Intercultural Communication Terminology
Over the years I have developed an intercultural communication terminology for my particular way of addressing communication issues within intercultural business contexts. This glossary is a compilation of fifty terms that I have used throughout my book, Dance of Opinions: Mastering written and spoken communication for intercultural business using English as a second language, most of which are my own creation. A few of them, such as “intercultural communication” and “learning curve,” are also used within the intercultural communication training profession. I have included them here to define what I mean by them in the context of my articles on this site.
Assert your authority
This is Step 4 of the CLEAR method, which shows you how to speak about your professional expertise in a clear and concise way. By doing so you actively participate in building your professional identity within your intercultural business context.
authoritative dance of opinions
A form for expressing your opinions in English. It is appropriate when you are drawing upon a background of knowledge and experience on which you are basing your opinions.
collaborative dance of opinions
A form for expressing your opinions in English. It is appropriate in business contexts when exchanging opinions in the spirit of collaboration, as well as in social contexts.
In the exchange of words, whether written or spoken, there are many opportunities for misunderstandings. These misunderstandings can result in negative emotional reactions, loss of trust and uncomfortable business relationships. All these facets are included in the term “communication breakdown.”
How we express our opinions in a professional context becomes effortless over time, thanks to building habits of what to say and how to say it. However, such habits can become a trap. Experimenting with different ways of communicating can expand both our enthusiasm and our effectiveness.
These are competences in speaking, writing and listening that have been learned over a lifetime. Often, by the time we are working professionals, we are not even aware of how we speak, write or listen. At any point in time we can decide to take specialized training to expand our skills.
Convey your concise opinion
This is Step 1 of the CLEAR method, in which I show you how to express your professional opinion in a clear and concise way. That approach makes speaking and writing easier for you, and listening and reading easier for others within your intercultural business context.
How we interpret what we hear or read has been culturally conditioned. We never ask ourselves whether our interpretation is accurate. And yet there is no single “right” interpretation within intercultural contexts, because all of us have learned to listen with what I call cultural ears.
How we interpret body language has been culturally conditioned. We never ask ourselves whether our interpretation is accurate. And yet there is no single “right” interpretation within intercultural contexts, because all of us have learned to see with what I call cultural eyes.
dance of opinions
The main metaphor of my book is that the tone, body language, form and content of how we express an opinion is like a dance. Different cultures have different dances, in the sense that opinions are expressed in countless different forms, vocal tonalities and body postures.
disembodied facts and explanations
Facts and explanations that fail to include our opinions and personal experiences. As a result, expressing these facts or explanations when speaking or writing in intercultural business contexts comes across as lifeless to our listeners and readers.
Throughout our working lives we have achieved many tangible results. When we include details about these experiences while speaking or writing in intercultural business contexts, we engage our listeners and readers more actively.
Enact your experiences
This is Step 3 of the CLEAR method, in which I show you how to use stories to bring your opinions to life for your listeners and readers. We connect with others easily when we are sharing stories of firsthand experiences. This is an effective way to involve our listeners and readers, and to build trust within intercultural business contexts.
flow of language
When we generate ideas about what to say or write, we are not just using language to express what we already know. We are also using language to create what did not exist and to express what we did not know we knew. This generative capacity of language is what the flow of language process taps into.
Opinions that are solidly based on the speaker’s or writer’s knowledge and professional experience. This is the opposite of ungrounded interpretations, which are not based on any knowledge or firsthand experience. It is important to know the difference when speaking and listening.
Communication is a two-way street. Most of us tend to walk on our side by focusing only on what we need and what we want to say. Learning to walk on the other side as well, the listener’s and reader’s side, is a particularly useful skill within intercultural business contexts.
Our cultures teach us what is and is not appropriate when we communicate. When we work with other cultures, we cannot depend on those standards. All of us have to be willing to take the concerns of other cultures into account.
intercultural blind spots
For most of us, language is transparent. In other words, we do not see what it is or how it works. If we are blind to what is going on when we communicate in our own language, imagine how much you do not see when communicating in English as a second language with people from different cultures.
When you express opinions for which you feel genuine enthusiasm, that is always more charismatic for your listeners. That is communicated even if you do not share a common culture or language with them.
Speaking, writing, listening and reading in English as a second language within an intercultural business context is what I mean when I use this term. The term is used in a broader way by others within intercultural businesses and is also often synonymous with cross-cultural communication.
intercultural communication challenges
The range of difficulties in communicating that we experience when working in English as a second language with people from different cultural backgrounds.
intercultural communication coach
My book is designed as a gradual learning process that aims to increase your intercultural communication effectiveness. It is also designed to be used to help you complete work-related communication tasks. So it is much like a coach that guides you to increase your competences within intercultural communication by taking practical action on a regular basis.
intercultural communication skills
When we realize that we have to change how we speak, write and listen when using English as a second language within an intercultural context, we can begin to take actions to build the skills required.
intercultural communication style
What is missing for both native and non-native English speakers working within intercultural business contexts, is a style of communicating that keeps multicultural listeners in mind when speaking and writing. My book provides solutions to address what is missing. It is designed to help you to begin evolving a style that is a better fit with your intercultural business context.
When you are making a deliberate effort to adapt the way you speak, write or listen in an intercultural business context, you can call yourself an intercultural communicator. Congratulations!
intercultural credibility gap
Within our native cultures, we can often depend on using only our tone of voice and body language to build trust. That is not effective within intercultural business contexts. We have to articulate that we are trustworthy when communicating with people from other cultures.
