Cross-Culture Communication

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Business Skills Effective Business Communication in Cross-Cultures BA Common Year 1 (2012/2013) Introduction : Communication involves the interchange of thoughts, opinions and information. It is a vital component in business as it is used to exchange information that the business needs to function. In a business, it is of utmost importance that relayed data is clear and concise to ensure that the information is understood correctly. A business can better achieve its maximum efficiency with proper communication and the key to effective communication is understanding.

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While globalisation takes place, communication takes a wider meaning in the business world as local companies are now able to transfer goods and services across international borders. Thus, stressing the importance of effective communication even further. The sudden wide range of cultural context brings new cross-communication challenges to the workplace. A lack of cultural awareness may communication between businesses from different cultural backgrounds thus effecting their profits. The objective of this academic essay is to explain why cultural awareness is important in business communication. 1. Culture

Culture is a broad sense of cultivated behavior that consists of the beliefs, behaviours, objects, and other characteristics that have become common to the members of a particular group or society (CliffsNotes, n. d). Thus, it may be defined as the patterns, traits and products of human work and thought that have been molded within a society or a particular group of people. Cultures are most often understood from the context of a country. Individual countries have different cultures of their own. These cultures have been molded for years and can be seen as a dictation of what is socially acceptable to them.

With 196 different countries, there is a bountiful of different cultures across the globe that are different from each other. What may seem appropriate to a citizen of the West, may not be seen as appropriate to a citizen from the East. Due to the growth of multi-cultural societies as well as globalisation, businesses encounter culture daily both internally and externally. A large number of companies today have multi-cultured workforces that bring about cross-cultural interaction daily in the company. Cross-culture communication may appear between employees and departments.

Businesses encounter culture externally when interacting with international clients that come from different cultures. 2. Corporate Culture According to Ed Schein, a social psychologist, ‘Corporate Culture’ is the pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered and developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaption and internal integration (Alan Cowling & Philip James, 1994). Meaning to say that ‘Corporate Culture’ comprises of patterns, behaviours and beliefs that a company has incorporated internally to help adapt to the constant changes outside the company.

This incorporation defines how communication is used between employees of a company. In multi-cultural companies, it is important to exercise cultural awareness to ensure effective communication. Different cultures have different definitions of what ‘social norm’ is, and these definitions reflect on how communication is carrieed out within the company. There are many kinds of national cultures with different kinds of understanding of the world, some of which have similar preferences. Geert Hofstede developed a way of categorizing different cultures thus identifying the norms of their communication procedures.

His method describes national cultures by identifying six different dimensions. These dimensions help describe the effects of a society’s culture on their values, and how those values relate to their behaviour (Wikipedia, n. d). The different dimensions of Geert Hofstede are as follows :- Small vs. Large Power Distance (PDI) Some countries have an uneven distribution of power and equality. This dimension does not measure the distribution made, but rather analyzes how the people in that country react to that distribution (World Speaking, n. ). Thus, this dimension refers to the level of acceptance of the aforementioned distribution by the people whom have no power within a country. A country that scores a low power distance contains a society that understands that power relations are democratic and that members are seen as equals. These societies value equality and are relatively independent to the power holders. Australia is considered to have a small power distance, scoring 36 (The Hofstede Centre, n. d) on the PDI. Communication in Australian companies are open and direct.

They operate on structures with no clear chain of command, where superiors and managers are easily accesible to other employees. Countries with high power distance potray societies that are relatively dependant to their power holders and accept the fact that hierarchy is present. The Arab Emirates is in contrast to Australia, scoring a high 90. Centralization is popular in Arab Emirates companies and they have accepted hierarchical structures that follow a certain chain of command. Their communication style rigidly follows a protocol where etiquette must be observed at all times.

Individualism vs. Collectivism (IDV) This dimension shows to what degree individuals are integrated into groups and it is measured on a low-to-high scale. Countries that score high are considered to practise individualism. These societies in these countries are self-orientated. Instead of depending on each other, individuals do what they can to help themselves. The US scores a high 91 on this dimension index, showing a strong level of individualism and initiative. The “American Dream” is that anybody can raise themselves from poverty with the right amount of drive.

