Intercultural communication is a form of communication that aims to share information across different cultures and social groups. It is used to describe the wide range of communication processes and problems that naturally appear within an organization or social context made up of individuals from different religious, social, ethnic, and educational backgrounds. Intercultural communication is sometimes used synonymously with cross-cultural communication. In this sense it seeks to understand how people from different countries and cultures act, communicate and perceive the world around them. Many people in intercultural business communication argue that culture determines how individuals encode messages, what medium they choose for transmitting them, and the way messages are interpreted.

With regard to intercultural communication proper, it studies situations where people from different cultural backgrounds interact. Aside from language, intercultural communication focuses on social attributes, thought patterns, and the cultures of different groups of people. It also involves understanding the different cultures, languages and customs of people from other countries. Intercultural communication plays a role in social sciences such as anthropology, cultural studies, linguistics, psychology and communication studies. Intercultural communication is also referred to as the base for international businesses. There are several cross-cultural service providers around who can assist with the development of intercultural communication skills. Research is a major part of the development of intercultural communication skills

Intercultural communication ethics

Communication is something that no one can escape and it comes in many forms. Whenever a person from one culture sends a message to be processed from a different culture, intercultural communication is present. It is important to recognize when it happens to able to make wise decisions as to how the communication takes place. Intercultural communication ethics incorporates learning about different goods, the discourse that arises from and shapes the texture of those goods, and practices that enable constructive conversation in a postmodern world of difference. In any ethical dilemma situation, hard choices must be made in considering the intent, the action, the means, the consequence, the end goal, the situation, and the embedded cultural contexts of the case. In an intercultural decision-making context, in particular, often difficult choices must be made between upholding one’s own cultural beliefs and values and considering the values of the other culture. Acknowledging the different goods, values, and beliefs will help to interact with someone from a different culture. A knowledge of intercultural communication, and the ability to use it effectively, can help bridge cultural differences, mitigate problems, and assist in achieving more harmonious, productive relations. This is especially important in today’s world where the market is global.


Some of the theories of intercultural communication can be outline below;

  • Meaning of meanings theory – “A misunderstanding takes place when people assume a word has a direct connection with its referent. A common past reduces misunderstanding. Definition, metaphor, feedforward, and Basic English are partial linguistic remedies for a lack of shared experience.”
  • Face negotiation theory – “Members of collectivistic, high-context cultures have concerns for mutual face and inclusion that lead them to manage conflict with another person by avoiding, obliging, or compromising. Because of concerns for self-face and autonomy, people from individualistic, low-context cultures manage conflict by dominating or through problem solving”
  • Standpoint theory – An individual’s experiences, knowledge, and communication behaviors are shaped in large part by the social groups to which they belong. Individuals sometimes view things similarly, but other times have very different views in which they see the world. The ways in which they view the world are shaped by the experiences they have and through the social group they identify themselves to be a part of.[20][21] “Feminist standpoint theory claims that the social groups to which we belong shape what we know and how we communicate.[22] The theory is derived from the Marxist position that economically oppressed classes can access knowledge unavailable to the socially privileged and can generate distinctive accounts, particularly knowledge about social relations.”
  • Stranger theory – At least one of the persons in an intercultural encounter is a stranger. Strangers are a ‘hyperaware’ of cultural differences and tend to overestimate the effect of cultural identity on the behavior of people in an alien society, while blurring individual distinctions.
  • Feminist genre theory – Evaluates communication by identifying feminist speakers and reframing their speaking qualities as models for women’s liberation.
  • Genderlect theory – “Male-female conversation is cross-cultural communication. Masculine and feminine styles of discourse are best viewed as two distinct cultural dialects rather than as inferior or superior ways of speaking. Men’s report talk focuses on status and independence. Women’s support talk seeks human connection.”
  • Cultural critical studies theory – The theory states that the mass media impose the dominant ideology on the rest of society, and the connotations of words and images are fragments of ideology that perform an unwitting service for the ruling elite.
  • Marxism – aims to explain class struggle and the basis of social relations through economics.


Intercultural communication can be useful to the Nigerian tourism industry. Intercultural communication can be linked with identity, which means the competent communicator is the person who can affirm others’ avowed identities. As well as goal attainment is also a focus within intercultural competence and it involves the communicator to convey a sense of communication appropriateness and effectiveness in diverse cultural contexts.

