What is intercultural communication?

There are numerous definitions of intercultural communication, but the simplest and my favorite is: 

Intercultural communication is communication between two or more cultures.

When you’re meeting someone new, you want to leave a good first impression. Based on what you know, you will judge the person you are meeting as well. 

The way of communication, including dialect, will tell you from which part of Croatia someone comes. Clothes and shoes will maybe indicate the financial class, and style will reveal age. What if you meet someone who is not from Croatia? Will you salute with a handshake? Will it be firm and long, or plain? Will you maintain eye contact? Will you smile?

If you are in Japan, you will not shake hands, and if a Japanese person is smiling at you – he or she is confused and uncomfortable. In the Arab world, you will look at people directly in the eye. In Middle and South Asia they will perceive you as aggressive. n Brazil, people will be insulted if you make the “OK” sign with your fingers. In Thailand, you will smile even when you say “no”.

These are a few things, if you know them, that will make your visit more pleasant when visiting a specific country. They say travelling expands horizons, but it also shows who you really are. When you visit a country with a culture so different from your own, you discover your limits. It is important to know who you are and what are your cultural values. It will allow you to experience and live through a “cultural shock” in an easier way, which is inevitable for all who communicate with different cultures. Intercultural communication, and your competency in intercultural communication, helps you survive culture shock and avoid permanent frustration.

And, what about the business world? You are an engineer who made a blueprint for a machine. Mathematics and technics are your specialization. Your company sends you to China, to the factory where your machine will be produced. You are a true product of the West. To you, time is money, and you want to quickly learn Chinese capabilities. You ask short, direct, and clear questions but you don’t get a proper answer. Time goes by, frustration grows and deepens. Today, in the world of global trade, it is not enough to be an excellent engineer. You need to be a manager, a team player, a great communicator, and be competent in intercultural communication. An engineer from this example needs to acquire knowledge of the country and people he or she visits, get rid of prejudice and become aware of his or her ethnocentricity. This is precisely the reason why every big firm sends their managers to educate themselves in intercultural communication and become better at what they do.

Jobs will become more global and multicultural. Future employees will have to not only speak foreign languages, understand other cultures, and practice tolerance, but be curious and elastic. (The Centre for International Mobility/Demos Helsinki, 2011.) People travel and will travel even more. Intercultural communication will become inevitable. The question is – do you want to be competent and successful with it, or frustrated and helpless?