have had to be halted due to a lack of prior research on cultural awareness. Last-minute redesigns and reprints can get very expensive, so it's important to ensure that all text and images used are culturally appropriate. It is not surprising that intercultural understanding and communication are top priorities for international companies today. Employees with intercultural communication skills are in great demand. But what is intercultural communication?

Intercultural communication examines communication across different cultures and social groups and describes the many communication processes and related problems between groups of individuals from different backgroundscultural background.

Mastering a foreign language is only part of the package – understanding the cultural background, values ​​and beliefs of the other party must also be understood. Intercultural communication skills are indispensable here. They are needed to successfully communicate with people from other cultures and social groups. Intercultural communication skills also include a willingness to adapt and accept that other cultures may communicate and do things differently.

If you are wondering where you and your employees can acquire these coveted cross-cultural communication skills, look no further! EHLION is an established language service provider with many years of experience in intercultural training. We can help your employees communicate effectively with other employees internationally, or we can prepare executives for international assignments or high-level business negotiations as an alternative to interpreting services.

Contact us to establish effective intercultural communication in your company.

How do we define intercultural communication?

How can we define intercultural communication? Intercultural communication essentially means communication across different cultural borders. When two or more people from different cultural backgrounds interact and communicate with each other or each other, we can say that intercultural communication takes place. Intercultural communication can thus be defined as the sharing of information at different levels of consciousness between people from different cultural backgrounds, or simply put: people influenced by different cultural groups negotiate common meaning in interactions.

intercultural communication theories

There are many different types and theories of intercultural communication. The most important are:

  • Social science approach:This model focuses on observing the behavior of a person from another culture in order to describe and compare it to other cultures. It also examines how individuals adjust their communication with others in different situations depending on who they are speaking to. For example, we would tell the same story differently to our best friend than to our grandmother.
  • Interpretive approach:This theory focuses on the accumulation of knowledge about a culture through communication in the form of shared stories based on subjective, individual experiences. The focus is on intercultural communication as used in specific language communities, so ethnography plays a big role here. Because individual context is so important to this model, it does not strive to make generalized predictions based on its findings.
  • Dialectical approach:This method examines aspects of cross-cultural communication in the form of six dichotomies, namely cultural vs. individual, personal vs. contextual, differences vs. similarities, static vs. dynamic, history vs. past-present vs. future, and privilege vs. disadvantage. A dialectical approach helps us to look at culture and intercultural communication in a complex way, so that we can avoid categorizing everything into either/or dichotomies by taking a broader approach and acknowledging the tensions that need to be negotiated.
  • Critical Approach:This approach examines cultures according to their differences to one's own culture and in particular according to their representation in the media. The critical approach is complex and multifaceted and therefore leads to a rich understanding of intercultural communication.

The differences between multicultural vs. intercultural vs. intercultural

Perhaps you have already come across the terms multicultural communication and intercultural communication. How do these differ from intercultural communication? Let's take a look!

multicultural communication

Multiculturalrefers to the composition of a group or team, especially a group made up of people of different nationalities. In fact, communication in multicultural environments has become commonplace today.

intercultural communication

Interculturalmeans to compare two or more different cultures; Intercultural communication thus examines the different communication styles of different cultural groups.

(Video) Intercultural Communication

Intercultural communication

Interculturalfinally refers to the exchange between different cultures.

In short, intercultural communication refers to interactions between people from different cultures, while intercultural communication involves comparing interactions between people from the same culture with those from another culture.

What makes intercultural communication so important?

There are many reasons why intercultural communication is important. First of all, effective cross-cultural communication is an essential skill for anyone working in different countries or regions to build harmonious relationships and avoid conflict. It is important to accurately and appropriately transmit information across countries and cultures. Executives in multinational companies, either working in their home country or as expats abroad, particularly benefit from strong intercultural communication skills to connect with international customers and employees.

Similarly, intercultural communication is also crucial for anyone working with people from other cultures to avoid misunderstandings and even insults. It can be said that intercultural communication is the basis for successful international business in today's globalized world.

Practical examples of intercultural communication

Intercultural competence covers a wide field, ranging from linguistic aspects to social and cultural conventions.

Linguistic differences can make it difficult for global companies to find appropriate product names for their target markets that don't cause offense. For example, Coca-Cola once tried to find a phonetic equivalent of their brand for the Chinese market and came up with KeKou-KeLa. But they didn't realize that this pleasant-sounding name means "bite the wax tadpole" in Chinese. The brand name had to be changed, of course.