Learning to listen with intercultural ears means you listen impartially, without cultural preconceptions about the “right” tone of voice, body language, or way of speaking or writing that can get in the way of an open exchange of opinions.
The act of communicating with a sincere desire to build a bridge to your listeners, because you are convinced that you can meet their concerns, has an emotional element to it that crosses cultures.
Our identity lives in language, more than we realize. Specifically, identity is formed by the opinions that we constantly exchange with others, which includes our opinions of ourselves. By expressing your opinion of yourself consistently, you are actively participating in the identity that you want to build within your intercultural business context.
Within intercultural contexts, our cultural standards about how written and business communications have to be done is often not a good fit. That is an opportunity to innovate new approaches to both content and structure.
You cannot change what you cannot see. Insight is the ability to see differently, so that you can choose what to change and then practice taking different actions. Intercultural business contexts provide us with lots of opportunity for insight and change.
Muzak is the music that plays continually in the background of supermarkets, which we pay little attention to. Within intercultural business contexts, I suggest that you regard the tone of opinions as something playing in the background and that you attach no importance to it. I also suggest that you view body language as simply the characteristic dance movements that are coherent with the music and rhythm of the speaker’s way of expressing his or her opinions.
Many of us currently working in English as a second language within an intercultural business context are trying to communicate in the same way that has been effective for us in the past. But we realize it is no longer a fit. We have no choice but to adapt our way of communicating to the intercultural present.
Deciding whether we trust someone or not will influence how we work with that person in the present and in the future. We do not realize that how we grant or withhold trust is culturally learned. However, few of us, from any culture, are inclined to trust with no evidence. In fact, trust has to be nurtured and earned the world over.
Knowing what you do not know is a sign of wisdom, according to the Greek philosopher Socrates. Intercultural wisdom is knowing what you do not know about other cultures. So being aware that you will never know how to accurately interpret the tone and body language of other cultures will make you a better, more impartial listener within intercultural business contexts.
A learning curve is a process whereby people develop a skill by learning from trial and error.
Link to your listener’s concerns
This is Step 2 of the CLEAR method, in which I show you how to make your professional opinions relevant to your listeners or readers. This is especially vital when communicating within intercultural business contexts, since we cannot take for granted that people from other cultures share our assumptions about relevance.
opinions speech stream
Regardless of our cultural background or the language that we speak, we all express our opinions. That is one of the five basic universal building blocks of communication along with requests, offers, promises and declarations.
You know that a spoken or written communication is not relevant to you whenever you hear yourself saying, “This is a waste of my time.” When you stop listening or reading it means it did not pass your relevancy test. The speaker or writer did not get your attention and then motivate you to listen or read more.
Repeat your concise opinion
This is Step 5 of the CLEAR method, in which I show you how to bring your listeners and readers full circle. The five-step CLEAR method ensures that your listeners are clear about your opinion, with each of the steps contributing to clarity in different ways. When you then restate your opinion at the end of the five-step sequence, your listeners will hear it differently than they did in Step 1.
sea of words
When you are speaking English as a second language, you can feel like you are swimming in a sea of words. It can seem vast and overwhelming. By changing your perspective on speaking and listening to include speech streams, you begin to feel confident that mastering spoken and written communication is not as complex as you feared.
Regardless of your cultural background or the language you speak, you coordinate activities with others in the following five ways: requests, offers, promises, declarations and opinions. My use of speech streams is a variation based on speech acts, which are used in linguistics, the philosophy of language and many foreign language training methods.
transmitter communication model
Without really thinking about it, most of us behave as if whatever we say or write is received exactly as we intended it by the listener. It is as if we imagine that somehow words magically float from our vocal chords (transmitters) into the ear drums (receptors) of our listeners. We see listening like an equation: words out equals words in. If we examine that more closely it becomes obvious how inappropriate such a model is for human beings, who always interpret what they hear or read.
Everyone expresses opinions every day about things they have no actual knowledge or personal experience of. An ungrounded interpretation is the opposite of a grounded interpretation, which is based on the speaker’s or writer’s knowledge and experience. It is important to know the difference between these when speaking and listening.
unique communication style
How we write, speak and listen has evolved over our lifetime. There are five key influences that formed our style: genetics, family, culture, education and profession. We all bring our unique style to using English as a second language.
What we all offer in a business context is not only our professional competences but also our unique perspective, which is the culmination of a broad range of knowledge and firsthand experience. That is a unique offer, because everyone has a different mix of knowledge and experience. This is especially true within intercultural business contexts.
The fundamental building blocks of communication that are universally understood are requests, offers, promises, declarations and opinions, since they are a part of every culture’s native language.
upper-intermediate ESL level
I targeted my book for upper-intermediate and advanced ESL learners. Since there are so many different systems of measurement, such as TOEFL, TOEIC and Cambridge English, I cannot be more specific about a particular test score. However, over the years my clients have ranged from upper-intermediate speakers who used English only occasionally during business assignments abroad, to intermediate through to advanced speakers who used it daily at work.
verbs of conviction
Verbs to use when you want to demonstrate a high degree of commitment to your professional opinions.
Words to avoid overusing when you want your opinions to be taken seriously in intercultural business contexts. For example, words such as “perhaps,” “maybe,” “it depends,” “may,” “might,” “can” and “could” make you sound uncertain or indifferent.