When Bill uses the term "dear", he is not consciously being condescending, yet Margaret interprets it to have that meaning. Helen, older and more familiar with Bill's style easily accepts the term as a term of gender endearment. This example illustrates how communication changes over time and through generations because of the way we view our culture.
In the case study, Helen was an effective communicator. As the receiver of Bill's messages she was able to interpret them and act on them accordingly. She was acting within her cultural context. Margaret was also effective in her communication. Though she misunderstood Bill's intentions, she was able to place the communication in the current cultural context and was direct about her feelings in reference to it. Bill was the least effective communicator. He has assumed the role of dominance and not accounted for cultural change. When he requests a cup of coffee, he is transmitting a message and an image. To Margaret, this was the image of a waitress or a servant. His true intentions, to get a cup of coffee, were masked by his inability to communicate across the culture and understand the differences. The message he transmitted was not a request for coffee, but a statement of "I'm in charge".
Men's dominant position in the workplace has been challenged in recent decades. The recent Time magazine article that listed only males as the ten most powerful people in America has been challenged (Samovar, Porter, and Stefani, 51). The request for a cup of coffee and the use of the word "secretary" carry cultural meaning and have been altered in recent years. Asking an administrative assistant to do your shopping places the female in a subservient, or traditional wife, role. This has encountered resistance in the last decade as women have struggled for equality in pay and position. This equality will also have to extend to our understanding on communication.
Intercultural Communication is About Change and Challenge
The world is a rapidly changing landscape due to globalization, communication, and transportation (Samovar, Porter, and Stefani, 3). The words we use and the images we project will be interpreted based on current cultural trends. World views on pollution will affect the ways in which other cultures view industrial expansion. Within our own culture, the rise in political power of ethnic and minority populations has made many words obsolete or derogatory. It requires constant learning to assure that our speech and the images we project will be received with the message we intended to send.
Problems of Being an Effective Intercultural Communicator
Communicating with a different culture requires a depth of understanding of the culture that goes beyond the simple history of the people. It requires an understanding of our, "... social relations, concepts of the universe, and views of suffering..." (Samovar, Porter, and Stefani, 16). To communicate effectively we need to understand the cultural values that the people are made of. It also requires an understanding and tolerance for the individual. These requirements mean that there will be no absolute method of communication. It is forever shifting and is tailored to each individual person and event. These make the task ever changing and challenging.