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Narration of incident

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In the current society we living, Intercultural communication is a necessity for living especially in multicultural societies like Singapore where people of many races and religions living together. Lack of knowledge of another culture can lead to mistakes in communication, sometimes also comes with consequences.

During my poly days, I took psychology as my cross-disciplinary subject. One day, we received a group project to do and it’s about explaining “Different types of conditioning and stimulus”.

We made a group of 3 where one of them came from China not too long ago so his English is not fluent at that time. The third guy who is also Chinese became the translator when he need any, since I’m not a Chinese speaker. Some topics in the project were hard for him to explain to as there is no direct translation for certain words. We still tried our best to make him understand it. We can clearly see that he is having a hard time understanding the topics. He asked me to explain it a few times, which I did. He didn’t ask any cross question or anything while I’m explaining, this made me assume that all was going fine for him.

We only realized about it when we realized that he did the given task wrongly by misinterpreting it. He didn’t directly ask me for help, since he felt like bothering me too much, it seems. I didn’t realize it since he didn’t tell me about it straightforwardly, and I felt bad about it afterward. It could have been a lot better if he asked me about it more directly or if I understood his hesitance at that point of time. This was a problem that I faced when working with people from different cultures.

Identification of triggers

Insufficiency of equivalents:

Insufficiency of equivalents is another barrier in intercultural communication. Samovar et al. (2000) noted that, “Many words are culture-bound and have no direct equivalents” (p. 132). Direct translation is very difficult due to this.

He also gave an example of which, “a tribe in a mountainous jungle region” has words for “river and stream” (p. 134), but there is no word for ocean. This makes direct translation impossible for “ocean”. These difficulties develop from a lack of equivalents from different languages.

Level of context:

The level of context in words varies in different cultures. Some cultures practice direct reply but others don’t. Bowe and Martin (2007) studied speech acts, such as “requests, complaints, apologies, acceptance of apologies and compliments” (p. 4) varying in different cultures.

Some asks for help or anything directly which people from other culture don’t. (Bowe & Martin, 2007). Samovar et al. (2000) specified, “the use of direct and indirect language is a major linguistic difference between North Americans and many Asian cultures, such as the Chinese” (p. 129). Chinese people usually like to use a more implicit reply to compensate negativity in speech, which is a “reflection of an indirect approach to communication” (p. 129) to be courteous towards others, he explained. Others might misunderstand this due to the “contrary-to-face value” (p. 129) by the politeness in their speech (Samovar et al., 2000).

Proposed solution

Being an Active Listener:

Active listening popularized by Carl Rogers and Richard Farson (n.d.). It was also supported by the counselors and therapists (Brownell, 2009; Burstein, 2010). Listeners should be aware of the verbal and nonverbal contents with also the feelings of the speaker, to fully understand their message. To be more active listeners, we can follow their guidelines (Rogers & Farson, n.d.).

Listening to what the message is.

Listeners must listen carefully to what the other person is saying.

Understanding their feelings when they speak.

Listeners should also try to figure out the other party’s feelings when they convey their message.

Give a response to their feelings.

Listeners must let the person know he understands the message and their feelings.

Take note of all verbal and non-verbal clues.

Listeners must take note of the body language while listening. The listener can ask if anything is wrong, if he feels something is not going correctly.

Ask them back by rephrasing it.

Listeners may rephrase and send the message back to the other party as feedback. This allows them to respond with more information.


People of different cultures practice different habits and speak different languages. For my incident as stated earlier, it could have been prevented if I tried to understand their confusion in mind by their body language.

They could have asked me about it by rephrasing it too and I could have explained to them again in a more informative way about the questions of the assignment topics.

Therefore, being an active listener would help us overcome any intercultural communication problems I believe.

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