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Intercultural Communication: The image of the other: how useful are generalisations



1 Take some time to formulate what can hinder effective intercultural communication.

2 Finish these sentences:

The Belgian are…

The Germans are…

The Czech are

The Indian are

The Brazilians are…

The Japanese are…

(Your own culture) are…

  • Experiences that would lead to intense feelings and engagement of emotions.
  • Areas of knowledge that, through the process of socialization to a culture, are realized as correct or appropriate, but may involve differences due to differences in cultures that are difficult to understand.
  • The basics of cultural differences, especially those concerning the way people think or process information (Kushner and Brislin 1994: 39).

The above is a summary of some the most important factors which may have a strong negative influence on effective intercultural communication. It is not an exhaustive list – you may also have included attitudes to hierarchy and initiative-taking, breeching of one’s sense of personal space, approaches to giving and accepting criticism, etc.


However, having these factors in mind and planning in advance what you can do when you are involved in intercultural communication in as concrete terms as possible can be helpful.




Specialists say that humans perceive reality through generalisations. While forming and sticking to such may be a natural, unavoidable process which impacts on the way we acquire knowledge about the objective reality, it can lead to some negative consequences with regard to intercultural communication.

It must be pointed out that such generalisations help us evaluate our own as well as other cultures and ways of life. They influence the pattern of relationships our culture maintains with other cultures and justify the way we treat people from other cultures.

Here we are going to focus briefly on the generalised images we form as members of cultural groups.


  • Consist basically of shared beliefs or thoughts about a particular human group usually in terms of behaviour, habits, etc.
  • The objective of stereotypes is to simplify reality: “they are like that”.
  • They may be negative and positive - we often have positive stereotypes about our own cultural group.


  • A prejudice is a judgement we make about another person or other people without really knowing them.
  • Prejudices are learned as part of our socialisation process and they are very difficult to modify or eradicate. Therefore it is important that we are aware that we have them.
  • They can also be negative or positive.


  • This is the belief that our response to the world - our culture - is the right one. Our values and ways of life are universal, they are the correct ones for all people.
  • Our judgements, evaluations and justifications are influenced strongly by our ethnocentrism.
  • Mere contact with people from other cultures can actually reinforce our prejudices, our ethnocentric spectacles blinding us to anything but to what we actually expect to see.

Based on All Different, All Equal (2004), Autobiography of Intercultural Encounters (2009)

Hands-on Tasks and Reflection

1 Go back to task 1 from the Lead-in section. Why did you finish the sentences in the way you did? Was it the result of a stereotype or possibly of a prejudice you may have towards one of these cultural groups (including your own)?

2 Go back to task 3 from Part Two, Topic 1, Hands-on tasks and reflection. Answer the following question on the basis of your reflections on the encounter you described trying to avoid overgeneralisations.

  • What did this encounter teach you about the other person and the other person’s culture?

3 We hold similar generalised ideas not only based on nation or ethnicity. Look at these overgeneralised statements and then answer the questions.

  • The boss is always right.
  • Secretaries can’t think on their own.
  • It’s not polite to tell people what you really think about their performance.
  • Administrative staff should always be flexible and change procedures if necessary.

Which of them do you agree with? Why?

Can you add more?

Which of these might have a negative impact if you work on an intercultural team / host specialists from other cultures?