Conceptualisation of intercultural communication competence

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Introduction

The research findings revealed that Chinese and black South African respondents in this study demonstrated different cultural dimensions; they employed the same communication strategies of harmony, politeness and face concern, but with different interpretations. As the findings revealed, these differences constituted different communication behaviour and were at the root of the problematic encounters between them, as mentioned in Sections 1.3, 1.4 and 2.1.
The findings of this study demonstrated that the Chinese in the sample valued more group/company goals, face (‘mianzi’), authority, status and prestige, adopted a compromising or integrating conflict style, had low sensitivity to law, preferred an evasive or indirect communication style and had a long-term orientation. Such results probably indicate that the Chinese in the sample subscribe to collectivism, HPD and HCC and are long-term oriented with polychronic rhythms, relational and socio-emotional orientation. The findings of this study revealed that black South African employees in the sample cared more about their individual interests and human/legal rights, adopted a dominating conflict style, had high sensitivity to law, preferred straightforward communication and had a short-term orientation. These results probably indicate that black South African employees subscribe to individualism, LPD and LCC and are short-term oriented with monochronic rhythms and effective conflict negotiation, thus reaching and implementing tangible conflict outcomes within a clearly established timetable. In addition, they are relatively less prone to saving or anticipating long-term rewards.

Collectivism vs individualism

The findings of individualism and collectivism are consistent with Hall’s (1976) theory that people from a collectivist culture prefer group harmony and consensus to individual achievements. Group interests prevail over individual interests. According to Chinese responses to open-ended questions, the concept that “individual interests depend on company interests” was accepted and applied in their work by all eight respondents, which gives a significant indication that Chinese are strongly collectivist, corresponding to the theory of Schwartz et al. (2010). A Chinese respondent (R1) answered: “As far as work is concerned, I consider more company interests than individualist interests so as to make the company business operational. More individualist interests will affect company business negatively”. A Chinese respondent (R7) even said, “I would rather give up my interests to save company interests”. His use of ‘so as to’ as an indicator of purpose (R1) revealed his stance that company business operation is a top priority while ‘would rather’, ‘give up’ and ‘to save’ indicated that R7 strongly believed that company interests always prevailed over individual interests. Such linguistic forms reflect the respondents’ emotion, stance, belief and ideology about group interests (He, 2003:429) and they also buttress the theoretical claim of the collectivism theory of Landauer and Rowlands (Freedomkeys n.d.).
The interview findings (for question 4) also revealed that Chinese are strongly collectivist. All eight Chinese respondents expressed ‘feeling like a family member’ while working in Chinese companies. Chinese respondent R7 said: “I feel like a family member in the company especially when I am a manager. Company interests always prevail over individual ones.” In the same vein, R4 agreed, “For sure working here I feel like a family member. Any one of us in the company must be a member for [the] sake of company growth”, implying that the employees are responsible for company growth. He further pointed out: “But black South Africans don’t take this (company) as their family, and money is their sole consideration. They care [about] their individual rights”. Two more Chinese respondents also raised the same issue in the interview: that black South Africans only cared for their individual rights, which might be an indication that black South African employees are different from Chinese supervisors in relation to ‘regarding the company as a family’. The Chinese group-oriented/collective spirit is in line with collectivism, harmony and HCC in that collectivism, harmony and HCC all emphasise “collective goals” rather than individual goals (Li, Zhu & Li 2001; Brew & Cairns 2004). The findings that Chinese are (strongly) collectivist are underpinned by the theoretical considerations of Ting-Toomey (1999), Gao and Ting-Toomey (1998), Guirdham (1999), Samovar and Porter (2003), Schwartz et al. (2010), Livermore (2013) and Anedo (2012).

