Impact of Culture on Communication: A Reflective Essay


Source: Africa Publicity


Communication is the lifeblood of human interaction, serving as the medium through which ideas, emotions, and intentions are conveyed. However, the effectiveness of communication can be significantly influenced by cultural backgrounds. This essay explores the impact of culture on communication through the experiences of individuals from different African regions, highlighting how cultural nuances shape interactions.


Part 1: The Market in Lagos


Adewale, a young entrepreneur from Lagos, Nigeria, was excited about his new business venture. He had developed an innovative mobile application designed to streamline market transactions, and he was eager to introduce it to the bustling markets of Lagos. Adewale’s first stop was Balogun Market, one of the largest and busiest in the city.


As Adewale navigated the crowded alleys, he realized that the way he communicated his ideas would be crucial. In Nigerian culture, particularly among the Yoruba people, respect for elders and the use of proverbs are integral to effective communication. Adewale, being mindful of this, approached the market leaders with deference, beginning his presentation with a well-known Yoruba proverb: “Owe l’esin oro, bi oro ba sonu, owe la fi n wa a” (“Proverbs are the horse of speech, if speech gets lost, we use proverbs to find it”).


This cultural insight immediately resonated with the elders, who nodded in approval. Adewale’s use of familiar cultural references not only garnered their attention but also facilitated a smoother exchange of ideas. His experience underscored the importance of understanding and incorporating cultural elements to enhance communication effectiveness.


Part 2: The Workshop in Nairobi


Meanwhile, in Nairobi, Kenya, a young engineer named Mwikali was preparing to host a workshop on sustainable energy solutions. Her audience included local community leaders and international delegates. Mwikali was aware that the success of her workshop would depend on her ability to bridge cultural differences and foster mutual understanding.


In Kenyan culture, particularly among the Kikuyu community, storytelling is a powerful tool for communication. Mwikali decided to begin her presentation with a story about her grandfather, who had inspired her interest in sustainable energy. She recounted how he used to light their home with a kerosene lamp and how she dreamed of providing cleaner and more efficient energy solutions.


This personal story captivated her audience, creating an emotional connection that transcended cultural barriers. Mwikali’s ability to weave her message into a narrative familiar to her Kenyan audience, while still accessible to the international delegates, demonstrated the importance of context and cultural sensitivity in communication.


Part 3: The Conference in Cape Town


In Cape Town, South Africa, Sipho, a business consultant, was attending an international conference on global trade. Delegates from various African countries and beyond were present, each bringing their unique cultural perspectives to the table. Sipho knew that to effectively engage with such a diverse audience, he needed to be acutely aware of cultural differences.


One of the critical moments came during a panel discussion on negotiation strategies. Delegates from different regions expressed their views, often influenced by their cultural backgrounds. For instance, delegates from Ghana emphasized the importance of building personal relationships before discussing business, reflecting the high-context communication style prevalent in many African cultures. In contrast, European delegates leaned towards a more direct and low-context communication approach, focusing on facts and figures.


Sipho, drawing from his South African heritage, where Ubuntu philosophy (“I am because we are”) emphasizes interconnectedness and collective progress, acted as a mediator. He highlighted the value of understanding and integrating different cultural perspectives to achieve common goals. His approach not only facilitated a productive discussion but also illustrated the role of cultural empathy in effective communication.


Part 4: The Village Meeting in Bamako


In Bamako, Mali, Fatoumata, a social worker, was leading a village meeting to discuss health and sanitation practices. The community primarily spoke Bambara, and traditional customs heavily influenced their communication style. Fatoumata, although well-versed in French and English, recognized the need to communicate in Bambara to ensure her message was understood and accepted.


Fatoumata started by addressing the village chief and elders with the appropriate greetings and respect, acknowledging their authority and wisdom. She used metaphors and local idioms to explain the importance of sanitation, aligning her message with the community’s cultural values and beliefs.


Her culturally attuned approach not only facilitated comprehension but also fostered trust and cooperation. The villagers were more receptive to her suggestions, leading to a successful implementation of improved sanitation practices. Fatoumata’s experience highlighted the necessity of adapting communication strategies to fit cultural contexts for effective community engagement.




These narratives from different African regions—Lagos, Nairobi, Cape Town, and Bamako—illustrate the profound impact of culture on communication. Adewale’s respectful use of proverbs in Lagos, Mwikali’s storytelling in Nairobi, Sipho’s mediation in Cape Town, and Fatoumata’s culturally sensitive approach in Bamako all underscore the importance of cultural awareness and adaptability in communication.


Understanding and respecting cultural differences not only enhances the clarity and effectiveness of communication but also fosters mutual respect and collaboration. In a world increasingly interconnected, the ability to navigate cultural nuances in communication is an invaluable skill, promoting harmony and understanding across diverse communities.


By reflecting on these diverse experiences, we gain a deeper appreciation of how culture shapes the way we convey and interpret messages. It reminds us that while the words we use are important, the cultural context in which we communicate is equally, if not more, significant.

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