INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION IN BUSINESSES
Globalization is happening at an
unprecedented rate. All these element has created the needs to communicate
between individuals and organizations from different nations and cultures. The
needs of communicative competence between different cultures has become a
requirement for individuals who want to work efficiently. Edward T. Hall (1959)
in his book “The Silent language”, coined the term “intercultural communication”.
Although there are many researches
about the importance of intercultural communication and how to achieve an
appropriate level of intercultural communicative competence such as Ball et al.
2010; Beamer and Varner 2008; Cheng et al. 2008; Ferraro 2010; Gesteland 2005;
Martin and Nakayama 2010). Most professional business and companies still
neglecting these aspects in their organization. They believe that business
communication is not affected by culture differences and that in the business
context, the communication is universal. However, this is evidently wrong as
individuals with different backgrounds and culture will have different
perspectives and reactions to communication. As Harris and Moran (2007) stated “at
the root of the issue, we are likely to find communication failures and
In this research, we will examine
the need to study the theories as well as the practicality of Intercultural
communication in business, then analyze a classic model of intercultural
communication which is being used by many managers in their workplace. Finally,
we will propose some solution about Intercultural communication for businesses
in multicultural settings.
II. THE NEED TO STUDY INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION
The 21st century is the
century of globalization, overseas businesses and internationalization of
companies are becoming the norms. To succeed in this global economics settings,
one must possess intercultural communicative competence. For when the economy
is globalized, opportunities can come from everywhere in the world. Therefore, to
understand the values of cultures and the know-how to communicate effectively
with individuals is to have the key to success.
Intercultural communication is not
without its challenges, multinational companies and firms have to deal with multicultural
human resources. Individuals from different nation and cultures have different
sets of values, belief and perception; different educational level and experiences
and thus creating challenges for businesses to operate. If these problems are
left unchecked, could result in potential misunderstanding between colleagues,
destroying relationships and ruining business prospect. Therefore, it is
essential to raise awareness of intercultural communication to ensure efficient
and clear communication to colleagues and business partners, and to limit
conflicts and mistakes when different cultures collide.
The effects of multiculturalism on
businesses around the world also raise the need to increase knowledge and
experiences working in multicultural settings for individuals. To predict and
give appropriate respond to cultural contexts can minimize culture conflicts in
an international business operation and create opportunities for people with
different cultures to co-operate and work efficiently. Companies, if well
trained in intercultural language skills, can utilize and effectively manage a multi-cultural
workforce, and have an edge in business competitiveness.
III. INTERCULTURAL COMMUNICATION AND BARRIERS
Intercultural communication is one
of the most important skill one must have if one is working in a multicultural
business setting. The knowledge and skill must be sufficient to ensure an individual
can live and function in a multinational, multilingual and multicultural
environment. Intercultural communication focus on human interaction through
verbal and non-verbal communication. Knowledge about cultures and communication
skills will directly affect the success or failure of communication. In truth,
Intercultural communication has encountered some barriers:
a) Language barrier
Not every country in the world uses
English for communication. Even if they use English as a second language after
their native tongues, English words can have different meanings, therefore the
usage of English language in different context can lead to misunderstanding. A
researcher has said the English and American is divided by a common language.
That also mean the use of a same language in communication does not mean the
same meaning. This is especially true in international business. For at least
one party involved in the communication process is using a different language
than their native tongues. Language barriers also happens when parties using nonstandard
English to communicate.
b) Culture barrier
Different cultures have different
set of values, belief, business ethnic, language, behavior and ways to
communicate. The lack of knowledge of others culture can cause misunderstanding
or even worse, an insult to the recipient. For example: An American will hug
and kiss when they greet someone. However, that will be considered rude in
Vietnam as Vietnamese cultures value personal space.
c) Company culture barrier
Company culture is comprised of a
set of values, standards, habits and traditions that has been created and
approved by all members of that company. When a company expand businesses
overseas, companies need to evaluate their own company culture and determines
what conflict may happen in intercultural communication with people from
destination country. Business strategies need to adapt and avoid conflict with
cultures of countries they want to conduct business on.
IV. The Lewis Model
Richard D Lewis is one of the most prominent
linguist and sociologist in the fields of intercultural communication. He came
up with the Lewis Model of Culture to use in intercultural communication
teaching and to increase Multilanguage awareness. The model divides cultures into 3 main
categories: Linearactive Cultures, Multiactive Cultures and Reacitve Cultures:
Objective-based cultures, people in these cultures like to make detail plans.
They prefer direct discussion and feedback, and communicate based on data, more
logic-based than emotion- based.
Emotional-based cultures. People in these cultures tend to put their attention
into families, relationships and emotional connection.
Reactive Cultures: People who are
polite and will listen first. They rarely act without considering their role
and will likely to compromise to reach a satisfying conclusion the group.
Lewis’s Model of Cultures showed us
First, people from different
cultures have different perspective on time and space: the way they adjust
their personal space, the silence and eye contact. In some countries like China
and Japan; to be on time is essential, and to be late is considered rude. However, to some countries like Brazil or
Saudi Arabia, to be on time is not necessary. The concept of space in
communication is also different. In some countries, one must keep a certain
distance to show respect. However, in others countries this is not required.
Second, communication style is reflected
Third, perspective on right/wrong:
Absolute or relative (depend on situation).
Fourth, viewpoints, attitudes and values.
The conception about an object or
event can also differ depend on the culture. For example, the conception of
truth: As for German, the truth cannot be changed. For Japanese and British,
truth can be changed depend on situation. For Chinese, there is no absolute
truth. For Italian, the truth can be negotiated. So, how can one achieve
effective communication between these contrast viewpoints between cultures?
Lewis solved this by inventing the Model
of Culture. Nearly every nation in the world fall into one of the point in the
model, with the three corners represent the three categories: Linearactive,
Multiactive and Reactive. The countries that appeared at the corners bear the
most traits that are associated with their perspective categories. For example:
German, Switzerland and Belgium is the highlight for Linearactive cultures,
while Vietnamese is distinct for its Reactive cultures.
Therefore, to ensure effective
communication, one party to identify their own cultures and the cultures of the
opposite party, then prepare conversations according to the characteristics of
In the age of globalization,
business comes from all cultures. The challenges of international companies and
firms is to create an environment of shared cultured values. To raise awareness
of intercultural communication and maintain an effective multicultural
workforce. More and more companies around the world are expanding across
borders to conduct business, but only a few succeed. One of such challenges is
competent intercultural communication.