Communication in American companies is open where its members converse freely. Their communication style is straight-forward. They are unafraid of asking direct questions and making direct requests. Countries that are found on the low scale prefer a tightly-knit framework where individuals can expect their members to ‘take care of them’ in exchange for unquestioning loyalty ( ClearlyCultural, n. d ). They have a ‘we’ mentality and individual identities depend on a social system. Colombia scores a low 13 on the IDV index. Their decisions are based on what’s best for the entire company.

They have indirect communication – where the sender gives a ‘softer’ version of the information and the receiver is expected to read between the lines. The reason for this way of communicating is to protect relationships. Since they operate on a tight-knit group, protecting relationship between one another is a priority. Masculinity vs Femininity (MAS) This dimension measures a country’s goal orientation. ‘Masculine’ cultures are understood to value competitiveness, ambition and the accumulation of material possessions and are more aggressive than ‘feminine’ cultures.

China illustrates a ‘masculine’ culture scoring 66 on MAS which potrays a driven and success-oriented society. Their workforce is made up of individuals that are willing to sacrifice family and leisure time for work. Communication in Chinese companies is rigid. An example of their rigidity lies in their introductions – which are done with formal titles. In contrast, Denmark is seen to hold a more ‘feminine’ culture, scoring a low 16. Dane companies strive for consensus and exercises great care over their employees’ quality of life.

Their communication style fluctuates between being direct and indirect. Most Dane managers are found to value relationships, using compromise and negotiation as a method of conflict resolution. Uncertainty vs Avoidance (UAI) This dimension displays the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by ambiguous situations (The Hofstede Centre, n. d). It deals with the way a society handles the uncertain future – whether they try to control it or not. ‘Uncertain’ cultures do not plan strategies for the furute and tackle problems as they come. Avoiding’ cultures do their best to minimize the possibility of unstructured situations. Austria has a high score of 74 in this dimension showing that they hold a high preference for avoiding uncertainty. They have implemented laws and rules for safety and security measures to help avoid uncertain situations. Communication style in Austrian companies is formal. Colleagues call each other by their family names instead of their first names. Their communication style is similar to the US because they appreciate straight-forwardness.

Lack of directness is often misconstrued as lack of clarity and thought in Austria. In contrast, the Hong Kong has a high tolerance for the unexpected. At a low score of 29, its people are adaptable and entrepeneurial. Hong Kong laws were created to be flexible to suit actual situations. Their communication style is ‘loose’ compared to Austria. Conversation in the workplace is not limited to business. In this society, communication is not limited to business matters. It is important to show an interest outside the business domain in Hong Kong organizations.

Long-Term Orientation vs. Short-Term Orientation (LTO) This dimension is an extension to Geert Hofstede’s original four dimensions and was added by Michael Bond to reflect Asian perspectives on culture more adequately. It measures the extent of acceptance its society has over delayed gratification of any of their needs. Long-term orientated cultures exercise saving and persistence. At a score of 87, Taiwan has a long-term orientated culture. Taiwan companies are found to have high respect for tradition and they have a tendency of sparing resources.

They hold large savings and persevere towards slow results as they are only concerned with virtue (Dswenson, n. d). Their communication style shows that they value relationships and respect. In meetings, the elders are greeted before the others. Their communication is also conservative, it is considered a sign of respect to avoid eye contact when meeting somebody new. Short-term orientated countries are more concerned with the past and the present. They generally respect upholding tradition, but have a low propensity to save resources. An example of a short-term orientated country is Canada ClearlyCultural, n. d). Canadian business entities are found to measure performance on a short-term bases (usually quarterly) as they prefer quick results over perseverence. Their communication style is also reserved. However, they emphasise on the importance of being direct without being confrontational. Indulgence vs. Restraint (IVR) This dimension focuses on happiness and life control. It is related to the gratification versus control of basic human desires related to enjoying life. It measures a culture’s ability to satisfy the immediate needs and desires of its members.

Mexico scores a 97 on IVR (Joao Graca, 2011), categorizing it as an ‘indulgent’ culture. ‘Indulgent’ cultures “allows relatively free gratification and natural human drives related to enjoying and having fun” (Kristin Piepenburg, 2011). Mexico’s society is almost completely free to satisfy their needs and behaviour as however they please as there are no strict social norms to adher to. Communication style in Mexican businesses is open and expressive. They prefer closeness and do not have the need for much personal space. Emotion is not surpressed in business discussions which may sometimes lead to heated arguments.

