Communicating Successfully Across Cultures Is a Key Skill that Business People Need to Learn Today
Table of Contents
The introduction of innovations in all spheres of life, the development of new communication technologies, changes in the economy’s structure, and active use of the world market’s opportunities create common communicative space involving employers and employees, suppliers and consumers, as well as business people and clients or partners from different countries and cultures. Each stage of the development of society imposes certain requirements for the professional business qualities. Skills of cross-cultural interaction with foreign colleagues precede the successful professional activity in the time of globalization and integration of the modern world. Constantly changing social and economic conditions predetermine the dynamism of cross-cultural communication, which leads to the need for regular learning the cross-cultural knowledge and skills not only while studying at the university but also in the subsequent business activities.
The Concept of Cross-Cultural Communication
Cross-cultural communication reflects the peculiar relations between people belonging to different cultures. Mutual understanding, reaching a joint decision and reciprocal satisfaction together with the results of the interaction of the representatives of different cultures is the goal of successful cross-cultural communication. The process of cross-cultural communication is not confined to the knowledge of foreign languages, but it also necessitates the general knowledge of other people’s culture, their religion, values, moral attitudes, national character, the way of life, and worldviews in the aggregate that determine the model of interlocutors’ behaviour (Kumar & Chakravarthi, 2009). The principle of dialogue used in cross-cultural communication involves respect and recognition of all cultures. Only a combination of the language and culture knowledge provides successful communication between people from diverse backgrounds.
The Need to Study Cross-Cultural Communication Due to the Problems of the Transnational Business Formation
The process of transnational business formation has actualized the problems of cross-cultural communication. In 2012, The Economist Intelligence Unit, an analytical division of The Economist, conducted and published the results of the study “Competing across borders.” The respondents were 572 heads of commercial and non-commercial companies around the world. Over 90% of the respondents assume that due to the growing number of their foreign clients and partners, the profits and incomes of enterprises will grow in case of successful transnational policy (CAB, 2012). Nevertheless, almost half of the respondents are afraid of failure to conduct international business and loss of the profits due to the differences in cultural traditions and norms of behaviour at work, as well as inaccuracies in translations. The managers recognized that they did not pay enough attention to training their employees in foreign languages and skills of cross-cultural communication. In addition, 40% of companies do not take into account the ability of their potential employees to operate in the intercultural space (CAB, 2012). Nonetheless, communicating successfully across cultures is a key skill in the modern business world.
When a person finds himself/herself in another cultural and linguistic environment, he/she feels the so-called “cultural shock” due to the lack of the knowledge of national values and communicative laws of other peoples. This leads to the communicative barrier that makes it impossible to achieve a communicative goal and causes a stressful situation. Stress generalizes the problem resulting in the biased perception of the situation, which ultimately leads to the rejection of subsequent direct contact – cultural shock (Levine, Park, & Kim, 2007). When the important international relations deteriorate, it harms the business that suffers financial loss, and, of course, ruins its reputation. That is why there are relevant questions about cross-cultural competence, which are determined by the possibility of cross-personal communication in a special context. They include the significance of cultural differences and the ability to distinguish, understand, and adequately consider them during the communication process.
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The ways and methods of overcoming cultural and linguistic barriers may vary in different companies and countries, but the risks arising from cross-cultural misunderstanding can be reduced if business people receive special training. Xu (2007) considers that a modern leader should be both a cosmopolitan and an expert in international cooperation. A versatile cultural businessperson is able to find a common language with representatives of different races, age categories, sexes, social positions, and lifestyles. He/she must know how to create synergy and use national and cultural strong points of his/her partners. For successful cross-cultural communication, the businessperson must be prepared to tackle the differences that arise. Working with representatives of other cultures, a specialist needs to be tolerant, flexible, and ready to listen and learn many new things. To become a versatile cultural leader, it is crucial to master a sense of culture, that is, the ability and desire to understand the reasons why a representative of another culture behaves in one way, and not otherwise (Xu, 2007). If a businessperson develops a sense of culture, he/she will understand some of the national nuances that are helpful in building a closer relationship with people who have different cultural roots.
