Adapting To Cultural Differences When Communicating Electronically By Dr Alusine M. Kanu
It is increasingly likely that we communicate with people who are far away from where we work and live. It's not unusual to have email conversations with people from around the globe. Nor are conference calls or video conferences among people thousands of miles apart rare or surprising. The world is indeed small when it comes to communi-cating with people from around the globe. While electronic communication can be inclusive and foster dialogue, the question of when and how to involve others or to get involved is challenging. And because of these trends of electronic communication, cultural norms about acceptable behavior have yet to fully develop.
Teams of communication researchers point out that when we communicate via email or phone, it takes a bit longer to interpret information about relationships because often there are fewer nonverbal cues available. In the case of email, we can't see or hear the person we're exchanging messages with. With a telephone call, we can hear a person, but we miss facial expressions and body posture information. Even during a video con-ference we are not able to see all of a person's body posture or watch everyone partici-pating 100 percent of the time. The potential for misunderstanding is already present because of cultural differences that are compounded by the lack of nonverbal information which usually provides vital information about the nature of the relationship we have with others. When nonverbal messages are diminished because we're not communicating with people face to face, it's important to seek other sources of information about the nature of the relationship with them. Specifically, what should we do?
First, we may need to be more direct when responding or expressing how you feel; we may need to describe emotional responses in writing.
Second, we may need to ask more questions to clarify meanings.
Third, it may be necessary to do more paraphrasing to confirm that we understand what others are saying.
Finally, we simply may need to be more patient with others; relationships may take longer to develop because of the diminished nonverbal cues.
Despite rapid advances in information and communications technology, approaches to networked learning, relatively little is known about actual experience in the field using these technologies to facilitate communications between individuals and groups from different cultural backgrounds. Rather, it is widely assumed that it suffices to deploy standardized technologies worldwide, and expect in turn that ways of communicating will become standardized for cohorts of culturally diverse learners and teachers participating in local, national or international programs. One of the major pitfalls in networked learning programs for culturally diverse participant communities is miscommunication. Expanding our understanding of the process of intercultural communication in a virtual learning environment is a necessary step in designing exemplary networked learning in international/intercultural education.