High power distance vs low power distance

Culture is a ‘system’ and not the sum of a collection of fortuitous traits. It is an integrated whole that must be understood by examining its components holistically, according to Aneas and Sandin (2009). As was found in this study, the dimension of individualism-collectivism is interwoven and closely related with other variables such as HPD/LPD, HCC/LCC and long/short-term orientation. The approach to combine closely connected dimensions to demonstrate and expose cultural behaviour of Chinese or black South Africans is regarded in this study as a meaningful initiative. Employing such a combination in the interest of investigation and judgment of cultural dimensions and communicative preferences of a cultural group is in line with the theoretical consideration of the system-thinking approach and dialectical approach (Flammia & Sadri 2011; Worldconnections n.d.). Also see Sections 3.1, 2.2.1 and 3.3.1.
As the findings revealed, in Chinese eyes, that a supervisor’s order or command is fully executed by the employees is a manifestation of respect of employees for supervisors. However, most black South African employees failed to finish their workload, as the data of this limited study disclosed, thus constituting a challenge to Chinese supervisors’ authority. The “feeling offended” situations mentioned by Chinese respondents further indicated that the Chinese adopted HCC and were more face oriented. Also see Sections 2.4.3 and 5.4.
What black South African respondents mentioned about ‘not being respected’ is Chinese shouting at them in the workplace and unfair treatment in Chinese companies. In black South Africans’ eyes, Chinese shouting and unfair treatment cause offence, which indicates that black South Africans have low consciousness of hierarchy/belong to an LPD cultural group and LCC, with less face orientation in their communication with Chinese supervisors. According to Brew and Cairns (2004), people from an LPD culture have low consciousness of hierarchy and believe that emotion and work should be separated. To black South African employees, shouting is not part of the work, but an emotional outburst from Chinese supervisors. Such emotional outbursts should not occur in the work situation. In a similar vein, Gudykunst and Matsumoto in Anderson et al. (2002:95) claim that LPD culture would show respect for legitimate power. In black South Africans’ eyes, shouting is not a manifestation of legitimate power and thus they would not accept ‘being shouted at by Chinese supervisors’, who, however, intermesh emotion and power and regard shouting as part of supervision power. By means of strikes, or going to the Labour Department or directly and openly confronting the Chinese supervisors to lodge/address their complaints, as reflected in the data, black South Africans demonstrate their low consciousness of hierarchy and LCC conflict style. See Sections 2.3.2 and 2.3.3 for the different communicative preferences regarding HPD and LPD, HCC and LCC.

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1.0. Chapter 1. Background, context and statement of problem
1.1 China-Africa relationships
1.2 China-South Africa relations
1.3 Cracks in China-(South) Africa relationship
1.4 International concerns about the cracks
1.5 Justification, aims and rationale statement
1.6 Summary
2.0. Chapter 2. Literature review and theoretical background
2.1 Introduction.
2.2 Basic conceptualisation of culture, intercultural communication and intercultural communication competence
2.2.1 Conceptualisation of culture
2.2.2 Conceptualisation of intercultural communication
2.2.3 Conceptualisation of intercultural communication competence
2.3 Cultural dimensions
2.3.1 Individualism—collectivism
2.3.1.1 Introduction: Importance of individualism–collectivism in this study
2.3.2 High-context communication and low-context communication
2.3.3 High-power distance and low-power distance
2.3.4 Attitudes to time
2.3.5 Conclusions
2.4 Communication strategies
2.4.1 Harmony
2.4.1.1 Chinese version of harmony
2.4.1.2 African version of harmony
2.4.2 Politenes
2.4.2.1 Chinese notion of politeness
2.4.2.2 African notion of politenes
2.4.3 Face concer
2.4.3.1 Chinese face
2.4.3.2 Face in business
2.4.3.3 Face and individualism-collectivism
2.4.3.4 Face and conflict style
2.4.3.5 African face
2.4.4 Summary
2.5 Conclusions
3.0. Chapter 3. Research questions, research design and methodolog
3.1 Research questions
3.2 Research design
3.3 Research methodology
3.3.1 Data
3.3.2 Data gatherin
3.3.3 Data analysis
4.0. Chapter 4. Data analysis and findings 
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Data analysis
4.2.1 Analysis of close-ended questionnaires
4.2.1.1 Statements and cultural dimensions
4.2.1.2 Analysis of data
4.2.2. Analysis of open-ended questionnaires
4.2.2.1 Brief introduction
4.2.3 Analysis of interview questionnaires
4.2.4 Summary
4.3 Data findings
4.3.1 Findings of close-ended questionnaires
4.3.2 Findings of open-ended and interview questionnaires
5.0. Chapter 5. Discussion
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Collectivism vs individualism
5.3 High power distance vs low power distance
5.4 High context communication vs low context communication
5.5 Long-term orientation vs short-term orientation
5.6 Contributions of this research
6.0. Chapter 6. Conclusions, limitations and recommendations
6.1 Conclusions
6.2 Limitations and recommendations
Bibliography

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Problematic encounters between Chinese nationals and Black South Africans in the building industry in Johannesburg, South Africa: An intercultural communication analysis

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