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During class on Wednesday, January 17th, we played a card game called Barnga. We were broken into groups of four where we were given specific instructions on the rules of this game. After we all understood the rules, we were asked to remain completely silent for the remainder of class. We proceeded to move around the room to different tables and play a round of the same game with a new set of people. We were unaware that each table had slightly different rules to play by. Conflicts quickly began to arise as we moved from group to group, which simulates cross-cultural encounters. Everyone assumed we all had the same rules at first, and it came as a bit of a shock when we realized we did not. Communication barriers prevented us from being able to figure it out quicker. This simulation helps put in perspective the dynamics of cross-cultural encounters.
Power distance is present in many situations, some cultures have small power distances, and some are much larger in power distance. Power distance is the “’extent to which the less powerful members of institutions… accept that power is distributed unequally’”. This dimension is specifically focused on how the people not in power, accept that power is spread unequally. Individuals who live in cultures who have a high-power distance generally accept an unequal distribution of power, and expect directions. On the other hand, individuals in cultures with low power distances question authority and emphasize equal distance. This was demonstrated in our game of Barnga. When I first started playing, I put down an Ace of diamonds, and Michael, who was keeping score, took the pile of cards and I reached over to grab them but noticed he gave himself this point. Immediately I was the trump card and the Ace was the highest card in the deck. He looked at me confused- just as confused as I was because my hand was now on his desk taking his cards that he had just won. I assumed he just didn’t know how to play this game and I’ll just give him this point it’s not even worth it to try and argue over one point. Not being able to verbally communicate made it very challenging. I just wanted to say, ‘Michael, give me my point back’ but I could not. He was keeping score and I had just came to this new table. I conformed to this power distance and let him win this mental battle because he was essentially in charge of the score. If this was a situation with lower power distance, the person in my situation would have argued and fought for equality.
Nonverbal patterns are the nonverbal clues that are passed between people when communicating. These patterns include tone, space, time, touch, eye contact, and facial gestures. Nonverbal patterns have just as much impact on the receiver as words do. They play a significant role in successfully communicating. Although we were unable to directly speak during the Barnga simulation, the nonverbal cues helped us better understand what was trying to be conveyed. When savannah moved to our table to play a round of Barnga, it was becoming obvious to me that she was becoming frustrated with the game and the other three of us sitting at this table. Although we could not speak, her nonverbal patterns gave her away. When she put down a card of spades, she thought she had won. At her previous table, her card would have won, but at this table the trump card was clubs. She did not understand this and her eyebrows scrunched together and she sat backwards. Her facial expression went from normal to confused. It quickly shifted once again to frustrated. She rolled her eyes and turned her head away from the table. Her face gestures and breaking of eye contact, accompanied with her body movements gave me a glimpse of how she was feeling. Once I saw this, I tried to point to the cards with clubs on them to show her that these are winners. She understood, and I could see it in her nonverbal communication patterns. Even though we did not have words to communicate, she communicated to me very clearly how she was feeling. I saw this many times throughout this simulation and it helped me have a better insight to communicating across cultures.
Barnga is a fitting example to demonstrate hands-on how challenging communicating can be across cultures. People believe that they share the same understanding of the basic rules, then we were shocked and confused to learn that we were all slightly different. We struggled, then overcame these differences to effectively play this game and be successful. These groups that we were broken into was a metaphor for diverse cultures that exist in the world today. When someone is new to a culture, there might be communication barriers or differences. Barnga shows us the importance of being open-minded and overcoming these differences.
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