It is important to be aware that each culture may have different social conventions. American business partners, for example, initially prefer small talk to build a relationship, while Britons may try humor and Germans tend to get straight to the point without beating around the bush. Thais, on the other hand, do not refrain from asking questions that are considered more personal in the western world, such as marital status or job. Likewise, Americans like to use first names when addressing others, while Austrians should use titles to avoid sounding disrespectful. Germans will want to shake hands, while Thais put their palms together at chest level and bow instead.

social conventionsUnited States of AmericaUnited KingdomDeutschlandThailand
conversationSmalltalkHumorDirect Approachpersonal questions
greetingFirst name, informalFirst name, informalShaking hands, formallyPalms together and bow, respectful

In a business context, it is also interesting that different cultures prefer different presentation styles. So be careful if you or your employees plan to present abroad. Western cultures like Australia and the US are more forward looking and like to focus on potential future benefits of products and campaigns. In contrast, representatives from countries like China or India will prefer to draw on past achievements to establish credibility. This knowledge can make or break relationships and business deals.

Nonverbal communication can be just as difficult to navigate as verbal communication. In many countries, a "thumbs up" sign is a positive expression that indicates approval. But in some cultures, like Japan, Indonesia, and Latin America, it's considered offensive.

Similarly, eating with your hands is a perfectly acceptable way to eat in Indian culture, but is considered rude in many other cultures

barriers and challenges

Given their complexity, it is not surprising that there are several barriers to cross-cultural communication.

One of the biggest challenges of intercultural communication isEthnocentrism is the common but misguided assumption by one cultural group that they are superior to other cultural groups. This can be countered by actively trying to be open-minded and tolerant towards other cultures.

Another obstacle is the assumption that other cultures are more similar than different to your own. As a result, you may behave as you would in your own culture and end up causing offense or worse, simply because you are unaware that different rules and norms apply in the other culture.

(Video) Intercultural Communication Theories

Finally, the most common obstacle to cross-cultural communication is – perhaps surprisingly – fear. When you are unsure of what is expected of you or what to do, it is natural to feel anxious. Your focus will then likely shift to your sense of anxiety and away from the intercultural transaction that is taking place. As a result, you may make more mistakes than you would have otherwise and seem awkward around others.

Intercultural communication in business

International business is more than just investmentsWebsite localization,App localization,software localization, orprofessional translation servicesfor your documents and materials. Arrangeliaison interpretingServices is also commendable, but it's only half the battle. The other half is training your employees in intercultural communication and helping them develop intercultural skills to ensure they can communicate effectively – both with other employees around the world and with customers and other people from different cultural backgrounds .

Given the importance of intercultural communication in business, it is definitely worth investing in this area. Communication can be greatly improved by implementing appropriate intercultural training. This is especially important when managing teams from all over the world. Pay special attention to different communication styles, as some may be more direct than others.

EHLION's intercultural coaching helps you build successful business relationships across different cultures. Our experienced trainers are experts in the local customs and business etiquette of different countries around the world.

Please see ourtranslation pricesOverview of the costs and benefits of translation and intercultural training with EHLION.

(Video) July 16, 2022 | IICS| Intercultural Communication | Communication Theories and Concepts

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(Video) Intercultural Communication Theories

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How to improve your intercultural communication skills

Use these proven strategies to improve your cross-cultural communication skills:

  • Prepare:Do your research and find out who you are dealing with. Find out about the cultural norms and societal customs of the place. When you're on the goChina,South Korea, orJapan, check out our country guides for example before you go!
  • Learning language:Demonstrating that you have made an effort to learn the language of the other person is undoubtedly a great advantage and is very much appreciated. They will surely respect you for it, and it could strengthen your relationship.
  • Watch:If you are interacting with a representative of the foreign culture for the first time, listen carefully and observe their behavior closely. Pay special attention to how they respond to different communication styles, and also look for similarities to your own culture.
  • Be open and confident:Forget any blanket assumptions you may have had about the other culture. After all, people are still individuals with their own preferences, so be aware of your preconceived notions and challenge them.
  • Ask questions:If you're unsure about something or think you may have misunderstood what is being asked of you, it's perfectly fine to ask and clarify rather than guess and possibly commit an embarrassing faux pas.
  • Searching for help:to coach you in the culture of your target country. You can ask them any question and draw on their hands-on experience.

By registering for our popular intercultural training, you will learn about the working and leadership styles in your target country. This enables you to communicate successfully with employees there and to motivate them. In addition, the EHLION coaches give you valuable tips on conflict management and negotiation in the region and explain the different attitudes towards physical contact and the importance of gestures and facial expressions in the respective cultures.

