Intercultural communicative competence is, according to Ting-Toomey (1999:261), about the ability to apply theoretical knowledge of cultural differences in a sensitive way that facilitates successful intercultural communication. In this sense intercultural communication is, according to Bennett (1998:2-3), “difference-based” versus communication between people from the same culture (mono-cultural communication) which is “similarity based”. This assignment discusses the central role that sensitivity to cultural differences plays in successful intercultural communication.
The assignment comprises five sections. The first two sections describe the underpinning criteria and components of intercultural communicative competence.
The third section deals with the role of sympathy and empathy in intercultural communication. This is followed, in the fourth section, by a description of intercultural communication barriers. Finally, the fifth section examines an example of a deficient intercultural interaction. 2. Criteria for intercultural communicative competence This section describes the criteria against which intercultural communicative competence should be measured.
Ting-Toomey (1999:262) identifies three criteria for communicative competence. They are “perceived appropriateness, effectiveness and satisfaction”. She adds that intercultural communicators infer appropriateness, effectiveness and satisfaction from the verbal and non-verbal messages that are exchanged during an interaction (Ting-Toomey 1999:262).
2. 1 Appropriateness Ting-Toomey (1999:262) states that appropriateness refers to the extent to which intercultural communicators behave in ways that are mutually acceptable.
She adds that perceptions of acceptable and unacceptable behavior are shaped by the communicators respective “cultural socialization experiences” (Ting-Toomey 1999:263). For example, in certain African cultures gratitude is expressed by clapping the hands and averting the eyes to the ground. Thus a non-African that does not perform this ritual in the appropriate circumstances may be regarded as ungrateful and rude.
2. 2 Effectiveness Effectiveness, according to Ting-Toomey (1999:263) refers to the extent to which intercultural communicators are able to realize their shared communicative goals.
Ting-Toomey (1999:263) claims that effectiveness depends on addressing “the three layers of meanings that … increase intercultural understanding”. These are content, identity and relational meaning (Ting-Toomey 1999:263-264). Firstly, content meaning is about the information and subject matter that is contained in the messages. For example, in certain cultures it may be appropriate to answer questions, which may compromise the questioner, indirectly in order to preserve their face (Ting-Toomey 1999:263).
Secondly, identity meaning refers to the way that intercultural communicators demonstrate and perceive face-saving and face-honoring behavior relative to their own and each others culturally inspired self image expectations (Ting-Toomey 1999:196 & 264). For example, in certain cultures it is disrespectful to challenge higher status individuals in front of their subordinates. Thirdly, relational meaning is about the way that intercultural communicators define the intimacy and formality of their relationship to each other (Ting-Toomey 1999:264).
For example, it would be ill advised for a junior manager from a low power-distance culture to adopt an informal approach to a senior executive from a high power-distance culture. 2. 3 Satisfaction Ting-Toomey (1999:265) proposes that interaction satisfaction is dependent on intercultural communicators recognizing and affirming the identity images of each other. Identity images refer to the self-perception of the communicators with reference to factors such as professional, social, cultural or gender background (Ting-Toomey 1999:265).
If intercultural communicators demonstrate behavior that reinforces mutual identity images, thereby building self-esteem, then they will be satisfied with the interaction. For example, Ting-Toomey (1999:265) contends that behaviors that reinforce “person-based self-worth issues” are most likely to lead to satisfaction for individualists. 3. Components of intercultural communicative competence Ting-Toomey (1999:265) claims that optimal intercultural communication is dependent on three components of communicative competence. These are “in-depth [intercultural – BL] knowledge, heightened mindfulness and competent communication skills”.
She states that in-depth knowledge is the most important of these. 3. 1 In-depth knowledge Knowledge of the values that underpin cultural behavior is, according to Ting-Toomey (1999:267), essential to the understanding and accurate interpretation of intercultural communicative behavior. For example, Ting-Toomey (1999:267) states that the ability to accurately identify individualist versus collectivist and low power-distance versus high power distance cultural orientations helps communicators identify when to adopt high-context or low-context communication styles.
Ting-Toomey (1999:267) contends that individualists favor a low-context direct style whilst collectivists prefer a high-context indirect style. She states that understanding the impact of these cultural variables is a pre-requisite for overcoming potentially damaging “ethnocentric” communicative paradigms (Ting-Toomey 1999:266). 3. 2 Mindfulness Mindfulness involves a conscious process in which communicators suspend their own ethnocentric assumptions whilst simultaneously becoming more aware of the ethnocentricities of the other parties to the intercultural interaction (Ting-Toomey 1999:267).
According to Ting-Toomey (1999: 268) this conscious approach enables the intercultural communicator to accommodate and adapt to unfamiliar communicative behaviors. Ting-Toomey (1999:269) maintains that this is because it prepares the communicator to adapt to the perspective of other cultures during intercultural interaction. 3. 3 Communication skill Communication skill refers, according to Ting-Toomey (1999:269), to the ability of intercultural communicators “to interact appropriately, effectively and satisfactorily”. Ting-Toomey (1999:269) defines four skill sets for achieving this.
They are mindful observation, mindful listening, identity confirmation and collaborative dialogue. Mindful observation involves avoiding snap judgements in favour of taking a deliberately analytical approach to intercultural interactions. The goal is to consciously identify the reasons for unfamiliar communicative behaviour in terms of a cultural rationale (Ting-Toomey 1999:269). For example if an intercultural communicator responds evasively to direct questions then his behaviour should be considered in terms of his cultural terms of reference.