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Bridging Differences: Effective Intergroup Communication.

In an age when "multiculturalism" has become a "god term," Gudykunst has authored a highly readable, theoretically grounded, and practical guide for helping us understand and communicate with "strangers" -- or "poeple who are not members of our own groups and who are 'different' (on the basis of culture, ethnicity, gender, age, or other group memberships).... "(3)

Chapter titles include: "Effective Communication with Strangers," "Understanding Diversity," "Our Expectations of Strangers," "Attributing Meaning to Strangers' Behavior," and "Being Perceived as a Competent Communicator." Subjects discussed include: ethnocentrism, stereotyping, prejudice, decategorization, communication skills (becoming mindful, tolerance for ambiguity, empathy, flexibility, ability to reduce uncertainly), resolving cultural and ethnic conflict, relationships, and building community.

The chapter titled "Understanding Diversity" focuses on how culture influences our communication while acknowledging that communication also affects culture. After defining "culture" the author introduces two dimensions to apply to a given culture. The first is called the individualism-collectivism continuum. "Emphasis is placed on individuals' goals in individualistic culture, while group goals have precedence over individuals' goals in collectivistic cultures." (45)

In brief, certain cultures emphasize personal identity and values while in other cultures group identity and values predominate. When cultures are classified along this dimension, one can begin to appreciate the characteristic communication styles, according to the author.

A second dimension involves classifying a culture on a low to high context communication continuum. Quoting Edward Hall (Beyond Culture, New York: Doubleday 1976) the author notes that in high context communication "most of the information is either in the physical context or internalized in the person, while very little is in the coded, explicit transmitted part of the message" whereas in low context communication "the mass of information is vested in the explicit code."(50) Gudykunst relates these two concepts accordingly: "It appears that low- and high-context communication are the predominant forms of communication in individualistic and collectivistic cultures, respectively.... members of low-context, individualistic cultures tend to communicate in a direct fashion, while members of high-context, collectivistic cultures tend to communication in an indirect fashion."(51)

The author concludes by examining ethnicity, gender, and other forms of diversity and by introducing a model to help the reader begin to appreciate the dependency of communication styles on such concepts. Such a base of understanding is necessary if one is serious about building bridges.

This is an insightful volume and can be a useful resource for teachers as well as anyone working within a multicultural environment. It provides a framework for understanding, but goes beyond this by helping the reader assess his or her own communication style and offering guidelines and approaches for more effective communication.
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Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Coleman, William E., Jr.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
Words:434
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