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Human Encounters

Introduction to Intercultural Communication

Oyvind Dahl

This book gives a comprehensive introduction to intercultural communication. The reader is introduced to essential concepts in the field, different theories and methods of analysing communication, the importance of verbal and nonverbal languages for bringing about mutual understanding and, finally, the ethical challenges that arise.

The volume also has a practical aspect. The author discusses subjects such as handling encounters with people using foreign languages; incorporating different life styles and world views; the use of interpreters, non-familiar bodylanguage; different understandings of time; relocation in new settings; the use of power and how to deal with cultural conflicts generally.

Published as a general textbook in English for the first time following a very successful original edition in Norwegian, also translated to Russian and French, this richly-illustrated book offers a refreshing and engaging introduction to intercultural understanding

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CHAPTER 11 To Understand Oneself and Others


The couple at the travel agency in Italy apparently have problems understanding the agent. They are neither accustomed to the body language nor to the argumentation. The communicative skills they have acquired at home are not sufficient when facing an alien form of communication. Similarly, a Western businessman in Japan often does not understand that the Japanese counterpart’s “yes, maybe, yes”, accompanied by small nods, is a polite way to say “no”. Many immigrants do not understand why many Norwegians do not say “hello” when they meet, a polite gesture which would be an everyday routine where they come from.

The key to interpersonal understanding lies in the ability and willingness to meet each other halfway, to get to know each other and accept that we have different standards for speech and action. Most people will be happy to share their delights and sorrows and their hopes and wishes. The person, who makes other people open their hearts, who can listen to others, has found the key to communication. Or as an old poem of unknown origin says it:

A wise old owl sat in an oak.

The more he heard, the less he spoke.

The less he spoke, the more he heard.

Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird?

The Chinese express a lot of wisdom in the design of their written characters, which are often composed of a combination of several characters. For...

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