Business Communication Across Cultures

Business Communication Across Cultures


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Communication is a necessary challenge that each person faces daily. Communication is an aspect of business that is necessary to success and achievement. Many countries in the world are industrialized to the point where their culture is in what is called the information age or the digital age. Digital technology, social media, and information technology are prominent aspects to life, communication and business. This paper will examine how various factors including technology, media, gender, ethnicity and background impact verbal and nonverbal communication.

Communication is complicated and layered enough between couples, families, and other small groups. When we consider the impact, value, and importance of communication with respect to business, all the problems and pitfalls of communication intensify, as the stakes for a business are often greater than or at least equal to the stakes within our important relationships. When considering business communication across cultures, either within or outside of the organization, there become even more factors to ponder and include. There is now even more attention and research paid to how communication is additionally affected by technology, or how the mediation of communication through technology affects communication outcomes in conjunction with other aforementioned factors such as gender, ethnicity, and culture. Setlock et al. explain concisely and aptly the ways in which technology that mediates interaction and socialization has the potential to enhance as well as hinder effective crosscultural business communication as they write:

The technology necessitated by a remote collaboration may also affect collaborators’ impressions of each other and the task itself. Communication media can also affect the light in which a collaborator’s efforts are seen by others. When less is known about a remote collaborator’s immediate experiences, people may be more likely to attribute problems in communications such as delays and awkward expressions to internal, dispositional factors (e.g., disinterest in the task, rudeness) rather than external causes (e.g., network problems or a bad keyboard). The medium may, itself, negatively affect a collaborator’s impression of the contributions or personality of a remote colleague. (Setlock et al., 2004,-Page 4)

Thus, in additional to the numerous cultural factors, implications, and influences for business professionals to take into account, when technology is mediating the interaction, they must take that into account with respect to the business communication, too. As many mobile phone users know, a dropped call can easily misinterpreted, and so can a text that comes too soon or not soon enough. Cultural aspects, including the perception of time and the display of emotion are all factors that must be considered when examining crosscultural business communication, including in those instances where the communication is mediated by a piece of technology. Setlock et al. continue this train of thought as they state:

Richer computer-mediated communication tools, such as video conferencing systems, provide added social context…The simulated visual co-presence allowed partners access to richer context clues about their mutual understanding (quizzical looks, halting action, raised eyebrows) indicating that common ground had not yet been established and more clarification was needed. (Setlock et al., 2004,-Page 3)

Hopefully, as advances in mediated communication technology are made, the reduction of intercultural miscommunications will decrease as a result. The paper attempts to demonstrate the connections between various personal factors and their impacts upon communication. The paper moreover contends that these factors in conjunction with mediated technological communication experiences put considerable pressure upon business professionals to understand and decode communication among employees, consumers, competitors, and associates.

There are a great deal more ways to communicate than in previous decades and centuries. Most of these new forms of communication are simple and easily accessible. There is a great deal more intercultural communication because of technology and because of the trend of globalization. Yet, there is a disproportional lack in communication intelligence. Business researchers and professionals must take note of the significance of the various factors that influence how people communicate as well as their expectations, inclinations, and aesthetics for communication. At this point in the global economy, businesses that cannot effectively communicate and interpret communications across cultures are due to fail and if they do not fail, they will have a very limited potential for growth and success. Guang & Trotter agree as they contend:

If globalization is an inevitable process, then cross-culturalization will also be inevitable. On the one hand, the world is becoming more homogeneous, and distinctions between national markets are fading and, for some products, disappearing altogether. This means that business communication is now a world-encompassing discipline. On the other hand, the cultural differences between nations, regions and ethnic groups, far from being extinguished, are becoming stronger (Lillis and Tian, 2010). This means that global/international business communication, a cross-cultural process, requires managers to be well informed about cultural differences nationally, locally, and ethnically in order to win in global markets. Cross cultural solutions to international business therefore, are increasingly being suggested as a valid and necessary method in enhancing communication and interaction in and between business partners, between companies and customers, and between coworkers. (Guang & Trotter, 2012,-Page 6457)

Globalization and digital technology are strong factors that influence the necessity for effective, clear, and consistent competency in crosscultural business communication. Globalization at this point in time is highly unavoidable. The world has greater access to itself and the innumerable cultural artifacts including commodities, than it has in previous eras in known human history. The importance of globalization with respect to crosscultural communication cannot be emphasized enough. Globalization has helped make cultural literacy a high priority and necessity for businesses of various sizes. Guang & Trotter suggest that cultural literacy must occur on several levels in order to be effective and thorough, including on the local, national, and ethnic levels. They do not think to include gender as a culture, but it is a culture, and a very important one with respect to national culture, national identity, individual identity, and therefore style of communication.

