Intercultural Communication

Learning Objectives


9.1 Describe the elements of intercultural communication.

9.2 Identify the obstacles to and accelerators of intercultural communication.

9.3 Understand important theories of intercultural communication and identity.

9.4 Describe how various cultural values affect communication.

9.5 Explain attitudes toward diversity and the problem with tolerance.




Communicating with people from different cultures is not as threatening as many people think. This chapter will demonstrate that attempting to understand one another despite our differences not only helps disabuse us of stereotypes and inaccurate generalizations, it makes us better people—more compassionate, more cultured, more human.





  • Activity: Testing Your Implicit Associations


Visit Harvard University’s Project Implicit at You can choose to register for its series of assessments of the implicit associations you make about people from various races, genders, sexual orientations, and nations. If you do not want to register, you can proceed as a guest. As the Project explains, “Whichever IAT [Implicit Association Test] you do, we will ask you (optionally) to report your attitudes toward or beliefs about these topics, and provide some general information about yourself. These demonstrations should be more valuable if you have also tried to describe your self-understanding of the characteristic that the IAT is designed to measure. Also, we would like to compare possible differences among groups in their IAT performance and opinions, at least among those who decide to participate.” You’ll see a host of choices of people often considered “other.” Choose as many as you’d like and complete the tests. What did you learn about yourself that surprised you? What, if any, changes in how you approach the people around you might you make?


  • Activity: Playing a Game as Cultural Participation


Research a game native to another culture. Soccer and lacrosse don’t count. It has to be something a bit more obscure and specific to the culture from which it comes. Learn its rules and equipment needs, explain how to play to a group of friends, and in the true spirit of participation, play the game. What questions does playing this game bring to mind? For example, could it ever catch on in the U.S? If not, why not? What is it about the game that made it natural in its given culture? You can think of many more when you’ve actually played the game.


  • Activity: The Cultural Roots of Your Name


You can do this on your own, but it’s more fun with friends. Research the roots of your family name. It’s no surprise that many of the names we see every day come from a time when your job was your name—Farmer, Baker, Knight, Goldsmith, Toepfer (Potter in German), Peschi (Fish person in Italian), Baran (Ram, probably a Shepherd, in Polish). Sometimes it was an indication of where you came from—the Irish O’ and the German von, London, Beauchamp (from the beautiful field in French). But researching you name can reveal much more about who your family was, and where they came from. If you do this alone, write a reflection of what you’ve learned. If you do it with friends, regale one another with your name’s story, possibly even voting on who has the best tale to tell.




1.      Differentiate between individualistic and collective cultures. Give an example of each.


Sample answer: The members of individualistic cultures are socialized into the major values of their culture, such as independence and achievement, and learn how members of the culture are expected to view themselves. People in individualistic cultures value the goals, needs, and rights of the individual. In individualistic cultures, the individual is the most important entity in a social setting, and communication tends to be open and direct. The United States is an individualistic culture. A collective culture is one where people learn the major values of harmony and solidarity and acquire different preferred ways to conceive of themselves. People in these cultures value the goals, responsibilities, and obligations of the group. Communication in collective cultures serves more for bonding than for information sharing. Examples of collective cultures include China and Japan.


2.      Define stereotyping and explain the reasons why it hinders intercultural communication. Include an example of a stereotype in your response.


Sample answer: Stereotyping occurs when characteristics that may not fit every individual in a group are applied to people or groups. Stereotypes inhibit intercultural communication for four reasons. First, they serve as a filter, and oftentimes what has been filtered out is the truth. Second, there often exists the assumption that culture-specific characteristics apply to each individual in a group when often they do not. Third, stereotypes are often exaggerated and over-simplified. Fourth, stereotypes are difficult to change once formed, especially because they are developed at a young age. Some common stereotypes include that blondes are dumb and people from the South are not particularly intelligent.



Go to the Source

Gudykunst, W. B., Y. Matsumoto, S. Ting-Toomey, T. Nishida, K. Kim, and S. Heyman. (1996). “The Influence of Cultural Individualism-Collectivism, Self Construals, and Individual Values on Communication Styles across Cultures.” Human Communication Research, 22: 510–543.

Hall, E. T. (1976). Beyond Culture. New York: Doubleday.

Hofstede, G. (1983). “National Cultures in Four Dimensions: A Research-Based Theory of Cultural Differences among Nations.” International Studies of Management and Organization, 13: 46–74.

Hofstede, G., G. J. Hofstede, and M. Minkov. (2010). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Hornsey, M. J. (2008). “Social Identity Theory and Self-categorization Theory: A Historical Review.” Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2: 204–222.

Ting-Toomey, S. (1999). Communicating across Cultures. New York: The Guilford Press.

Ting-Toomey, S. (2005). “Identity Negotiation Theory: Crossing Cultural Boundaries.” In W. B. Gudykunst, ed., Theorizing about Intercultural Communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


This international scholarly association is made up of scholars from several social and cultural sciences dedicated to research on communication across cultures.


The NDC is a resource and advocate for the values of diversity and inclusion. It is an umbrella organization for its statewide and regional affiliates also working to foster an understanding of diversity and inclusion as an effective strategy for business success and community well-being.


WorkplaceDiversity is an outlet for connecting corporate recruiters and experienced diverse candidates. Its main focus is to help connect organizations that support and value diversity and inclusion in the workplace. This may not be of specific interest to you at the moment, but it does maintain a long list of links to groups and organizations that themselves are dedicated to diversity in the workplace and community.

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