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Main Imperatives Of Intercultural Communication

Communication helps us to share meaning amongst different kinds of people, in which they encode and decode messages. These messages may be verbal or non-verbal.

Intercultural communication is when communication takes place between individuals from diverse cultures from all around the world.

Intercultural communication can be seen as complex due to different cultures not encoding and decoding messages the same.

There are 6 imperatives, which are important to understand intercultural communication. We will be critically discussing the peace, demographic, technological, economic and ethical imperatives.

The Peace Imperative

The first imperative we are going to look at is the peace imperative. The peace imperative asks, “Can individuals of different genders, ages, ethnicity’s, races, languages, and religions peacefully coexist on the planet?”. Peace is a major component for intercultural communication as cultures critically affect the way in which we communicate.

Learning about people, finding norms and similarities and appreciating the differences between us will help gain more peace and help us all coexist, which is the ultimate goal of the peace imperative. When we find norms, we tend to relate more to a person as well as respect them. Yet, having our different cultures and backgrounds will give us each our own identity as well as cultural identity.

Throughout history, conflict between genders, races, ethnicity’s, etc., has been an immense issue across the world. It has led to many wars, conflict in powers as well as unbalanced power. For example, South Africa. South Africa has a rich history in cultural conflict which was prominent in the years of apartheid. Being a country with 11 official languages and a diverse population, peace between citizens was tricky, as it would need mutual understanding and norms between the cultures.

There are many other examples and instances where people of diverse cultural backgrounds did not live peacefully together, such as Cyprus and Turkey. However, I feel that humans are not animals and we do not have to fight to survive. When we put in the effort and work towards harmony among cultures and try to understand one another, it is possible to live peacefully together. By this we can find peace through understanding. We saw this in 1994 when the apartheid laws were lifted and people of different races in South Africa were seen as equal.

The study of intercultural communication in regard to the peace imperative is extremely important as we live in a world with millions of diverse people who differ from the person before them. Being able to communicate and establish a relationship with people of different races, cultures, etc., is almost a must to ensure a peaceful life where humans can live and function together. “If we don’t have a certain amount of peace, there will be a constant power struggle and this in the end will cause it to be impossible to live with one another”.

The Ethical Imperative

“Ethics denotes the general and systematic study of what ought to be the grounds and principles for right and wrong human behavior”.

Ethics can be described as principles that are culture-bound and indicate guidelines for the behavior of individuals that are part of a certain group or culture. What is meant with culture-bound is that the individual’s outlook is restricted by belonging to a particular culture. Martin et al. says that “Cultural values tell us what is “good” and what “ought” to be good”. The cultural values and ethics we agree upon is set up by a person’s morals. When we talk about morals we look at what type of lesson or message we can import from either a story or experience.

When it comes to ethical judgment it differs from cultural values in terms of focusing more on the intensity of what is right and wrong in human behavior. According to Johannesen et al. there are certain standards that are used like honesty, truthfulness and fairness to make the judgement of rightness and wrongness. Ethical judgement is sometimes stated explicitly, when something is explicitly stated there is no room for confusion. An example of ethical judgement explicitly stated is The Christian faith that has the Ten Commandments that state, in a clear and detailed manner, what the Christian’s see as right and wrong and they live by it. Examples of what the Ten Commandments state or see as wrong is committing murder, stealing and telling lies.

Because of the world being so big and having over a billion people with different races, cultures and beliefs it is necessary to set a universalist position. This is the position where rules are applied to things that most societies view as “wrong” like murder, treason or theft. All the cultures around the world have the same rules or regulations to follow when it comes to one of the above mentioned “wrong” has been misconducted by an individual.

But because all the cultures believe in different things a contradistinction position was created. The relavist position is the judging of cultural behavior viewed in the context it took place. This means the way the individual acted can be explained if you look in the situation it happened.

“Part of learning about intercultural communication is learning about cultural patterns, and identies- your own and those of others”. When you want to become an ethical student of culture there are four skills that you need to master. You need to practise self-reflexivity, learn about others, listen to the voice of others and develop a sense of social justice.

Practising self-reflexivity

When you study other cultures and their practises you also learn more about yourself. Before you can understand their culture, you need to understand yourself and the position you have in society. Self-reflexivity is the process of looking at yourself in the mirror.

It is important to reflect on your place in society, the social categories you fill and what implications go with those categories. An example is the blagues belges jokes told by the French can be seen as offensive but it is different when the joke is told by a Belgian.

Learning about others

“Study of cultures is actually the study of other people”.

In South African Tourism they use “look-and-tell”, because the tourists want to know about South African cultures they go to portrayed traditional villages where the cultures are shown to the tourists exhibiting dances and weddings in shows.

A better way to educate the tourists is through “learn-and-explore” where the tourist can engage in a dialogue and ask about the cultural realities. When they explore on their own term they learn more about the culture than being told about it.