We are committed to improving your intercultural communication skills.

Download an overview of the strategies

Intercultural communication in a nutshell

Intercultural communication is now a cornerstone of international relationships and business transactions in our globalized world. Although it has its pitfalls, cross-cultural communication skills can be trained and improved to foster smooth relationships between people from different cultural backgrounds.

Investing in intercultural training is a surefire path to business success and better interpersonal relationships.Speak to one of our friendly team members todayto find out what EHLION can do for you and your company.


What are the theories of intercultural communication? ›

  • Cultural convergence. The theory that when two cultures come together, similarities in ideas and aspects will become more prevalent as members of the two cultures get to know one another. ...
  • Communication accommodation theory. ...
  • Intercultural adaption. ...
  • Co-cultural theory. ...
  • Cultural Fusion Theory.

What is intercultural communication answer? ›

Intercultural communication refers to the communication between people from two different cultures. Intercultural communication is a symbolic, interpretive, transactional, contextual process in which people from different cultures create shared meanings.

What is skills in intercultural communication? ›

Simply put, it's the ability to be able to talk to — and understand — people with different cultural and social backgrounds to that of your own. These differences could manifest in a number of ways, including facial expressions, thought patterns, customs, touch, and tone.

What are the 4 elements of intercultural communication? ›

The easiest way to overcome hurdles and avoid misunderstandings in cross-cultural communication is to first get to know the basic elements of this type of communication. These are: awareness, preparation, language, humor, and openness.

What are the 3 theories of communication? ›

CMC theories fall into three categories: cues-filtered-out theories, experiential/perceptual theories, and adaptation to/exploitation of media.

What are the 7 theories of communication? ›

1) cybernetic, 2) socio-psychological, 3) socio-cultural, 4) critical, 5) rhetorical, 6) phenomenological, 7) semiotic.

What are the 5 components of intercultural communication? ›

It may be tempting to consider only the source and receiver within a transaction as a representation of intercultural communication, but if we do that, we miss the other six components—the message, channel, feedback, context, environment, and interference—in every communicative act.

What is the main goal of intercultural communication? ›

The primary purpose of intercultural communication is to increase understanding of culturally mediated communication phenomena. Within this goal, there are three distinct research avenues: culture specific, culture general and intercultural interaction.

Why are intercultural skills important? ›

Intercultural skills are important to companies for several reasons. They not only give employees a better understanding of their workplace and co-workers, but they also help them adapt to new work environments and prevent culture shock, while enhancing their cultural awareness, knowledge, and practical skills.

What is intercultural miscommunication theory? ›

Intercultural miscommunication occurs when there is a breakdown in communication between speakers of two different cultures and languages due to cultural differences and/or sociolinguistic transfer. Intercultural miscommunication has tremendous impact on ESOL students' academic learning at North American schools.

Why do you need intercultural skills? ›

Intercultural competence is an essential set of skills needed in the modern workplace. By learning how to interact better with people from different backgrounds you'll also learn valuable communication skills, effective time management, conflict management and teamwork, both virtually and in-person.

What are the 5 qualities of an effective good intercultural communication? ›

Giuseppina Bonacia
  • Awareness. Be aware of whom you're talking to. ...
  • Open-mindedness and empathy. ...
  • Learning basic cultural norms and words. ...
  • Language simplification, without exaggeration. ...
  • Inclusion.
May 21, 2021

What are the three main issues in intercultural communication? ›

The three main problems in intercultural communication are language, cultural barriers and ethnocentrism.

What are the 4 theory of communication? ›

The four theories are: The Authoritarian Theory, The Libertarian Theory, Soviet- Communist Theory, and Social-Responsibility Theory.

What is the theory of communication skills? ›

Thus the universal law of communication theory says that all living beings whether they are plants, animals, human beings communicate through sound, speech, visible changes, body movements, gestures or in the best possible way to make the others aware of their thoughts, feelings, problems, happiness or any other ...

What are the 8 theories of communication? ›

Linear models
  • Linear communication model.
  • Aristotle's communication model.
  • Laswell's communication model.
  • The Shannon-Weaver communication model.
  • Berlo's S-M-C-R communication model.
  • Interactive communication model.
  • The Osgood-Schramm communication model.
  • The Westley and Maclean communication model.

