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Interpersonal and Intercultural Communication in the Workplace

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Employment
Wordcount: 1458 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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When people have face to face communication with or between each other to exchange information, feelings and meanings or simply to communicate through a verbal or non-verbal medium, that process is known as interpersonal communication. To understand it properly we can define it as the face to face communication between people.

Similarly, intercultural communication involves interaction between people from different cultures and social groups. The meaning of ‘inter’ is ‘between’ and ‘cultural’ means from a ‘specific cultural background’. So, the interaction or communication that takes place in between two or more people of different cultural background, either through a verbal or non-verbal medium is known as intercultural communication.

What is culture? This question has confused people and has raised a lot of questions as there are a lot of different definitions of culture itself. Culture is a complex frame of reference that consists of patterns of traditions, beliefs, values, norms, symbols, and meanings that are shared to vary degrees by interacting members of an identity community(Stella Ting-Toomey, Tenzin Dorjee, 2019)



The Three Level of Cultures:


Culture is differentiated into three different levels:

  • Observable Artefacts:

The first level of culture are artefacts, also known as surface level culture. They are objects or visual representations which are clearly visible in the surface and are noticed by every newcomers and visitors. Such objects are used to convey nonverbal messages about oneself. It can be easily detected and observed but are equally hard to understand or decipher. For example: patterns, behaviour, fashion, dress, trends, logos, formality, etc. To simply put it up, artefacts are what we see.

  • Exposed Values:

Right under artefacts is the second level of culture exposed values, also known as intermediate level culture. This is the less visible level. Such as the conscious strategies, goals, philosophies, norms and justification of the company are some of its examples. Only when we give some time to know it, we can understand those aspects.

  • Basic underlying assumptions:

The last level is the underlying assumptions and is an almost invisible level of culture. It is also known as the deep level culture. This part of the culture is hidden from our views. It contains what the society deeply believe in and act on it like the ideas, assumptions, values and beliefs held by a society.

Culture is like an iceberg; we can only see the surface layers like the artefacts. If we tend to look properly, only then we can see and understand the intermediate level like the strategies, meanings, norms, etc., of the company/society. Whereas, the deeper layers of the culture are hidden out of our sight and views. We do not know what really is under the iceberg or how big/small the iceberg is by just looking from its surface. Similarly, we also do not know what the traditions, ideas, beliefs, assumptions and values are held by the society.

Relationship between Language and Culture:

Language and culture are like a braid, they are intertwined with each other and have a complex relation. Cultures from different places have their own unique language. They are like a one plus one offer, when you interact with people of different language you are also interacting with their culture as most of the language are established by the culture. Both culture and language have grown together due to which they have influenced and affected each other greatly during the process. Our identity is marked by the language we speak. Just by listening to the language and behaviour of a person we can know what cultural background he/she is from. People from different places have their own set of rules and ethics. The set of attributes of a culture is expressed through language. All of people’s behaviours are deeply related to their culture and how they are brought up. We can clearly see their cultural background in the way they speak and interact with people who differ from their culture and background.

Barriers to Inter-cultural Communication:

As explained above, inter-cultural communication is the interaction that takes in place between people of different cultural background. When people who completely differ from each other try to interact and communicate with each other then there are bound to be barriers. It’s well known that good communication is the foundation of any successful relationship, be it personal or professional. It’s important to recognize, though, that it’s our nonverbal communication—our facial expressions, gestures, eye contact, posture, and tone of voice—that speak the loudest(J. Segal, M. Smith, G. Boose & J. Jaffe, 2014). Barriers in an inter-cultural communication are created when the behaviour of an individual differs from your own. Some of the commonly found barriers are listed below:

  • Language: Difference in language is one of the main barriers while communicating. While trying to interact with the people from a different place, if person A doesn’t know the language of person B or vice versa, then they will be unable to understand what the other is trying to say.
  • Accent: People all over the world try to learn English language to interact and communicate with other people easily since, it is the most common language used all over the world. Since each people have their own set of accents, the barrier comes when they are unable to understand each other due to their own unique accents.
  • Attitude, values and beliefs: People from different cultural background have different upbringings. Western people are more open and carefree whereas Asian people are more reserved and shy. When their different attitudes, values and beliefs clashes there is bound to be misunderstandings and barriers in communication.

Some other barriers are:

  • Stereotyping
  • Physical preferences, etc.,

Cultural differences in the workplace:


Companies nowadays hire people from diverse culture despite their race, ethnicity and colour. But not every company are open minded and carefree as many places have strict rules due to their cultural values and beliefs. Many of the places have restrictions in dress, religious practise, customs, social values, non-verbal behaviour, family obligations, and many more. For example: Muslim cultured countries like Dubai, Qatar, Malaysia, etc., have restriction on dress of the females as they are not allowed to wear open clothes and head scarves, or turbans should always be worn. Whereas western cultured countries like US, Australia have no such restrictions. Similarly, two people working under same company but from different cultural background have a lot of differences in their work style, behaviour, dressing style and many more.

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Having cultural diversity can create misunderstandings and problems within the employees as some people may treat people unfairly at work because of their cultural difference and maybe biased by not giving equal opportunities. But it is also beneficial for the company as it creates creativity within the teams and more diverse solutions to the problems are found. We cannot just rely on specific behaviours or techniques to communicate effectively – we need to understand the process and adjust what we do to suit the context. And this is not as easy as it sounds(Hartley, 2002).


  •  Ting-Toomey, S. and Dorjee, T., 2018. Communicating across cultures. Guilford Publications.
  • J. Segal, M. Smith, G. Boose & J. Jaffe, 2014. Nonverbal Communication: Improving Your Nonverbal Skills and Reading Body Language,. s.l.:s.n.
  • Hartley, P., 2002. Interpersonal communication. Routledge.


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