Equitable Collaboration:
Sources of Cross-cultural Miscommunication

1. Assumption of similarities. The “invisible” aspects of our culture lead us to assume our communication style and way of behaving is how “everyone” communicates and behaves. When they act “like us” we think they are right or we don’t give it much thought. When someone acts differently, we may judge them negatively.  

2. Language differences. Speaking a non-native language can easily lead to miscommunication. Even people speaking the same language can experience miscommunication because the same word can mean something very different. For example, “pop” on the west coast of the United States usually means a soda drink, while on the east coast it often refers to drug use or shooting someone; being “stuffed” in the United States generally means you have had too much to eat, while in Australia it often means you are pregnant. These are differences that can have serious miscommunication impacts.  

3. Nonverbal misinterpretations. We send and receive wordless messages through body language, facial expression, and eye contact. Even clothing and furniture style can communicate an intended or unintended message.  

4. Preconceptions and stereotypes. Culture influences the way we see the world. Preconceived notions and stereotyping occur when “oversimplified” characteristics are used to judge a group of people or an individual associated with a group.  

5. Tendency to evaluate. When we hear communication or observe behavior, we tend to interpret the message or the action through our cultural lens. We may evaluate the message or behavior as “good” or “bad” without really understanding the intent.  

6. High anxiety. Not understanding what is appropriate or expected can raise our anxiety level. Miscommunication can be a direct result of being in an anxious state. 

Source: 52 Activities for Improving Cross-Cultural Communication, Stringer & Cassiday: Cross-Cultural Miscommunication, LaRay Barna