Human perception is the basis of communication. In fact, people interact and behave as they do according to the ways in which they perceive the world. The physical mechanism of perception is much the same in all individuals, since we perceive stimuli in our environment through our sensory organs. The sensations received are then transmitted through the nervous system to the brain, where they are assigned meaning and interpreted. So, biologically, people process information in the same way. However, interpretation and meaning are not the same for everybody, since we learn perceptions and behaviours as part of our psychological, physiological and cultural experiences. Hence, we experience the world not only through our sensory receptors, but also through our ability to select, categorise and interpret our surroundings, which in turn are influenced by our cultural beliefs, values and world-views.
So, how can this help improve my intercultural relations?
Being aware of the influence of culture on perceptions and subsequently on our interpretation of verbal and non-verbal behaviours, can be really helpful in improving our communication with people from other cultural backgrounds. It can be very frustrating and confusing when we struggle to get our message across and we feel that the other person doesn’t really gets us. We may detain different beliefs, values, actions and it is important to remind ourselves that a contrasting interpretation of them, may indeed be cultural.
If you are experiencing these issues, it would be worthy exploring your perceptions from a cultural angle, with a view of improving communication in your relations. Obviously, you can do this on your own by getting as much information as you can on this regard; but if you don’t know where to start and the task seems daunting to you, then you can always rely on the help of a professional specialised in intercultural communication.
Liu, S., Volčič, z. & Gallois, C. (2011). The influence of culture on perception. Introducing Intercultural Communication. Global Cultures and Contexts. Chap. 4, 77-97. London: Sage.