Cultural relativism is the view that cultures are merely different, not deficient, and each culture’s norms and practices should be assessed only from the perspective of the culture itself, not by standards embraced by another culture. It is the idea that one cannot make judgments about a culture just because they are not a part of one's own. Outsiders should be able to see the cultural from a neutral perspective and not judge the culture before understanding it. Each culture should be viewed with respect and as an equal because no one culture is better than any other. They should be allowed to practice their own beliefs, what a cultures believes to be true, and values, a shared view about what is right. Cultural relativism emphasizes that ethnocentrism, which is the belief that one’s culture is superior to everyone else’s, should not be forced upon cultures, and cultures should remain unprejudiced toward each other. Cultural relativism is the moral and ethical way to look at different cultures.
Intracultural miscommunication draws on the fact that all humans subconsciously reflect their cultural backgrounds in day to day communication. Culture does not just lie in the way one eats or dresses, but in the manner in which people present themselves as an entity to the outside world. Language is a huge proponent of communication, as well as a large representation of one's cultural background. Cultural miscommunication often stems from different and conflicting styles of speech and messages. A perfectly normal intonation pattern for a native German speaker may seem angry and aggressive to a foreign listener. Connotations of words, as well as meanings of slang phrases, vary greatly across cultural lines, and a lack of tolerance and understanding of this fact often results in misinterpretations.
Non-verbal communication greatly varies across cultural lines. One must take the time to study different cultures so as to fully understand messages being transmitted. There are many aspects of non-verbal communication, such as gesture, facial expression and inter-personal space, that affect the way a message is construed.
High- and low-power distance: Power distance is the degree of equality, or inequality, between people in a particular society. The lower the power distance of a country, the more dominant individuality and individual rights are. When power distance is low, society does not emphasize people’s status, power, or wealth. In other words, individualistic cultures have low power distance and collectivist cultures have high power distance. Examples of countries with high power distance include Malaysia, Russia, and Romania while countries with low power distance include Austria, Israel, and Denmark.
Individualism–collectivism (the Me–We dimension):The individualism-collectivism dimension is thought to be the most important of all value dimensions that distinguish cultures. The individualist culture has a “me” consciousness. Individuals are loosely linked to each other, but largely independent of group identification. Emphasis is placed on the self; they are motivated by their own preferences, needs, and goals, and personal achievement and initiative are stressed. Words such as “independence,” “self,” “privacy,” and “rights” are common in individualistic cultural conversations. Examples of individualistic societies would be the United States, or Western Europe countries.
The collectivist culture has a “we” consciousness. Individuals are closely linked to one or more groups. Commitment to these valued groups is a primary goal of collectivists, and they tend to look to the goals and successes of the group rather than to the individuals. Words such as “loyalty,” “responsibility,” and “community” permeate collectivist cultural conversations. Examples of collectivist societies are many Asian, African, and South American cultures.
- Iowa State University. International Community Resources. Iowa State Study Abroad Center, October 19, 2011. October 30, 2011.
- "Hofestede's Cultural Dimensions." Professional Translation Services | Interpreters | Intercultural Communication & Training. Web. 31 Oct. 2011. <http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/intercultural/dimensions.html>.
- "Cross-Cultural Communication." University of Colorado Boulder. Web. 31 Oct. 2011. <http://www.colorado.edu/conflict/peace/treatment/xcolcomm.htm>.