Globalization and technology have influenced business communication in other ways as well. Socialization has risen as a prominent and significant aspect to business. Socialization also referred to currently as networking are key elements to a business’ communication style and strategy. Experienced and often successful business professionals know that there are plenty of opportunities to conduct business and perhaps conduct the best business while socializing and networking with colleagues and competitors. Though the setting may be more informal during a social event, the concept of business communication, especially across cultures is valid and rings true. Just as there are opportunities to make better deals outside of the board room than in it, social events also provide the potential for intensified crosscultural miscommunication and other subsequent mishaps that are the result of intercultural communication faux pas.

Transferred to the level of multinational communication, this issue gains new dimensions not only in terms of extension, but also as a result of the wide range of systems of values involved. In the age of globalization, where geographic borders have gradually lost their traditional separating rigidity, gaining an integrative rather than a separating meaning, cross – cultural communication abilities have become crucial for the survival and development of any company. Therefore, communicating across cultures involves good command of a complex network of cultural frames that yields a heterogeneous business environment, where people bring along their individual culturally and ethnically determined values, beliefs, and perceptions. (Dumbrava, 2010,-Page 84)

Dumbrava argues that the social aspect of business communication is more tense that formal business communication. (2010) She suggests that a great deal more acting must be done on behalf of the business representatives during social interactions. (2010) She asks readers to consider again, as the paper suggested earlier, that the communication issues that occur on a smaller scale, such as on the interpersonal level, are intensely magnified and scaled up when they occur within the context of an international business.

Business communications involve communications from company to customer (such as advertising), internal business communications (such as from senior management to first-line management), and business-to-business communications (such as negotiations). Other business communications include business-to-government communications. All of these various kinds of communications are fraught with the risk of miscommunication, even when they are inter-cultural. When those communications are carried out cross-culturally, the chances of miscommunication rise exponentially. (Setlock et al., 2012,-Page 6462)

It is crucial that business professionals are well informed and well educated as to the business etiquette and social etiquette of the people with whom they are conducting business and with whom they are holding business communications. It is also a useful tactic of the executive branch of a business to establish a clear and pervasive cultural identity for the company itself. As the paper will later argue with the support of other authors, a firm sense of one’s own identity and culture are extremely helpful when learning another culture with whom a business conducts business and engages in business related communications.

When it comes to intercultural communication, the adage, “knowledge is power,” rings true. There are in fact positions within large and profitable international businesses whose sole job is to conduct and prepare research on their colleagues, their clients, and their consumers. The cultural information that people occupying those types of positions acquire proves invaluable and when done well result in positive results for their company.

Cross-cultural business communication is business communication among consumers or customers whose culture differs from that of the marketer’s own culture in at least one fundamental aspect of cultural such as language, religion, social norms and values, education and living style. Cross-cultural business communication demands that firms be aware of and sensitive to cultural differences…Cross-cultural business communication requires that firms discover if markets are viable by including the study of the culture in which the company is going to do business in its business and marketing planning. To do this the firms should identify cultural factors that can be employed to support business communication in proposed markets. To succeed the business uses already existing factors and creates new ones that suit the situation. (Guang & Trotter, 2012,-Page 6459)

The above quotation is useful and insight for several reasons. One aspect of its value is that it reminds readers, presuming some of them are currently business professionals, that business communication happens amongst several different parties. The communication does not only occur between a company and its competitor. Business communication is not limited to communication within the business alone. Business communication is all forms of communication among the business and all other relevant parties that are directly influencing the success or failure of that particular business. A more open-minded conception of what business communication is may lend itself to assisting in developing awareness of the myriad of cultures professionals must wade through and interpret when conducting business communication.

Another aspect to the quotation’s value is that it directly links the financial success of a business to that business’ ability to communicate effectively across cultures. There is a clear link between awareness, respect, and integration of knowledge about other cultures within business communication and the generation of revenue. Guang & Trotter continue their explication in a related comment that:

The globalization of the world economies had made it important for marketing managers to understand how to do business in different cultures. The ability of marketers and consumers to communicate cross-culturally is critical for success. Business communication is two way interactive communications. Marketers deliver information to the market, and they gather and collect, interpret, and put the information they gather from the markets to use. Failure to do either may lead to a loss of business. (Guang & Trotter, 2012,-Page 6458)

Yet another aspect of the quotation’s (2012,-Page 6459) value is how it suggests that businesses do not have to re-invent the wheel, so to speak, when it comes to the challenges of intercultural communication. Companies should use assets they already have, but perhaps use them in a new way according to what the situation demands. Finally, the quotation supports the paper’s earlier assertion regarding the value and necessity of meticulous cultural research when endeavoring to conduct crosscultural communication. Dumbrava takes these ideas and applies them once more to a global scale, so as to provide readers with the big picture regarding the implications of effective or ineffective business communication:

In a global environment, organizations have come to understand that cultural sensitivity has a decisive impact upon business performance, which justifies investments in providing their staff with training in this sense. Thus, even the major economies of the world, which still foster a sense of cultural superiority, have been forced to admit that survival on the international market entails good knowledge of foreign customs, etiquette, protocol, communication styles and negotiation approaches. In other words, recognizing cultural divergence can make the difference between success and failure in marketing and negotiation. Therefore, in order to recognize differences and adapt to the acceptable behaviour framework specific to every cultural environment, we need to display flexibility in thinking and cautiousness in gestures and verbal manifestations. (Dumbrava, 2010,-Page 87)

The greatest or most powerful countries are humbled in the same manner to do research and acknowledge as well as practice to a certain degree, the customs of cultures with whom the conduct business and whose markets within which they wish to conduct business. In these ways, the market, influenced and expanded by social media and digital technology, have dictated some important aspects of how business is conducted in the 21st century. Cultural aspects such as perspective regarding technology and access to technology affect how people around the world conduct business. For business people in highly industrialized cultures such as those found in the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and Canada, technology may not be as valued or awe-inspiring since it proliferates in these areas relative to developing or third world countries such as Cambodia, El Salvador, and Senegal where highly advanced technology is scarce, and those with access to it and training with it are rare, so technology may have a greater relative cultural value in such places. This would be something to take into consideration when these countries conduct business with each other, among other innumerable considerations to be made.

Each country in the world has a distinctive method or strategy for business communication that is distinctive from other cultures and countries in the world. The way a country and culture conducts business communication is a convergence of many factors including social context, history, values, and norms of that culture. Business professionals literally cannot afford to be or remain ignorant regarding the cultural practices and history of the cultures with whom they conduct business. Communication is a significant factor or key to the success of a business. If a business cannot recognize the importance of intercultural communication, that business will not fulfill or explore its potential for success. While many of the authors mentioned thus far in the paper advocate for performing research upon others to be successful, there is another line of thinking by some professionals who contend that understanding the self, the native identity, and the native culture of the business is the way to truly understand others to, in turn, communicate with them effectively to the point where good business is done. Jameson writes:

…the field of intercultural business communication should more strongly emphasize how to understand one’s own individual cultural identity: the sense of self derived from formal or informal membership in groups that impart knowledge, beliefs, values, attitudes, traditions, and ways of life. This new focus would complement but not diminish the field’s traditional concern with how to understand the collective group culture of others. An expanded concept of cultural identity could reduce the past privileging of nationality; highlight components directly related to business, such as economic class and vocational affiliation; enrich intercultural business communication studies; and show how culture not only connects people but also defines them as unique individuals. (Jameson, 2007,-Page 200)

Just in a general self, it is good practice to know oneself in order to know others better. Clarification and crystallization of one’s own identity can help clarify and distinguish the identity of a business partner. Intensive self knowledge may additionally assist in one translating experiences and social context in a more direct and clear manner to business peers of different cultures. nA stronger focus on understanding one’s own cultural identity would complement theories and models of intercultural business communication. Knowledge of communication styles is essential because communication occurs between individuals, not between whole organizations or cultures. Culture is an internal state of mind that underlies and influences the process of communication. Including more focus on understanding one’s own cultural background does not reduce the need to understand others’ cultural backgrounds. (Jameson, 2007) A broader, more balanced concept of cultural identity would help people gain self insight, would expand the analysis of business problems, and would influence the design of business communication research. (Jameson, 2007) Finally, it is the opinion of this paper that just about every aspect of an individual influences that person’s style and manner of communication. Considering all these factors and points of the paper does make communication seem daunting and almost impossible, but communication has existed for as long as their have been humans.


Dumbrava, G. (2010). The Concept of Framing in Cross-Cultural Business Communication. Annals of the University of Pertrosani, Economics, 10(1), 83 — 90.

Guang, T., & Trotter, D. (2012). Key issues in cross-cultural business communication: Anthropological approaches to international business. African Journal of Business Management, 6(22), 6456 — 6464.

Jameson, D.A. (2007). Reconceptualizing Cultural Identity and Its Role in Intercultural Business Communication. Journal of Business Communication, 44(3), 199 — 235.

Setlock, L.D., Fussell, S.R., & Neuworth, C. (2004). Taking it Out of Context: Collaborating Within and Across Cultures in Face-to-Face Setting and via Instant Messaging. Human-Computer Interaction Institute, Paper 58, 2 — 11.

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