Peculiarities of Communicating Across Culture
Business communication includes the exchange of information to achieve professional goals and solve problems among others. Besides, it involves the exchange of actions and the ability to relate actions to a particular situation. In addition, the business communication requires mutually perceiving partners and establishing mutual understanding. One of the most effective ways to overcome intercultural differences is the development of cross-cultural receptivity and the ability to analyse the situation logically. Kumar & Chakravarthi (2009) believe that intercultural communication trainings should contain verbal and non-verbal learning. Non-verbal symbols that are positively perceived in one culture can receive a negative interpretation by representatives of another culture. For instance, in a conversation, Americans keep distance in two steps from the interlocutor, thus trying to have their own space, while in the eastern countries the distance between interlocutors is significantly closer (Marx, 2011). In some countries, bribes is a part of doing business, while in the USA and Europe it is a crime that is punishable by law (Marx, 2011). In the West, people are consistent with the schedule of work and meetings, while in the East, the attitude towards time is less rigid (Marx, 2011). People living in different countries have different values and different ways of communicating with each other. Among the most common misunderstandings in cross-cultural business communication is the attitude towards time and terms (for some cultures, the contract is immutable, and for others, it is subject to change), as well as the establishment of direct or indirect contacts with new partners (Levine et al., 2007). A businessperson should remember this when communicating with people of other cultures.
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The difference between emotional and non-emotional approaches to business creates many problems in communication across culture. Due to this, there is an expressive culture of business relationships, where emotionality is a norm, and a restrained culture of business relationships that prefers rational ways of interaction. The Mediterranean region and South America belong to expressive cultures; the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Eastern Europe, and Africa relate to partially expressive cultures; countries of East and South Asia, Northern Europe, Germany, and Great Britain pertain to restrained cultures (Marx, 2011). Moreover, there are individualistic business cultures based on the principles of individual’s autonomy as well as respect for one’s rights and freedoms and traditionally collectivistic cultures orientated on the preservation, constant reproduction of national customs, and traditions and norms. The representatives of European and American individualist cultures focus on the information rather than on the way they communicate; they are primarily interested in its content (Levine et al., 2007). Concise and logic-driven, consistent, and conceptually precise thinking is typical of them. The representatives of Asian collectivistic cultures, while communicating with each other, pay attention to the context of the message, emphasizing not only the message but also the way the interlocutor expresses it (Levine et al., 2007). Therefore, the communication with the representatives of the Eastern cultures seems somewhat vague, inconsistent, and over-saturated with indirect forms of expressions such as “probably,” “everything is possible,” “as Allah wills” and others.
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Language is a significant barrier in communication with people of different cultures. Peculiar accent, differences in pronunciation of some words in diverse language variants, and contrasting usage of the terms create obstacles to successful business communication between diverse cultures. In conversation with business partners, speakers should be careful in using slang expressions, idioms, and colloquialisms, since using such an informal language frequently leads to misunderstanding. To avoid confusion in cross-cultural contacts, business partners must speak slowly and clearly formulate their thoughts, omit to use incomprehensible and long phrases, repeat key points in different formulations, and listen carefully to their interlocutor.
Stereotypes are another serious challenge in cross-cultural communication. However, even if interlocutors realize intercultural differences, a dialogue with foreign partners may still be unsuccessful due to the stereotypes. Such a failure might happen because some background knowledge is biased, which causes preconceived attitude (Levine et al., 2007). Moreover, not only national differences affect the cross-cultural communication process but also a fact that interlocutors represent their own individual subculture inherited from the family, formed by education and religion, and related to profession, social status, gender, race, and age. Therefore, it is important not to judge a person solely according to his/her culture.
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In conclusion, each nation has specific ideas about the culture of interpersonal relationships as well as their own standards of behaviour and communication. However, business communication in the cross-cultural space adheres to the fundamental international moral and ethical standards of communicative behaviour, in particular, the principles of courtesy, punctuality, tact, respect, and tolerance. Effective cross-cultural communication foresees successful cooperation bringing many benefits to business partners. Respective attitude towards another culture, cross-cultural competence, and awareness of peculiarities of national business cultures is a prerequisite for a successful business communication between representatives of different cultures. Personality training for successful interaction with foreign business partners should be prioritised in the university education as well in future professional life.