What are the six major theories? ›

6 theories of personality
  • Psychodynamic theories. Sigmund Freud laid the foundation for psychodynamic personality theories with his proposal of the id, the ego, and the superego. ...
  • Trait theories. ...
  • Humanistic theories. ...
  • Social cognitive theories. ...
  • Biological theories. ...
  • Evolutionary theories.
May 20, 2022

What are the two theories of communication? ›

The study of communication and mass media has led to the formulation of many theories: structural and functional theories believe that social structures are real and function in ways that can be observed objectively; cognitive and behavioral theories tend to focus on psychology of individuals; interactionist theories ...

What are the four types of intercultural skills? ›

Intercultural skills can help employees feel comfortable in the modern workplace because it allows them to understand one another and communicate effectively.
Examples of intercultural skills
  • Nonverbal communication.
  • Empathy.
  • Active listening.
  • Conflict resolution.
Feb 22, 2021

What are the 6 imperatives of intercultural communication? ›

There are six major categories of imperatives that reflect our reasons for wanting to study intercultural communication. These imperatives are peace, demographics, economic, technology, ethical and self-awareness.

What are the element of intercultural communication? ›

The three most critical elements of intercultural communication competence are knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Knowledge refers to the understanding of language and the customs of a culture. Skills describes both fundamental communication skills and the experience of interacting with people different backgrounds.

What makes a successful intercultural communication? ›

Successful intercultural communication happens when people with differing values, beliefs, preferences and behaviours recognise and respect cultural differences and actively work towards mutual adaptation.

What does good intercultural communication require? ›

Intercultural communication requires openness to difference, patience in overcoming cultural and language barriers, and the desire to learn about other cultures and points of view.

How do you develop intercultural skills? ›

How To Improve Intercultural Skills
  1. Increase your self-awareness. ...
  2. Listen to and observe your colleagues. ...
  3. Get international experience. ...
  4. Improve your cultural awareness. ...
  5. Enrol for classes and certifications.
Jul 3, 2022

What two skills are important in intercultural competence? ›

Definition and components of intercultural competence
  • knowledge: requires cultural self-awareness and culture-specific insights as well as an awareness of global issues.
  • skills: the ability to see the world from another perspective and listen patiently where required.

What Is culture communication Theory? ›

Cross-cultural communication theories explain phenomena related to cross-cultural research. Cross-cultural research compares and contrasts people's communication across diverse cultures and explains the consequences of these differences.

How many communication theories are there? ›

8 mass communication theories
  • Agenda setting theory. ...
  • Aristotle's communication model. ...
  • 3. Entertainment education. ...
  • Gatekeeping theory. ...
  • Limited effects theory. ...
  • Media dependency theory. ...
  • Media richness theory. ...
  • Mood management theory.
Nov 23, 2021

Is intercultural competence a theory? ›

Many theories of intercultural (communication) competence have been proposed over the years. While it is fair to say that there is no single leading theory of intercultural competence, some of the well-known theories are worth noting.

What are the three approaches in intercultural communication? ›

Four Approaches to Intercultural Communication

The four primary approaches to the study of intercultural communication are: social science, interpretive, critical and dialectical.

What are the four theories of communication? ›

The four theories are: The Authoritarian Theory, The Libertarian Theory, Soviet- Communist Theory, and Social-Responsibility Theory.

What are the communication theories? ›

What is communication Theory ? Communication theory was proposed by S. F. Scudder in the year 1980. It states that all living beings existing on the planet communicate although the way of communication is different.

What are the 3 theoretical perspective of cultural diversity? ›

Let's finish our analysis of culture by reviewing them in the context of three theoretical perspectives: functionalism, conflict theory, and symbolic interactionism.

What is theory and types of theory? ›

A theory is a rational type of abstract thinking about a phenomenon, or the results of such thinking. The process of contemplative and rational thinking is often associated with such processes as observational study or research. Theories may be scientific, belong to a non-scientific discipline, or no discipline at all.

Why do we have theories of communication? ›

It plays an important role in understanding of human beings. (Richard West & Lynn H. Turner ,2014) said that communication theory helps to understand people and their communities, the media and associations with families, friends and companies. People's behaviours can be studied by learning communication theories.

What are the theories of interpersonal communication? ›

There are three main concepts in this theory: society, self, and mind. Social acts (which create meaning) involve an initial gesture from one individual, a response to that gesture from another, and a result. Self-image comes from interaction with others.

What is the first theory of communication? ›

Linear Model of Communication

The first theoretical model of communication was proposed in 1949 by Shannon and Weaver for Bell Laboratories. This three-part model was intended to capture the radio and television transmission process.


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(TEDx Talks)
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