Profiting From Cross-Cultural Communication – The Key to Successful Global Business

Regardless if you’re an employee working for a multi-national company or an entrepreneur starting your own business, you’ll find that in order to bring a business to the next level understanding the dynamics of cross-cultural communication is of utmost importance.

Have you ever encountered a situation where your foreign associate was inclined to go near to you during a conversation? Occasionally, he might even whisper to you when no one was around!

Or have you experienced the waiting game in an appointment? Yes, both you and I know how frustrating it can be to wait for an important client who doesn’t attend meeting on time!

Space and time are just two examples that vary from culture to culture. The culture of each country determines how the people treasure and value their own space and time.

Never fight against culture nor confront it. We have to accept that there is cultural diversity in this world. To successfully deal with a new culture, you must make an effort to identify cultural values, inherent priorities and the differences with your own.

With the formation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the breaking down of trade barriers, there is no future for parochialism and ethnocentrism. We are heading towards a global marketplace, a place where there is no border for trade.

China, a giant in terms of population and potential users of goods and services, has officially joined the WTO. Now a nation of 1.36 billion people is ready to give you a golden opportunity for businesses. But the question is, “Are you ready for that?”

We are living in a world of complexity and cultural diversity. There are not many studies and books published about the cultures and management styles of different countries. Until recently, much of the published works came from the American experience.

Text books on organizational behaviors were written by Americans and read by the people of the world. The models and theories were based on their assumptions and they implicitly assumed that what was true for Americans in the United States was also true for the peoples of other countries. Of course, they are wrong. The greatest threats to success in the global market of today are parochialism and ethnocentrism.

Parochialism is viewing the world solely through one’s own eyes and perspective. A person with parochial perspective does not recognize other’s different ways of living and working. By nature, we are all parochial to a certain extent. But we must shed away the parochialism in us and see the world in the global perspective.

Ethnocentrism is to show superiority over other nations. We believe that “our way is the best way”. Of course, it is not true, another culture’s customs may seem silly, bizarre or absurd. There is no absolute universal code for us to judge what is right, wrong or bad about the culture, traditions and livelihood of our neighboring countries or our global neighbors.

As the world economy becomes increasingly integrated, we have to prepare to understand people through their cultures. There is no international or global business culture that all of us can follow. To avoid faux pas, a global player has to be culturally aware and develop cultural empathy.

How to Achieve Effective and Profitable Cross-Cultural Communication?

Communication is the exchange of meaning: if I do not know how to express what I mean, then I am not communicating. Communication includes any behavior that another person perceives and interprets: it is your understanding of what I mean.

Communication includes verbal and non-verbal messages. Verbal messages are spoken words and non-verbal messages are tone of voice, facial expression, body language and physical environment.

Every communication has a message sender and a message receiver. Each sender and each receiver has been shaped in his thinking, feelings and behavior. His behavior is influenced by his:

  • upbringing, family life,
  • religion,
  • culture and
  • socio-economic conditions.

These are the layers of filters that stand in between the sender and receiver. So powerful are these different filters that in certain cross-cultural situations, where people are being guided by different values and different language.

Therefore, effective communication is almost impossible unless both the sender and the receiver are able to interpret the messages in the light of the other’s cultural background.

To end this article, let’s take a look at an example why learning effective cross-cultural communication is important in today globalised world!

A Japanese businessman wishes to inform his American seller that he is not interested to purchase. To be polite, he says, “It is difficult and there is a slight problem.” To the American, it means there are some unresolved matters to be settled. The American responds by sending more materials, technical details and counter proposal to the Japanese. The Japanese believes that he has sent the message across that there is no sale. The American is completely astonished.