“We wish to bring into clear focus that the fact that differences in culture, ethnicity and gender are some of the most crucial areas which have to be considered if we are to provide some understanding of the need for ethical, mutually beneficial communication and interpersonal interactions in decades ahead”.

Listening to the voice of others

When it comes to listening to the voice of others it is important to realise that two-way communication or dialogue is necessary. Hearing about different experiences from people with vary backgrounds can lead to you viewing the world differently.

Successful intercultural understanding is achieved through mutual listening. When people can relate to experiences and knowledge of others they find it easier to learn other cultures.

Developing a sense of social justice

Social justice is justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities and privileges within a society. It is a responsibility that comes with the acquisition of intercultural knowledge and insights.

Studying intercultural communication leads to a transformation in the individual and benefits to the larger society and cultural groups. We as intercultural students, have the responsibility to educate ourselves about cultural differences, intercultural conflicts, impacts of stereotyping and larger systems that may deny any basic human rights and apply our knowledge to the communities we interact with.

For you to have a sense of social justice you need to acknowledge that oppression exists and that cultural differences exist in hierarchy. The cultural differences are not just interesting but can be privileged and set rules for others to follow.

The Technological Imperative

According to Martin et al, Marshall McLuhan, who is defined as a “media guru”, used the term “global village” to define a world where most communication technology, brings news and information to even the most rural areas of the world.

People are constantly connected. If it is through email, messaging, social media, television or radio, we know what is going on and can communicate easily with people worldwide.

Technology and Human Communication

Due to our ever-changing communication regimes, it has changed our way of thinking about ourselves and how our intercultural relationships form.

Cellphones have immensely impacted our communication. We are “always on” and can be found very easily due to social media. When we are in person and not interacting, we can easily hide away by drowning ourselves in our friend that always accompanies us – our mobile device. Martin et al describe it as avoiding communications with those surrounding us and some may be afraid of mobile communication because it may cause a psychological problem of “emptying out”. “Emptying out” is described as bodies being present in a public space but communication does not take place.

The internet is said to include more than a billion websites. Nearly 75% of adults and 91% of adolescents in America use the internet. Access and use depends on age, income, location, ethnicity and religion. English is a dominant language on the internet and many people who search in their home language (which may not be English), will not find what they are looking for, making the internet inaccessible. To make the internet more accessible, we need to promote multilingualism across the World Wide Web. Global businesses must be able to adapt and different languages, this can be done through hiring local translators. Marketing must be done in the language of the target market.

In terms of intercultural communication through technology, we come into contact with thousands of people who have very different cultural backgrounds. Blogging can majorly impact intercultural communication. Blogs can include forums, discussions and articles on different cultures in terms of language, food, entertainment etc. People blog because they want to document their lives, express opinions, express ideas or as a community forum.

By using technology, our encounter with intercultural communication has increased, especially when they must decide which language to use in a multilingual situation. People seek intercultural communication for diverse reasons, one being that want to use and learn new languages.

An issue of interest is the “digital divide” and this is those who have technology and those who don’t. It is slowly shrinking, especially because of the easy access to cellphones and cellular networks across countries, but those in rural areas with little to no education and infrastructure are left behind. Another factor is your social environment. You will be more inclined to use the internet if your friends and family use it.

Application of the Economical Imperative


Coming from a mother who is British and a father who is South African, I have always been around intercultural communication and I’ve learnt the importance of it in the workplace. We need to learn to understand how to work with different cultures to avoid disputes.

For example, I’ve ran a photography business since 2014, which focuses on events, portraiture and lifestyle and I have worked with so many different cultures and its always great to see how my clients meet other people from different cultures. I recently captured a wedding of a couple where the bride was a South African who is Afrikaans and the groom was a Vietnamese American.

Working with clients for events that are all from different cultural background really has emphasized to me how important it is to learn to work with diverse cultures.


As the economic imperative is very important for businesses, it affects me greatly. I have recently started my own photography business and aspire to work with other international organizations and businesses. I would like to do wildlife photography full time and expand into the overseas markets as well to do business. In order to do that I need to be able to communicate and build relationships with people all over the word on an economic scale.

For example, connecting with organizations in Kenya who deal with anti-poaching and animal rehabilitation could potentially give me the chance to travel to Kenya and work with the organizations to create documentaries and so on.


There is intercultural communication everywhere we go. Our world and its cultures are so interconnected that we need to be aware of them and we need to learn how they contribute to society and make every individual unique. We must be conscious of not only our communication but others as well. By learning, understanding and applying the imperatives, we can see how important intercultural society is in our world.

As we live in South Africa, we are exposed to our 11 unique cultures but also those from around the world that live amongst us. Although we all know how dynamic and challenging our country is, every day we learn to love the different cultures and the new cultures that are being made. We need to not only learn about intercultural communication but apply it and embrace its complexity.

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