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Intercultural Communication: Definition and Details

why is intercultural communication important
why is intercultural communication important

Introduction to Intercultural communication

Intercultural communication is the research/study and practical exercise of communication (Verbal, Non-Verbal) across different cultural backgrounds. It goes the same for both domestic and international cultural differences such as ethnic background or race, and gender/sex, and to the international differences i.e. associated with different nationalities or different regions in the world.

Let us now discuss some basic concepts relevant to intercultural communication:

Intercultural Communication Competence
Intercultural Communication Competence

What is Communication?

Communication is exchanging information either verbal or non-verbal between two or more people. For instance, if you are exchanging thoughts about a movie, you intend for me to understand the context of the movie and also something about your idea and evaluation of the movie.

You share the details in your words and include examples of other movies to make a relevant story detail. The language we speak is the same between us. And, your unique experience of the movie. That would help me build an idea about the movie and understand the entire context. If your communication is effective I would be able to understand the concept right away.

Therefore, both the intention and the interpretation play a balanced role to make everything understandable. The conclusion of the communication event is our mutual creation of an agreeable position.

Intercultural Communication
Intercultural Communication

What is Intercultural communication?

Intercultural communication is the communication between people belonging to different cultures. Intercultural communication enables people to create and promote multicultural communication. It leads to biculturalism rather than simple assimilation. It also supports intercultural sensitivity or emotional bonding to enable friendly understanding of cultural differences.

Intercultural Communication Definition
Intercultural Communication Definition

What is Culture?

Definition of Culture: The ideas, norms, customs, and social behavior of a society.

If we discuss this in detail:

Culture is a generalization about how a society generally behaves towards a particular situation. This is done through various social structures:

  • Religious
  • Political
  • Economic
  • Family norms

But beneath these social structures, there is a habitual practice of how the world experiences different things. These habits are often called cultural assumptions and values, and they occur in every group, not just any local or national society of a country.

So, generally the intercultural communication focuses on the broad view of culture and not on the institutions of culture. Human communication is conducted between people, not institutions. The concern of communication study is how people organize meanings.

Our societies are mainly influenced by the institutional structures that we consider a major pillar of society.

A necessary element of culture is the borderline that differentiates “them” from “us.” Every human being belongs to a certain group that is defined by certain boundaries.  Boundaries are typically formed by nation-states like the US, Chinese, Canadians, or by some ethnic groups of people with a certain tribal, national, or regional heritage for example, Jewish, Russian, Kurdish, European, African. Within a certain boundary, people communicate and behave differently with each other than with people outside the boundary. The difference may or may not be visible in the language, but in actions, it shows a significant difference.

Intercultural Communication Defined
Intercultural Communication Defined

The Multicultural hierarchy in Societies:

In this section, we shall discuss the multicultural societies and the cultural hierarchies in them. In multicultural societies, ethic and national boundaries are combined to indicate the existence of both groups as members of the same region such as

  • African American
  • Malay Singaporean
  • Russian Kazakhstani
  • European American.

Moreover, boundaries are also formed by geographical regions:

  • Southern Italians
  • Western Europeans
  • Pacific Northwest Americans
  • Sub-Saharan Africans.

The boundaries inside organizations often indicate strong cultures like:

  • Police culture,
  • Corporate cultures,
  • Peace-corps culture,
  • Armed services culture.

 Cultures within organizations:

  • Service people Accountants,
  • Detectives,
  • Engineers,

Inside the societies:

  • Gender,
  • Sexual Orientation,
  • Generation (Age),

The religious and political groups can also generate particular cultures, not because of what they believe, but because the people in these groups are spending more time with agreeing people.

types of intercultural communication
types of intercultural communication

What is cross-cultural communication?

Cross-cultural communication is the communication between people having differences in any one of the following:

  • styles of working,
  • age,
  • nationality,
  • ethnicity,
  • race,
  • gender,

Cross-cultural communication is also the attempts to exchange, negotiate and mediate cultural differences using language, gestures and body language etc.  This is how people from different cultures, ethnicity communicate with each other.

Other Intercultural Terms:

A multicultural society means there is more diversity in the social customs. For example, people in the US and experiencing more cultural diversity because of immigration, age difference, domestic ethnic groups.

The societies become multicultural when immigrants settle there and start practicing their way of life. The best example is a classroom where the teacher is facing a multicultural class.

The terms diversity and multicultural can be used interchangeably. The meaning of both words refers to the cultural difference. For instance, if a company has a diversity policy, it means they must have people belonging from different ethnic groups working there.

intercultural differences in business can be turned into an advantage as it can be a key to invite workforce from across the world. And, it can be done through effective multicultural communication.

The terminology “cross-cultural” refers to the relationship between people belonging to different cultural groups. For instance, if a company has a multicultural employee, there is more likely to be a cross-cultural relationship between the workers.


The term intercultural means the interaction between people belonging to different cultural groups. It opens new opportunities to communicate and interact with Intercultural, multicultural, and cross-cultural people. The term intercultural is generally used as a modifier i.e. intercultural communication or Intercultural Relations. The cultural differences in communication can be a barrier or an opportunity in intercultural communication for people.