Intercultural Communication: Overcoming Challenges

Vanessa Verbitsky's picture

In our constantly evolving world and innovative societies, it can be hard to keep up with how different diverse cultures and peoples are becoming more and more intertwined. Globalization has increased greatly over the past ten to twenty years, mostly thanks to international business growth rates, online/technological advancements and product development outsourcing to other countries. 

But with a world becoming so interconnected, it can be hard to find a balance between maintaining diverse cultures, identities, and values while also compromising parts of personal identity for the sake of easier interaction, social acceptance, and smoother business interactions.

The key to finding such balance is ensuring that all parties maintain a certain cultural and personal understanding of each other, which can be easier said than done. 

Intercultural Communication: Overcoming Challenges

In order to build acceptance and understanding between people, it is crucial to begin with an open mind, free of personal or social opinions and biases.

But what is acceptance, really?

When someone says they accept you, does that mean they accept you as a person, your beliefs, and your values? Acceptance does not mean one has to have the same opinions and social standpoints as you do but rather be able to come to a mutual understanding without judgment, bias, or retaliation. 

Balancing between ethnocentrism (the act of cultural rejection based on differences) and ethnorelativism (the essential assimilation of cultures integrating into one) is key to establishing neutral views on culture because either end of the spectrum does not represent acceptance, but rather cultural superiority. Both sides must compromise in order to achieve understanding, while still maintaining personal identity and values held within their own cultures. Being placed on this middle ground between cultural views is what builds the foundation for acceptance. 

The power of understanding builds from the ability to assess cultural differences with an open mind, as perspective affects our ability to form effective communication and strive toward cultural acceptance. 

Successful Intercultural communication can be seen when the following five components of cultural miscommunication are addressed. 

5 Main Components of Cultural Miscommunication

Intercultural Communication: Overcoming Challenges


Language, in a sense, is the foundation of culture. It is how we express ourselves and communicate with one another. Languages cannot always be directly translated into another, due to specific phrasings or figures of speech that stem from cultural ways of thinking. 

Although everyone likes to use modern technology, such as google translate, to help with the physical communication behind our words, it will only get us so far when effectively communicating overall. 

Due to the increase in globalization, English is quickly becoming a universal language, though to assume that all people should be able to speak English should not be encouraged, as it may lead to the loss of important aspects of cultural and individual identity. It is a luxury that many people around the world have taken the time to learn English for easier communication, but many may choose to only speak their native tongue as a way of respecting their own culture and territory; that is their right. 

Before visiting a foreign country, it is the traveller’s responsibility to learn to try and adapt to the culture and customs while attempting to learn and respect the language of where they are visiting. Both visitors and locals should make a continuous effort to be flexible, patient, and willing to compromise cultural and communication barriers in order to achieve understanding. 


Cultural misconceptions are often linked to historical events or reputations formed in previous time periods. These views can be passed on for generations, even though people evolve and change, and many cultures no longer relate to these past events. 

This is the struggle of avoiding stereotypes (or prejudices), because it is often what we have been taught or are the views we have grown up hearing about. Historic events are often tied to stereotypes or prejudices, and it can be difficult to dissociate an individual from the collective. 

Many of these stereotypes tend to be false, especially when relating to an individual rather than a large group or collective. For instance, when thinking of your own stereotypes that could be related to your own culture, more often than not, you would not claim to associate with those assumptions. 

When experiencing other cultures, be sure to relate to the individual, rather than giving into assumptions about the collective culture.

Signs and symbols

Symbols can be linked to religions, groups, and historic events which may cause people to form bias early on in a relationship solely based on what a sign or symbol may or may not represent. For example, certain religious symbols may be thought of differently in different parts of the world based on that culture’s own beliefs and practices. Although these symbols may hold certain meanings to different individuals, it is important to understand that these representations may hold different levels of meaning for different people.

Do not assume that the meaning behind a symbol is the same for all that are part of its associated group. One should hold a level of conscious understanding and seek to uncover the meaning of the symbol for the individual rather than assuming grouped association. 

Beliefs and Views 

Viewpoints are formed from many factors, including environmental impact, personal beliefs, and guidance from influencing figures in our lives. It has and always will be virtually impossible for people to 100% agree on any given topic, as we all have different views, values, beliefs, religions, goals, etc.

However, it is how we react and respond to those that oppose our own views that make the difference in reaching cultural acceptance. 

In order to reach mutual understanding and respect when faced with different viewpoints, don't try to relate someone’s belief systems and traditions to your own if they are not one and the same. Everyone’s belief systems are unique, due to the factors that have formed their individual and collective identity throughout their entire lives, so it is highly unlikely that your own values and beliefs were formed from the same concepts. 

With that being said, you should always strive to find mutual ground and understand how and why a type of thinking could be the way it is, but again without trying to directly relate it to your own. 

Us vs. Them mentality

An Us vs. Them mentality stems from an ethnocentric point of view between cultures. Not allowing yourself to form bonds and relationships between similarities will result in this way of thinking. 

We may be different; have different physical appearances, speak different languages, etc., but when it comes down to the basics of humanity, you will find that we are all very much the same

At the foundation, most people are all searching for the same things in life: to find love, have a purpose, and be successful in fulfilling whatever it is we set out to achieve in life. Though our ways of expression may differ from one another, it is important to remember the foundations of who we all are as a common people. This helps to eradicate the “us vs. them” mentality, by instead looking for the similarities and establishing relationships that can help form mutual understandings.  

Recognizing these five components of cultural miscommunication is the first step toward building positive relationships with people of different cultures and beliefs. 

Identify the differences between your own culture and others, interpret and try to understand someone’s point of view based on their cultural background and circumstances, dissociate your own beliefs from the situation (as you do not want to impose and lead to further possible conflict or come across as expressing cultural superiority), and lastly allow yourself to build a relationship from a neutral standpoint and try not to bring past notions or stereotypes into your own situation.

State of mind changes perspective, and when beginning from a neutral standpoint it allows you the opportunity to assess and view from all angles before your own opinions and bias can affect your judgment, making it more difficult to form effective and respectful communication and language between different cultures. 

Intercultural Communication: Overcoming Challenges




Vanessa Verbitsky is the Intercultural Business and Communications editor for Wandering Educators. She is currently studying at MacEwan University in Edmonton, Alberta while completing her Bachelor of Commerce degree with a major in International Business and a minor in Marketing. As Vanessa strives to gain a more in-depth experience related to her international business studies, she will also attend the Catholic University of Lille, in France for the 2022/23 academic year as part of an inter-university exchange. She hopes her continued research and experience in the field will further her academic and professional development as she looks forward to her emerging career in international development and marketing.