Strive to Overcome Ethnocentrism Assignment
As discussed earlier, resist the tendency to think “mine is better” when comparing your cult ure to that of others. We are inclined to evaluate other cultures on the basis of our own soci ety’s dominant culture, and too often people conclude that their own way of doing things is superior. We occasionally convey an ethnocentric attitude, without realizing it, through our language choices. Instead of saying, for example, “In Britain, they drive on the wrong side o f the road,” say, “In Britain, they drive on the left side of the road.” Remember that other cul tures can be (and frequently are) different. These differences are not wrong or strange, and we can learn to recognize the importance and value of other people’s cultures. In fact, whe n we are open to learning about other people’s unique cultural experiences, we reduce our own uncertainty and increase our positive attitude toward those individuals (Nelson, 1992; Wilson, 1993).
One specific way to do this is to apply the concepts in this chapter to a culture that is differe nt than yours. For example, is that culture low or high context? Individualistic or collectivis tic? Monochronic or polychronic? Identifying these cultural characteristics can help you un derstand why members of that culture behave and communicate the way that they do. Und erstanding the source of the differences between your culture and another culture can shift your thinking away from evaluating other cultures as simply “good” or “bad,” Cultural syst ems are often much more complex than that. The ability to do this shows that you have skill in applying your knowledge and motivation in understanding cultural distinctions and facil itating intercultural communication competence.
Engage in Communication with Individuals from Cultures Other Than Your Own
One effective way to reduce your ethnocentrism and your brain’s natural tendency to stere otype is to seek out opportunities to communicate with people who are culturally different than you. In 1954, Gordon Allport developed the contact hypothesis— commonly referred to as intergroup contact theory— which claims that the best tool to reduce one’s negative perceptions of, stigma toward, or p rejudice toward a specific group different from one’s own (or an “outgroup”) is interperson al communication with individuals from that group. For example, Japanese students who to ok part in volunteer abroad programs had better interpersonal communication skills, less e thnocentric viewpoints, and greater overall intercultural competence than students who di d not volunteer abroad (Yashima, 2010). While the theory originally referred to racial ingro ups and outgroups, it has since been expanded to various outgroup types, including those who might be differently abled or of a different religion, gender, or sexuality (Pettigrew & T ropp, 2006). Think about the example of the co- cultures that existed at your high school. Perhaps you had stereotyped perceptions about st udents in theatre. Maybe you were assigned a group project with someone from theatre, an d by working together outside of class, you soon learned that your stereotypes were misgui ded. This is Allport’s premise: By having positive, interpersonal communication with some one who is “different” than us, we are likely to find that those differences are only minimal. Then, we will generalize these positive perceptions to the entire outgroup.
Recognize the Unique Importance of Nonverbal Communication
As individuals in a dominant, low- context culture, most Americans rely more on verbal communication to communicate with one another, but nonverbal communication sometimes is more helpful for intercultural co mmunication. On a wider scale, nonverbal communication includes aspects of the environm ent, time, and appearance, so observe your surroundings and monitor what people are wea ring to better understand and adjust to different cultures you visit. Though it is difficult to u nderstand someone who speaks a different language, there are also many nonverbal messa ges that have the same, or similar, meanings across cultures, and using such messages in an intercultural interaction can better help you achieve shared meaning with someone, even i f you do not share the same language. For example, nodding one’s head is a nearly universal nonverbal gesture that indicates yes— though in certain areas of central Europe, such as Bulgaria, Albania, and Macedonia, a singl e head nod upward may also communicate disagreement. Though there is no official univer sal language or nonverbal way to communicate with others, acknowledging and accepting t hat each culture is unique can motivate you to learn about other cultures and teach you to b e flexible, accepting the differences that may arise between your culture and another cultur e.