Five cross-cultural communication aspects to consider in a European University setting
What are some important cross-cultural aspects to think about in a highly connected community? Cătălin Mosoia, staff member at SNSPA and PhD researcher in Psychology, shares his insight.
A European inter-university campus is one of the CIVICA pillars and consists of a physical and digital network for students, early-stage researchers, faculty and staff, exchange opportunities at all levels, joint programmes and courses, to name just a few. More than 50,000 students across Europe are part of CIVICA – The European University of Social Sciences.
During our activities, on the one hand, students interact with their peers and faculty, which enriches their social and European cultural experience. On the other hand, students and faculty are each representatives of different cultures in direct contact, interaction and communication.
In line with CIVICA’s core values, such as commitment to excellence and the building of proven partnerships, effective dialogue between representatives of different cultures is essential, and depends on various variables.
To get expert insight, we talked to Cătălin Mosoia, a staff member at SNSPA and a PhD researcher in Psychology1 at the “Constantin Rădulescu-Motru” Institute for Philosophy and Psychology of the Romanian Academy, where he focuses on individuals residing in different cultural contexts. Cătălin shares five important cross-cultural aspects to consider when interacting in a community such as that of our European University.
Considering the pandemic situation, we assume that the type of direct interaction described here is not affected by social distancing rules, which should take precedence otherwise.
CIVICA has eight official languages of teaching and communication, and there are many other languages spoken by its community. Knowing the interlocutor's language is advantageous, but this is not the case in most situations. Researchers agree that a language reflects the views of that culture2. There are cultures that value directness, brevity, and concise language use; others value indirect or elaborate forms of speech. From a different angle, some cultures consider formality necessary, whereas others love informality. This is not a matter of right or wrong – it is just different. Using simple words and a correct sentence structure in the language of dialogue, and then asking if it makes sense, may greatly help. Language may be a barrier, but let's try using it as a bridge.
The physical distance to another person while in a conversation is a cultural aspect to take into account. In a global study of about 9,000 participants from 42 countries, scientists agree that interpersonal distance varies across countries, but is on average 135,1 cm for social, 91,7 cm for personal, and 31,9 cm for close or intimate interactions—individual characteristics, such as age and gender, influence interpersonal space preferences. And, exciting or not, some variation in results can be explained by temperature in a given region: the higher a country's annual temperature, the closer the physical interaction.3 According to an anthropological study, Americans are comfortable conducting business at a distance of 120 cm (4 feet), while people from the Middle East stand much closer.4 Personally, while I was on holiday in Turkey a couple of years ago, I observed that most Turks stand at a distance of about 35-40 cm.
- Eye contact
To look or not to look into the eyes of the interlocutor, that is the question. Like distance, patterns of eye contact vary around the world5. There are cultures where eye contact is a sign of attentiveness or respect. In contrast, the lack of eye contact may be a sign of avoidance or dishonesty. In today’s widespread online environments, no eye contact seems a bad idea, as the interlocutor may become uncooperative6. Hence, the risk of separation between online interlocutors increases.
- Private information
Personal data is any information that relates to an identifiable person and it is as important in the real world as it is in the online space. Sharing information on our family members, for example, is a culturally specific aspect. In some cultures, this may mean showing trust in a person, while in others it may not be appropriate to provide private details to an interlocutor who is not a family member. Therefore, knowing the privacy limits of each culture fosters a respectful attitude toward the interlocutor.
Touch is related to the culture of both interlocutors. It may be perceived, for example, as a sign of a close personal relationship, a gesture to draw attention, or an attempt to flirt. However, it may also suggest a breakdown of personal space.
In conclusion, these are five fundamental cross-cultural communication aspects to think about in a highly connected community. Some other aspects to keep in mind when having a cross-cultural interaction are: the place of your interaction (e.g. home country or elsewhere); the medium (e.g. online or face to face); the time span (e.g. medium-term in the case of international students); the purpose (e.g. study); the type of involvement of each person (e.g. participant, observer); the frequency of the interaction;andthe degree ofintimacy between participants (e.g. superficial or close).
Can you think of other cross-cultural communication dimensions to take into consideration?
Written by: SNSPA
Photo: Students from various countries interact during an Erasmus+ welcome event at SNSPA, 2018 (Credit: SNSPA)
- Cătălin is also a member of APR (The Romanian Psychologists Association), APA (The American Psychological Association), APS (The Association for Psychological Science), and IACCP (The International Association for Cross Cultural Psychology).
- Adler, R. B., & Proctor II, R. F. (2014). Looking Out/Looking In (Fourteenth ed.). Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
- Sorokowska, A., Sorokowski, P., Hilpert, P., Cantarero, K., Frackowiak, T., Ahmadi, K., . . . Pierce , Jr., J. D. (2017). Preferred Interpersonal Distances: A Global Comparison. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 1-16. doi:10.1177/0022022117698039
- Idem 2.
- Idem 2. See also: Matsumoto, D. (2006). Culture and nonverbal behavior. In V. Manusov & M. L. Patterson (Eds.), The Sage handbook of nonverbal communication. Thousand Oaks: Sage, and Bavelas, J. B., Coates, L., & Johnson, T. (2002). Listener responses as a collaborative process: The role of gaze. Journal of Communication, 52, 566–579.
- Lapidot-Lefler, N., & Barak, A. (2012). Effects of anonymity, invisibility, and lack of eye-contact on toxic online disinhibition. Computers in Human Behavior, 28, 434-443. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2011.10.014