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Cultural Barriers to Effective Communication

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Communication is the most important way to stay ahead in the world. However, communication can be difficult sometimes. There are many reasons for this, one of which is cultural differences. Stella Ting-Toomey, a communication specialist, has identified three cultural barriers that impede effective communication. Knowing these barriers can help you avoid them.

Cognitive Constraints

One of the most common barriers to communication is cognitive constraint. Cognitive constraints are the way people view the world based on their culture. For example, people in the United States might be inclined to feel superior to many cultures because of the power and prevalence of U.S. culture since World War II. This might lead people to become angry if somebody questions this superiority. However, cognitive constraints can also be based on religion, the area in which you live, the school you went to, or even the books you have read. Basically, cognitive constraints are created by the way people's minds give meaning to the world around them based on the knowledge and perceptions they have obtained. These differ from culture to culture.

Behavior Constraints

Behavioral constraints are another barrier to effective communication. Behavior constraints are the ways people behave from different cultures. This can be as simple as eye contact or how close you should be to somebody. In the United States, eye contact should be sporadic and people should stand at least three feet apart. In Europe, eye contact is considered "close to staring," and closeness can be defined by inches. It can also be as complex as how much information one gives another while talking. In the United States, politeness and restraint is practiced, while in Arab cultures, people often say what they mean. Every culture regulates its behavior differently.

Emotional Constraints

The final cultural barrier that blocks effective communication is emotional constraints. Each culture has rules that tell us how emotional we can be in a situation. Italians are generally open about their emotions, with hugs and kisses alternating between angry shouting and gesturing. British people, however, are more reserved and keep their emotions close at hand. This can cause problems when these approaches meet. The British may think Italians are rude in their emotional wildness, while the Italians may see the British as uptight. This varies in approach between each culture.


Eric Benac began writing professionally in 2001. After working as an editor at Alpena Community College in Michigan and receiving his Associate of Journalism, he received a Bachelor of Science in English and a Master of Arts in writing from Northern Michigan University in Marquette.

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