5   The Effects of Culture on Small Group Communication

This chapter extends the basic communication principles introduced in the previous two chapters to include information about how culture affects someone’s communication behavior. An important point the chapter does stress is that “intercultural” does not mean “international”; people from different subcultures within a dominant culture can have just as much trouble communicating as people from different countries. Intercultural encounters in small groups will increase, yet most of students are not aware of the many difficulties that intercultural encounters can involve. The chapter is designed to sensitize students to these difficulties and to reduce their natural tendency toward ethnocentrism.

  1. All interactions are to some extent intercultural, but some much more than others. Being able to work effectively in intercultural small groups will be increasingly necessary in the next decades. Everyone must abandon ethnocentricity and learn to appreciate, rather than denigrate, diversity.
  2. Cultures vary along several key dimensions, including worldview, or beliefs about the nature and purpose of life, which help determine our values, activity orientation, customs, and beliefs; the degree of individualism; the degree of power distance; the extent to which people avoid uncertainty; whether a culture values stereotypically masculine or feminine behavior; and the extent to which people rely more on the words or the context to determine the meaning of something.
  3. Language differences between cultures or co-cultures can also cause major misunderstandings.
  4. Race, age, and social class differences can be viewed as cultural differences. Different races, generational groupings, and social classes have different rules for behavior.
  5. Two ethical principles should guide intercultural interactions in groups: the worth and dignity of humans should be protected, and peace among all people should be promoted.

Questions to clarify:

1.         What’s the difference between a collectivist and an individualistic culture? Give examples of each.

2.         What is power distance and how can members’ concepts about appropriate power distance affect their behavior in a group?

3.         How is co-culture different from subculture? Is it a preferable term? Why or why not?

3.         Why is the backchannel an important source of potential intercultural misunderstanding?

4.         Define intercultural communication and give an example.

5.         What does ethnocentricity mean, and why is it important to small group communication?

6.         Can you have intercultural communication between people from the same culture? Defend your answer.

7.         What does current research identify as predictable differences between the communication behaviors of men and women?

8.         What does current research identify as predictable differences between the communication behaviors of African Americans and European Americans?

Reflective writing Topics to prepare for discussion

1.         In what ways are you ethnocentric? How do you think this affects your behavior toward others?

2.         When you work with others who are very different from you (perhaps from other countries or from other areas of the United States), what kinds of things to you think and feel about those people?

3.         How do you feel when you have to share a grade with other members of the group? Do you prefer to be rewarded for your own work, or as a member of a group? Why?

4.         Can a communication interaction be totally intracultural or mostly intracultural? How?

5.         Consider the cultural characteristics that affect communication: How do you suppose such characteristics are formed?




Buxton/Speech 225                                                                                                 Study guide and exam review