Problems of Effective CrossCultural Communication

Problems of Effective CrossCultural Communication and
Conflict Resolution
Reza Najafbagy
Dr. Reza Najajbagy is professor of culture and change
management at the Islamic Azad University. Iran, and director
of a Master’s program in executive management.
Many failures in international cooperation and conflict
resolution seem to be related to communication
problems and cultural differences. In other words, the establishment of
realistic, proper and effective communication, based on mutual cultural
understanding and on goodwill, would solve many national and international
disputes. This article examines the contention that honest and effective
communication, based on cultural understanding, would contribute positively
to the solution of political, economic and social problems among nations.
Effective Communication Based on Intercultural and Political
Communication can be considered one of the most pervasive problems
among nations. Even within a single culture, communication tends to have
many complex effects. When communication takes place between two
cultures, these effects get even more complicated, primarily because they
are symbolized in one context and transferred into another. Intercultural
communication, therefore, needs co-orientation as a prerequisite. Coorientation refers to any eftbrt that may be necessary to familiarize and
train an individual in the life, work, social and political relations, norms,
values, traditions, religion and other aspects of one’s own culture and those
of other concerned nations. The following principles could clarify the kind
of co-orientation needed for conflict resolution:
* To increase our awareness and understanding of our own rights.
* To increase our awareness and understanding of our own culture.
* To become more cognizant of our attitudes and feelings towards people
of another country or community and vice versa.
* To better understand the social, political and economic environments of
other eultures and their impact on personal behavior.
* To gain better awareness and appreciation of the similarities and differences
between the different cultures.
* To be flexible and realistic to an extent that could contribute to resolving
But certain factors facilitate the understanding of the reasons behind a
conflict and help in dealing with its solution. The study of history, language,
religion, traditions, values and norms of other nations definitely helps in
intercultural understanding and problem-solving, but it is only a starting
point. Goodwill, honesty and respect are bases on which to develop political
and cultural knowledge.
In the West, technological progress seems to have somehow undermined
the need for the sound understanding of various levels of social and cultural
reality. People who are more adventurous and who visit and live among
societies other than their own are able to acquire a realistic knowledge of
other eultures. But it is not sufficient to understand how others differ; we
must also understand how we differ.^
Lack of attention to these norms, values and traditions and lack of
basic knowledge of intercultural communication among different nations
is a general problem even among officials and politicians at the highest
levels. Successful communication can only be achieved through sound and
sincere reciprocity. It is to nobody’s advantage to impose his or her culture
or power on others. In fact, cross-cultural contacts are harmful unless they
are conducive to constructive communication, and this can only occur if
the parties have respect and sympathy for each other and show a large
measure of flexibility.
It is through acculturation that we , , • / ^ /• i
, . , , . ,^ , ¡*fony misunderstanduiss have
can learn about cultural differences and . , ,
. j r j . . . – occurred, not only because the need for adaptation and change. Many r • ^ , – .,
, ^ ,. ^ , f / of mistakes m the usage of misunderstandings have occurred, not onlv j . . ,
. /- T , \ – , words or expressions^ but also because of mistakes in the usage of words . ^’, , , ,. , .„
, , , ^ because of the lack of goodwill
or expressions, but also because ot the lack . ,/ ,, , j
,,,.,,, , ,, and cultural knowledge.
ot goodwill and cultural knowledge, which
makes adaptation and change difficult.
Factors Affectitig Relationships between Nations
The idea that culture should be seen as communication is useful in
that it has raised issues that had not previously been considered, and, as a
result, has provided solutions that otherwise might not have been possible.
15.4/16.1 147
Feelings of superiority Communication is often blocked by the
towards the Other are most deliberate eultivation of cultural prejudice.
harmful when one is trying Feelings of superiority towards the Other
to build relationships and are most harmful when one is trying to build
solve conflicts between relationships and solve conflicts between two
two nations. nations.
Preconceptions about other peoples or
nations as being hostile, alien, illiterate and uncivilized create antagonism
and pessimism between the two parties and destroy other possibilities for
development and suecess. Some countries are more individualistic than
others in their orientations, which cannot be a sensible attitude in erosscultural communication and could lead to misunderstandings between the two
nations. Individualism is defined as “a social pattem that consists of loosely
linked individuals who view themselves as independent of colleetives and
who are motivated by their own preferenees, needs, rights and eontracts.”^
Among the many factors that inhibit cooperation and eonstmctive
relationships between nations is the expectation of being treated as
important, as exceptional and as having the right to enjoy extra privileges.
