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Worldview Noise in Communication
Sometimes when we listen to the radio, static interferes with the signal, and may hinder understanding of the message. Loud music makes it hard to hear on the telephone. The noise of a plane flying over interferes with conversation. The concept of noise applies in technical, cultural and personal communication also.
Even the format of the message may introduce cultural "noise." This may be the channel or medium chosen, or the level of language used. These may interfere with communication, with the perception of the message. Any interference in our communication is referred to as noise. In this sense, noise may be of many types.
The possible types of noise simply increase when you add the cross-cultural dimension. Every encounter between two or more human beings can be analyzed as a communication event. In every communication event, cultural information is unconsciously exchanged. The greater the differences in culture, the more noise there is to interfere with the communication.
Types of Noise
Some types of noise involve linguistic interference, cultural interference, noise in the form of confusion resulting from unfamiliarity with the type of media used, etc. Noise may be related to literacy, worldview thought-frames, cultural expectations from differing experience, etc. For instance, once when I was visiting some friends in a Maasai village in Kenya, they wanted to know how far away my original home was.
The way they asked the question was: "How many days does it take to get to your home in a matatu (taxi van)?" There were a lot of assumptions in that question which were not easy to deal with. To answer from what I considered a "true" perspective, I had to clear away some cultural noise. I explained oceans, airplanes, and other factors. In the end they came up with a new view of how big the world is. This included how big a 747 is!
As a communicator you must consider cross-cultural factors, in order to avoid mistakes. You must learn as much as practical in order to lessen the "noise" in your transmission. You must know the target group you have defined. The group may be identified by language, ethnic identity, geographical range of the people group, socio-economic characteristics, educational level, and such.
The simple truth is that you cannot reach everybody with the same message, format, style of humor or illustrations. To be effective in implementing a project, for instance, you must define areas of the city or levels of the society; steps you will take to build awareness, reach homes, organize and train workers; designs for newspaper ads, posters, billboards or leaflets, activities that will appeal to the group you target and many such details.
The more thought you put into these tedious details, the clearer and less ambiguous your message will be. In other words, the more noise you eliminate, the clearer your message will be! And the more authentic your relationship will be with your target audience or community.
Defining the Context
What are the concepts, assumptions and preferences of the target group or individual? What materials, schedules or approaches will meet those factors? What do the target group need to know or need to know how to do? How can you best inform them, teach them or train them? These are indispensable aspects of effective project planning and implementation.
Noise may involve errors of communication in either content or format. The communication may be "over their heads" or "beside the point" from the hearer's perspective. The channel or medium, or the level of language used -- that is, the format -- may also interfere with communication, with the perception of the message. This interference is noise.
Some well-delivered, factually-correct messages may be delivered with so much cultural noise, that, though the technical language is correct, the message is obscured by the cultural form and context. All because the speaker has not taken seriously the cultural integrity of his audience. Cultural noise interferes. Worldview awareness is critical to any conceptual change expected in the target community. Even basic behavioral changes depend on deep worldview values.
You will notice I always have something to say about language when talking about communication! Noise also arises from poor pronunciation or sentence structure. It is important to have command of the language.
More subtle noise is due to the wrong language in the wrong situation. Maybe use of the foreigner's language in an informal social situation where normally the local language would be used. Use of the wrong style, form or vocabulary may change the dynamics of the situation, hindering communication.
Critically, the worldview is never complete without the custom molding of the mind that occurs through thinking in the language of that worldview.
A newcomer should be sensitized to these factors through intensive cultural contact in everyday experiences and practical language learning in social situations, with formal investigation into the people's cultural self-identity, heritage, social structure and other worldview aspects.
Copyright © Orville Boyd Jenkins 1999
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.
What is Worldview? | Culture and Experience | How Do You Know? | Cognitive and Social Culture | Worldview Noise in Communication
Worldview in Language: Language and Thought | Worldview in Language: Identity and Relationship
Aspects of Biblical vs. Muslim Worldviews ----Return to SL Resource Kit---- ----Return to SL Training----