What IS the Culture in Intercultural Communication?

Monthly Archives: August 2013

What IS the Culture in Intercultural Communication?

123RF Hello Communication 19046168_sSince we’ve clarified the meaning of culture in a previous blog, it’s important that we clarify some other terms.  When we talk about intercultural communication, cross-cultural communication and international communication, these terms do not mean the same things but are often used interchangeably.

Intercultural communication is the communication exchange between people who are different culturally – it examines how the specific cultural differences affect the interactions of the people engaged.  For example, if you are from Switzerland and your colleague is from Singapore, the interaction would be intercultural because of the communication strategies each person uses is different based upon their cultural background.  The focus is on the individual as the unit of analysis.

Cross-cultural communication is not about the interaction of people from different cultures communicating, but the comparison of their differences across culture.  So, if we look at our communicators from Switzerland and Singapore and compare their communication patterns, we would be talking about a cross-cultural comparison. The study of cross-cultural communication comes from anthropology and is usually comparative in nature.

International communication also involves the interaction of people from differing cultures, but it is focused on macro issues, such as governmental or political influences that affect the communication processes as people interact with each other in each respective country.  For example, what is the government’s influence on the process of people communicating from Switzerland and Singapore?  International communication is about the power, politics and processes of one nation influencing another.  This form of communication originally comes from the study of international propaganda during World War I and II.  The unit of analysis is therefore dependent on the country, the organization or world systems.

In conclusion: While these terms are often used interchangeably, it is important to understand these distinctions.  To mix them up simply confuses communication – it would be like saying, “Cultures do this…” and “Cultures do that…”   It is people in different cultures who do things – not the culture.  We’ll try to be very specific and clear with our terminology throughout the GlobalBizLeader website.  Stay with us as we continue to explore intercultural issues in the side-by-side global marketplace – this website provides the services and knowledge to achieve successful global leadership through intercultural communication!



Gudykunst, W. B., & Mody, B. (Eds.). (2002). Handbook of international and intercultural communication. Sage.