An example of a country with a low IVR score is Russia with a score of 20. Here, gratification is supressed and regulated in an orderly manner. Their organization has more structure than ‘indulgent’ cultures. Russian entities exercise a communcation style that puts emphasis on the spoken word. (World Business Culture, n. d ). They engage in verbal communication more than written communication. <ost of their objectives are delivered in meetings, and other face-to-face methods of communicating information. By using Hofstede’s method, businesses can easily identify the preferred method of communication of their international clients.

Understanding their communication styles and cultures will mold a better relationship between them, thus increasing business activity – as well as profits – between the two entities. 3. Barriers to Communication and their Consequences As seen above, different national cultures have different perspectives of what is considered a norm when communicating. When businesses from different cultural backgrounds interact, there is a collision of two different sets of beliefs and social understanding. What may be perceived as ordinary by one culture may be perceived as offensive by another.

While one entrepeneur thinks he’s acting within his social norms, the other may be offended by it. This may create judgements that would effect the willingness of one party to interact with the other thus deteriorate their relations and effect the business’s profits. In order for businesses from different cultural backgrounds establish and maintain good relations with one another, their communication must help them reach proper mutual understanding. Lack of cultural awareness pose several barriers in effective cross-cultural communication. Language is one of the main barriers in effective cross-cultural communication.

When clients come from lands with completely different speaking tongues and are oblivious to each other’s cultures, communication is impossible because the parties are unable to comprehend each other at all. They will find it difficult to express their thoughts and ideas into words that the listener will understand. Furthermore, people with poor language skills would find it challenging to write memos, e-mails, minutes of meetings and other forms of written communication that is used daily in a business. As a result of poor language skills, information may be explained and/or perceived wrongly.

Language barriers in effective communication may also be seen in meetings or other face-to-face business interactions where employers/employees have difficulty speaking because they feel intimidated and are afraid to speak up. Without clear and concise information (and proper understanding of that information), the parties have no stable standing in making decisions for their companies. Another barrier in cross-cultural communication is social differences which include different values, attitudes and religion of people from different national cultures.

When two business parties hold different sets of values, their business objectives may collide as both parties prioritize different values. Different cultures have their own set of beliefs. These beliefs may not always be in sync and may even contradict each other. This is especially true when it comes to religion. Social differences poses religion as a possible barrier to effective communication as political issues give rise to prejudice, stereotypes and judgemental bias since it is difficult to remain neutral on cultural class structures that do no reflect the same value of equality.

For example, the concept of determined inferior role of women in Islam may not sit well with a person from the West where women live more liberally. Judgements on these social norms by someone who is unfamiliar to them may come across in their communication, thus effecting the further willingness of the client to listen. The physical and technological cultural competence is another barrier to effective communication. The ways in which people use available resources varies from culture to culture.

National cultures that are physically located from each other would find it difficult to find a suitable time and place to execute their business operations. Technological advances has help reduce the distance problem by providing multiple means of communication without actual face-to-face contact. For example, video conferencing and e-mails are used by many companies in today’s business world. However, as mentioned earlier, some cultures may have a limited resource to technology due to slow country development.

The internet may not be easily available to them and this will effect their ability to communicate n of companies from different national cultures may also effect communication. The quantity of time spent between them is scarce, limiting the amount of information that can be conveyed between the two. 4. Cross-cultural Communication With so many cultures present, cultural misunderstandings are inevitable. Business managers need to know how to tackle cross-cultural communication barriers. The best way to avoid cultural misunderstanding is to increase cultural awareness.

Most often than not, these misunderstandings are caused by lack of knowledge. Some misunderstandings are as easily avoidable as refraining from writing a person’s name in red ink – which is considered offensive in Mexico (Cyborlink, n. d). Learning few words of the local language may also help significantly. Etiquette words such as “excuse me”, “please”, “thank you” and “sorry” will do wonders to a businessman working in a cultural environment that is foreign to him. A way to tackle crosss-cultural barriers is to allow disagreements. The clash of values and beliefs are inevitable in cross-cultural communication.

