Cross Cultural Communication
Cross-cultural communication has become strategically important to companies due to the growth of global business, technology, and the Internet. Understanding cross-cultural communication is important for any company that has a diverse workforce or plans on conducting global business. This type of communication involves an understanding of how people from different cultures speak, communicate, and perceive the world around them.
Cross-cultural communication in an organization deals with understanding different business customs, beliefs and communication strategies. Language differences, high-context vs. low-context cultures, nonverbal differences, and power distance are major factors that can affect cross-cultural communication.
Let’s take a look at how cross-cultural differences can cause potential issues within an organization. Jack is a manager at a New Mexico-based retail conglomerate. He has flown to Japan to discuss a potential partnership with a local Japanese company. His business contact, Yamato, is his counterpart within the Japanese company. Jack has never been to Japan before, and he’s not familiar with their cultural norms. Let’s look at some of the ways that a lack of cultural understanding can create a barrier for business success by examining how Jack handles his meeting with Yamato.
High- vs. Low-Context Culture
The concept of high- and low-context culture relates to how an employee’s thoughts, opinions, feelings, and upbringing affect how they act within a given culture. North America and Western Europe are generally considered to have low-context cultures. This means that businesses in these places have direct, individualistic employees who tend to base decisions on facts. This type of businessperson wants specifics noted in contracts and may have issues with trust.
High-context cultures are the opposite in that trust is the most important part of business dealings. There are areas in the Middle East, Asia and Africa that can be considered high context. Organizations that have high-context cultures are collectivist and focus on interpersonal relationships. Individuals from high-context cultures might be interested in getting to know the person they are conducting business with in order to get a gut feeling on decision making. They may also be more concerned about business teams and group success rather than individual achievement.
Jack and Yamato ran into some difficulties during their business negotiations. Jack spoke quickly and profusely because he wanted to seal the deal as soon as possible. However, Yamato wanted to get to know Jack, and he felt that Jack spoke too much. Yamato also felt that Jack was only concerned with completing the deal for his own self-interest and was not concerned with the overall good of the company. Jack’s nonverbal cues did not help the negotiations either.
Gestures and eye contact are two areas of nonverbal communication that are utilized differently across cultures. Companies must train employees in the correct way to handle nonverbal communication as to not offend other cultures. For example, American workers tend to wave their hand and use a finger to point when giving nonverbal direction. Extreme gesturing is considered rude in some cultures. While pointing may be considered appropriate in some contexts in the United States, Yamato would never use a finger to point towards another person because that gesture is considered rude in Japan. Instead, he might gesture with an open hand, with his palm facing up, toward the person.