Cultural distance, philosophy and communication

Cultural distance

Research on cultural differences showed that there is a big cultural distance between western cultures and Asia. The gap that is felt between people and culture plays a big role in intercultural communication situations. Maletzke found out that the probability of a misunderstanding is proportional to the size of the cultural distance. According to researches from Hall, Hofstede, Trompenaare and Hampden-Turner and Halpin and Winer, the cultural dimensions of China and Germany show strong distinctions concerning the height of the index. As already mentioned, China focuses on the context, whereas that’s not the case in Germany. Germany is short-time orientated and China long-term orientated. China is collectivist and Germany individualistic. Furthermore, according to the book, China is more feminin and relationship-orientated and Germany is masculin and task-orientated.


Philosophy is another discipline that is relevant when researching cultural differences. Thinking patterns are defined by certain worldviews that are very different depending on the cultures. Intercultural philosophy research differentiates between two main directions: eastern and western philosophy. The goal of intercultural philosophy is reciprocal understanding. Wimmer stated that misunderstanding is better than not understanding at all, because misunderstanding itself presupposes an understanding. There are also diverse cognitive styles that lead to special thinking patterns which have an impact on the worldview and shape the acting in situations in the present. Thinking processes are culturally shaped and have an effect on the presentation of information. For example, the structure of a presentation in Germany is completely different to the one in Japan. In Germany, there is a tendency to be logic-orientated and go from the specific to the general based on theories. Presentations in Japan, however, are leading from the general to the specific and orientated on empirical values and tries. Also the expectations of presentations are different. Usually, people in the USA expect funny, current and short presentations, whereas in Germany, extensive technical background information is what is wished for. Moreover, the duration of attention differs from culture to culture. An insightful factor is if people are task-orientated as in Germany or person- and relationship-orientated as in China. Task-orientated people concentrate on technical aspects, avoid small talk and focus on results. Person-orientated people like relationships, harmony and loyalty. Even the Maslow’sche Bedürfnispyramide is different in China according to Nevis. The social needs are placed on the bottom of the pyramide and even play a bigger role than physiological and security needs.


Hall stated that culture is mainly a communication system. He is seen as the founder of intercultural communication. Communication consists of verbal and nonverbal interaction and 80% of the human to human communication is nonverbal. Furthermore, communication is a special case of interaction, because interaction can also take place without any transmission of messages, but communication only takes place when information is successfully exchanged. Interpretation plays a major role during this process. The cultural context always needs to be taken into consideration. Empathy is required to understand and estimate the intellectual horizon of the opposite.

Source: Heimgärtner, Rüdiger. Interkulturelles Interface Design: Von der Idee Zum Erfolgreichen Produkt, Springer Vieweg. in Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden GmbH, 2017.