Ethnocentrism plays a role in intercultural communication. The capacity to avoid ethnocentrism is the foundation of intercultural communication competence. Ethnocentrism is the inclination to view one’s own group as natural and correct, and all others as aberrant.

People must be aware that to engage and fix intercultural communication there is no easy solution and there is not only one way to do so. Listed below are some of the components of intercultural competence.

  • Context: A judgement that a person is competent is made in both a relational and situational contextThis means that competence is not defined as a single attribute, meaning someone could be very strong in one section and only moderately good in another. Situationally speaking competence can be defined differently for different cultures. For example, eye contact shows competence in western cultures whereas, Asian cultures find too much eye contact disrespectful.
  • Appropriateness: This means that your behaviours are acceptable and proper for the expectations of any given culture.
  • Effectiveness: The behaviours that lead to the desired outcome being achieved.
  • Knowledge: This has to do with the vast information you have to have on the person’s culture that you are interacting with. This is important so you can interpret meanings and understand culture-general and culture-specific knowledge.
  • Motivations:This has to do with emotional associations as they communicate interculturally. Feelings which are your reactions to thoughts and experiences have to do with motivation. Intentions are thoughts that guide your choices, it is a goal or plan that directs your behaviour. These two things play a part in motivation.



It is essential that people research the cultures and communication conventions of those whom they propose to meet to minimise the risk of making the elementary mistakes. It is also prudent to set a clear agenda so that everyone understands the nature and purpose of the interaction. When language skills are unequal, clarifying one’s meaning in five ways will improve communication:

  1. Avoid using slang and idioms, choosing words that will convey only the most specific denotative
  2. Listen carefully and, if in doubt, ask for confirmation of understanding (particularly important if local accents and pronunciation are a problem).
  3. Recognise that accenting and intonation can cause meaning to vary significantly.
  4. Respect the local communication formalities and styles, and watch for any changes in body language.
  5. Investigate their culture’s perception of your culture by reading literature about one’s culture through their eyes before entering into communication with them. This will allow one to prepare yourself for projected views of one’s culture that will be borne as a visitor in their culture.

If it is not possible to learn the other’s language, show some respect by learning a few words. In all important exchanges, a translator can convey the message.

When writing, the choice of words represent the relationship between the reader and the writer so more thought, and care should be invested in the text since it may be thoroughly analysed by the recipient.


The problems in intercultural communication usually come from problems in message transmission. In communication between people of the same culture, the person who receives the message interprets it based on values, beliefs, and expectations for behavior similar to those of the person who sent the message. When this happens, the way the message is interpreted by the receiver is likely to be fairly similar to what the speaker intended. However, when the receiver of the message is a person from a different culture, the receiver uses information from his or her culture to interpret the message. The message that the receiver interprets may be very different from what the speaker intended. Intercultural communication is competent when it accomplishes the objectives in a manner that is appropriate to the context and relationship. Intercultural communication thus needs to bridge the dichotomy between appropriateness and effectiveness: Proper means of intercultural communication leads to a 15% decrease in miscommunication.

  • Appropriateness. Valued rules, norms, and expectations of the relationship are not violated significantly.
  • Effectiveness. Valued goals or rewards (relative to costs and alternatives) are accomplished.



Lauring, Jakob (2011). “Intercultural Organizational Communication: The Social Organizing of Interaction in International Encounters”. Journal of Business and Communication. 48.3: 231–55.

“Intercultural Communication Law & Legal Definition”. Retrieved 2016-05-19.

Cf. Gudykunst 2003 for an overview.

Kincaid, D. L. (1988). The convergence theory of intercultural communication. In Y. Y. Kim & W. B. Gudykunst (Eds.), Theories in intercultural communication (pp. 280–298). Newbury Park, CA: Sage. p.289

Ellingsworth, 1983.

Gudykunst, W. & Kim, Y. Y. (2003). Communicating with strangers: An approach to intercultural communication, 4th ed. New York: McGraw Hill.

Bohman, J. 1999. ‘Practical Reason and Cultural Constraint’ in R. Shusterman (Ed.) Bourdieu: A Critical Reader, Oxford: Blackwell.


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