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    Putting Theory into Practice

    DDeenniissee SSoolloommoonn aanndd JJeennnniiffeerr TThheeiissss

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  • First published 2013by Routledge711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017

    Simultaneously published in the UKby Routledge2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN

    Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business

    2013 Taylor & Francis

    The right of Denise Solomon and Jennifer Theiss to be identified as authors of this work has been asserted by them in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

    All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.

    Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe.

    Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication DataSolomon, Denise.

    Interpersonal communication : putting theory into practice / Denise Solomon and Jennifer Theiss.

    p. cm.1. Interpersonal communication. I. Theiss, Jennifer. II. Title. P94.7.S65 2013302.2dc23 2012016255

    ISBN 13: 9780415807517 (hbk)ISBN 13: 9780415807524 (pbk)ISBN 13: 9780203147832 (ebk)

    Typeset in Berkeleyby Keystroke, Station Road, Codsall, Wolverhampton.

    Publisher: Linda BathgateTextbook Development Manager: Rebecca PearceEditorial Assistant: Kayley HoffmanProduction Editor: Gail NewtonMarketing Manager: Paul MyatovichText Design: Karl Hunt at Keystroke Typesetting and Graphic Design LtdCopy-editor: Susan DunsmoreProofreader: Rictor NortonIndexer: Penelope KentCover Design: Gareth ToyeCompanion Website Designer: Marie Mansfield

    Please visit the companion website at

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  • After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

    1. Understand the different layers of culture.2. Describe the steps through which cultures form and change.3. Identify three types of communication that explicitly reflect culture.4. Recognize barriers to effective intercultural communication.5. Strengthen your ability to communicate with people of different cultures.


    In this chapter, you will learn how to:

    1. Find experiences you and a communication partner have in common.2. Adapt to new cultural environments.3. Help others understand your culture.4. Explore communication practices in different cultures.5. Explore the rituals and stories of other cultures.6. Strengthen the culture of relationships you value.7. Maintain realistic expectations for intercultural communication.8. Avoid communicating based on stereotypes.9. Avoid exaggerating sex differences.


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    65 SUMMARY


    67 KEY WORDS



    Source: SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty


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  • In March 2011, Alexandra Wallace posted a YouTube video in which she ranted about theprevalence and mannerisms of Asian students enrolled along with her at the University ofCalifornia, Los Angeles. In the video, Ms. Wallace complains about Asian students using cellphones in the library, makes fun of the sound of Asian languages, and criticizes the internationalstudent community for failing to adopt American practices. The video drew a widespreadresponse, ranging from the university chancellor, who criticized the video as thoughtless andhurtful, to dozens of online messages and videos condemning Ms. Wallace and her attitudes.Ms. Wallace even found herself on the receiving end of death threats. Although UCLA decided not to discipline Ms. Wallace formally, citing her freedom of speech rights, the third-year studentended up leaving the university mid-semester. The story of Ms. Wallace illustrates theconsequences that can occur when people disrespect cultural differences in interpersonal com-munication and violate their own cultures standards for appropriate communication behavior.

    People from different races, cultures, religions, and even genders may use and interpret symbols in different ways. Themeanings that you create through communication are necessarily influenced by your ccuullttuurree the values, beliefs, andcustoms that you share with a group of people. An important part of culture is nnoorrmmss, or shared expectations for behavior.Cultural norms shape your communication experiences they influence your nonverbal communication, the wordsyou choose, how you form those words into sentences, and every other aspect of interpersonal communication. Ms.Wallaces frustrations with cultural differences led her to make a demeaning YouTube video that targeted, in particular,Asian students interpersonal communication behavior. What Ms. Wallace didnt anticipate was that her own communityscultural norms wouldnt tolerate Ms. Wallaces use of communication to attack international students. Although your ownexperiences with culture and interpersonal communication are hopefully less dramatic and consequential than Ms.Wallaces, it is important to appreciate the role of culture as part of interpersonal communication.

    When you create messages, your culture provides guidelines that help you decide what is expected, appropriate,or desirable. For example, your culture helps you know whether you should greet another person with a handshake ora kiss, call a person by his or her first name, and look your interaction partner directly in the eye. At the same time,other people send you messages that are influenced by their perceptions of your culture. From the topics people discusswith you to how formally or informally they speak, the messages you receive are different from those sent to someonewho is a different age, a different gender, or a different ethnicity than you. In this chapter, well explore how cultureprovides a framework for all of your interpersonal communication experiences.


    Some cultural differences, such as languages, physical characteristics, or clothing styles, are easy to see. Other culturalboundaries can be hard to define. Would you consider someone with different political values, someone with differentmusical tastes, or someone attending a different college to be a member of your culture? And would you put yourself inthe same cultural group as people who attended your college 20, 40, or 100 years ago? In this section, we probe the

    40 F O U N D A T I O N S

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  • complexity of culture by examining different layers of culture, how cultures change overtime, and core differences between cultures.

    Layers of Culture

    A cultural group is a subset of people whose common experiences have led them todevelop similar ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving. When we ask students in ourclasses to identify the cultural groups they belong to, some of them mention only oneor two broad ethnic, national, or religious groups (African-American, Vietnamese,Muslim). Others also mention groups defined by gender, sexual orientation, or age(woman, gay, empty-nester). Still others give a lengthy list of affiliations (member ofAlpha Tau, varsity lacrosse player, business major). These responses show the manydifferent ways we can identify a cultural group. These layers of culture are illustrated inFigure 2.1, and discussed in the paragraphs that follow.

    CCuullttuurraall iinnssttiittuuttiioonnss. At the broadest level, cultural groups are defined by themembers nationality, religion, or ethnic heritage. Within the boundaries of a nation, the

    41C U L T U R E A N D I N T E R P E R S O N A L C O M M U N I C A T I O N

    CCuullttuurreeThe values, beliefs, and customs

    that we share with a group of


    NNoorrmmssExpectations for behavior that are

    shared within a cultural group.




    FIGURE 2.1 Layers of culture

    The columns shown with different ecosystems are a metaphor for different cultures that are dis-tinguished by their cultural institutions. Just as different ecosystems can contain similar components,cultural groups defined by a shared standpoint can cut across cultural institutions, such as when peopleshare a connection because of their similar gender, economic status, or military status. Differentecosystems also contain unique features that are shaped by the specific conditions in the climate.Similarly, speech communities emerge, usually among people from the same cultural institution, whenopportunities for interaction promote shared communication patterns.

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  • form of government, the monetary system, holidays, and national heroes and heroinesunify peoples experiences and create a common culture for billions of people who sharethe same institutions. For example


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