Adjustment to the values ofthe other country, together with goodwill and
respect for the status quo of the other party, are elements of successful
communication (particularly used by anthropologists). Those who know
their own culture and rights and are secure and content with it, and can
realize and appreciate the good that they observe in the communities in
which they work, live or come together to solve a conflict.”*
Another obstacle to the process of cross-cultural communication
and conflict resolution is that the
upper and upper-middle classes,
i.e., mostly wealthy people,
industrialists, merchants and top
government and private-sector
officials, etc., tend to become
integrated into a transnational
socio-cultural system oftheir own.
ál^^X^^ ^^^^ experience has shown that
> ^I^^^^^Kv^^^^ ^ ^^^^ groups have contributed very
little to the development process,
and have ignored their duty to
orient and give direction either
to the expatriates or experts in
, ^, arranging programs that are right
Barack Obama
and relevant for the development of their country.
It is essential to remember that most development projects, political
and technical assistance provided to developing countries do not take
cultural and soeial factors into consideration. A lot can be learned from past
experiences, such as the case ofthe failed technical assistance to Iran. In
1980 (a year afler the Iranian Revolution), a seminar was organized by a
number of American academics and advisers who had been trying for years
to introduce reform to Iran. Their lack of understanding ofthe society, the
culture, politics and history ofthe country had not only led lo the failure of
their reforms, but it had created additional problems, eonfüets and pessimism
among the people ofthe host country.
The aim ofthe American seminar was to study “the failure of U.S.
technical assistance in public administration: the Iranian ease.” American
aid to Iran started in 1953 in the form of aid to ministries and continued
for nearly 25 years. But even after decades, technical assistance failed to
produce the hoped-for results, and many more mistakes were made than
successes achieved because:
* Nearly all advisers in the public administration program arrived in Iran
with no knowledge ofthe language and with a superficial knowledge of
Iranian culture, history and social, economic and political systems;
* For an American to become attuned to the intemal politics of a foreign
country requires a radical shifting of his habits and attitudes; and
* Although one must caution against generalizing from a single case, or a few
cases, the Iranian ease — and others — strongly suggest that developed
countries do not know how to help
developing nations in their reforms.-^
The other case is the ongoing conflict
between Israel and the Palestinians. This is
essentially a dispute between two national
identities with claims over the same area
of land. Many attempts have been made
to broker a two-state solution, which
would entail the creation of an independent
Palestinian state alongside Israel. Perhaps
among the factors that have hindered the
resolution ofthe conflict between Israel and
the Palestinians is the lack of mutual trust —
a fundamental condition for the advancement
of understanding between the parties. Another Mahmoud A hmadincjad
15.4/16.1 149
reason is the feeling of delegitimization, for the delegitimization of the
adversary seems to be one ofthe major obstacles to a peaceful resolution of
any conflict. However, it is the violence between Palestinians and Israelis
that is the major obstacle to a readiness within both societies to make major
concessions towards a final settlement ofthe conflict.^
To sum up, in the area of cross-cultural communication, whatever
is done should be based on understanding, reciprocity and successful
cooperation. Today’s world order is crumbling, and there are unprecedented
economic, social and political crises which cannot be solved through
traditional means. It can only be done through the creation of a new world
order, i.e., basically, the creation of a world culture, a global culture, whereby
all people will develop collaboratively and responsibly, preserving not only
their biological and cultural heritage, but furthering their natural development
with greater awareness of and sense of solidarity with the Other.
1. Douglas Medin et al.. Sacred Bounds on Rational Resolution of Violent Political
Conflict. Proceedings ofthe National Academy of Sciences ofthe United States of
America (PNAS), March I, 2007.
2. Paul Beamish, Allen Morrison and Andrew Inkpen, International Management
(Boston: McGraw Hill, 2003), p.20l.
3. Rabi Bhagat et al., “Cultural Variations in the Cross-Border Transfer of Organizational
Knowledge: An Integrative Framework,” Academy of Management Review (April
2002), p.2O8.
4. Norman Daniel, The Cultural Barrier (Edinburgh: Western Printing Services Ltd.,
1975), p.62.
5. John Seitz, “The Failure of U.S. Technical Assistance in Public Administration:
The Iranian Case,” Public Administration Review, Vol. 40. No. 5 (Sept/Oct. 1980),
6. Neta Oren et al., “The Detrimental Dynamics of Delegitimization in Intractable
Conflicts: The Israeli-Palestinian Case,” International Journal of Intercultural
Relations,-No. 3\ (2007),p.llL

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