The idea that the six stumbling blocks of "Assumption of Similarities" "Language Differences" "Non-Verbal Misinterpretations" "Preconceptions and Stereotypes" "A Tendency to Evaluate (the other culture)" and "High Anxiety (Stress such as Culture Shock)" are some of the main problems in communication is quite reasonable.
|LaRay Barna, author of "Stumbling Blocks..." passed away in October 2010.|
In my opinion, the most important key word in the Barna text appears in the conclusion, where Barna talks about the need for people to not only be aware of the stumbling blocks, but also to make efforts to gradually improve their "intercultural communication competence".
So, what is the competence? How can we improve it? The most important part of intercultural competence is the ability to listen and try to understand with an open mind. When we encounter a person or custom who we cannot understand, when tend to jump to evaluate them as being wrong or crazy and to distance ourselves from them. We prefer to stay close to people who we "get".
To improve our ability to listen and try to understand people, the best thing to do is to try to get to know as many "different" people as possible. Actively make chances to talk with people who you feel are different from yourself. Invite them to some event you are holding. Go to some event that you feel is "unacceptable" or "alien" (politically or culturally) and see what happens. Try to get to know people without judging them from their fashion, labels, appearance etc.
Sometimes the stress may become too much, but my experience tells me that, more often than not, we discover that we actually much in common and you find out that, while they ARE different indeed, that difference is nothing to fear.
By the way, when we talk about "intercultural," many people tend to imagine very different groups from different continents or those who speak different languages, but in fact...almost any conversation we have with someone is an "intercultural" communication event. Even when I talk with my brother...he comes from several different cultures that I don't share such as his current company's culture, or Arizona culture, so we need to assume that we will have differences and use good intercultural communication competence. In that sense, there probably is NOT any major difference between interpersonal communication and intercultural communication.
PS: Of course, don't go to groups or places that are not safe. I will not be responsible for students who travel off to visit a cannibalistic tribe and get eaten etc.