These clashes can cause conflicts which managers may then take under control by resolving the conflict using proper negotiation and resolution. It also helps the entity gain more experience for future interaction with other cultures. These clashes can also be better remedied if the communication does not indicate that one culture is superior to the other. Two businessmen from completely different cultures may hold prioritize different values. For example, a Japanese businessman comes from a culture with a high regard for respect and where bowing is a social norm in greeting.

A British businessman who comes from a completely different set of social norms may not understand this. Even though the British are fairly formal in their business interaction, they are not accustomed to bowing and may accidentally perceive themselves as superior once bowed to by a Japanese businessman. Judgemental bias correlates with a person’s outward interaction which is why it has such great effect on communication. One of the biggest barriers on effective communication is language differences. Large businesses pools resort to the world’s primary language when communicating with international clients which is English.

A business must be able to speak and understand the english language in order to communicate and establish relations with this large businesses. It would be highly beneficial for a company to ensure that their workforce is able to communicate in English, this can be done by conducting training and offering simple language courses to help aid. France is widely known for their pride in their heritage. Apologies for lack of knowledge is ecpected from foreigners who are unable to speak French This social norm may be carried on into business interaction and may not be appreciated by international clients.

France is an economically stable country, however, they would highly benefit the exercise of cultural awareness in language and reap more profits. Managers can further aid in increasing cultural awareness by providing workshops that teach tips and techniques for communicating effectively in cross-cultural work environments. Role-playing activities may also help in getting individuals to acknowledge their differences and understand it from an opposing point of view. Some cultures are complex and hard to understand even with proper training.

Korea is a perfect example of a complex culture as it adhers to a long list of what is considered acceptable social ettiquette – it includes very specific ways of greeting and even bowing. Korean culture has very specific social norms that are difficult to for a non-Korean to remember. Because it is difficult to educate a workforce on complex matters, managers may hire interpreters when dealing with those specfic complex cultures. These interpreters are qualified to deliver and explain correct information and will vastly help in the overall communication between the two different cultures.

Conclusion : Communication is an essential component of business. As explained in this academic essay, a lack of cultural awareness may give rise to many barriers in communication. The success of a business depends on it’s ability to communicate efficiently. Since a lack of cultural awareness gives rise to many obtacles in communication, it is of utmost importance for managers to tackle this barrier by educating their workforce on cultural differences to ensure that the maximum productivity of the organisation. Reference List : Books :

Alan Cowling ; Philip James, The Essence of Personnel Management ; Industrial Relations, Page 77. Joao Miranda Graca, Hofstede’s Cultured Negotiating Agents, Page 39. Kristin Piepenburg, Critical Analysis of Hofstede’s Model of Cultural Dimensions, Page 22. Websites : ClearlyCultural, Making Sense of Cross Cultural Communication, ;lt;http://www. clearlycultural. com/geert-hofstede-cultural-dimensions/individ ualism/;gt;, [Accessed : 30th March 2013] CliffsNotes. com, Culture and Society Defined, no date, ;lt;http://www. cliffsnotes. com/study_guide/topicArticleId-26957,articleId-26848. tml;gt;, [Accessed : 25th March 2013] Cyborlink, Mexican Business Etiquette, Vital Manners, Cross Cultural Communication and Geert Hofstede’s Analysis, <http://www. cyborlink. com/besite/mexico. htm>, [Accessed : 8th April 2013] Dswenson, Cultural Dimensions, no date, <http://faculty. css. edu/dswenson/web/CULTURE/CULTDIM. HTM>, [Accessed : 30th March 2012] SmallBusiness, How to Overcome Cultural Communications in Business, <http://smallbusiness. chron. com/overcome-cross-cultural-communication-business-134. html>, [Accessed : 6th April 2013]

The Hofstede Center, National Culture – Dimensions, n. d, <http://geert-hofstede. com/china. html>, [Accessed : 30th March 2013] World Business Culture, Communication Styles, n. d, <http://www. worldbusinessculture. com/Business-Communication-Style. html>, [Accessed : 25th March 2013] World Speaking, Cultural Dimensions Theory, no date, <http://news. telelangue. com/en/2011/09/cultural-theory>, [Accessed : 1st April 2013] Wikipedia, Hofstede’s Cultural Dimension Theory, no date, ;lt;http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Hofstede%27s_cultural_dimensions_theory;gt;, [Accessed : 28th March 2013]

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