Decades ago corporations do not have large investments in foreign countries but now this is all changed. Corporations now play a major role in many businesses such as Coca- Cola in beverages, Microsoft in computer software, IBM in computer hardware, Nokia in telecommunications, Ford Motors in automobile, Walt Disney World in entertainment and not forgetting McDonald’s worldwide existence in the fast food industry. Major corporations and MNCs are now expanding and investing heavily into new foreign markets, as home markets are no longer as rich in opportunity as before.
All business activities be it locally or overseas will require human beings to interact and react, this process will involve exchange of information, ideas, plans decisions, proposals, contracts, agreements and most importantly ‘effective communications. ‘ Definition of communication: Communication is define as the meaningful exchange of information through messages between one person or group to another, is a composite of everything we do and say. (Block, Boone and Kurtz, 1997, p. 2)
Definition of culture: Culture is defined as a set of values, ideas, and attitudes that shape human behaviour. (Aldag, Cunningham and Stone, 1996, p. 82) As (Hildebrandt, Murphy and Thomas, 1997, p. 4) said, “communication is the lifeblood of every organization, organizations cannot function without open and effective communications. ” Communications in the organization itself can spell a series of problems, what’s more when the firm need to communicate across border with cultural differences as an additional obstacle.
Organisations will need to learn, understand, respect and adapt other culture’s style of communication. Effective cross- cultural communications play a vital role in corporations that are operating in foreign markets as it can increase job satisfaction, productivity, profits and organisation’s overall effectiveness and efficiency. Most importantly it can avoid all unnecessary misunderstanding that arises from the roots of cultural differences like knowledge, language, customs, society’s basic values, perceptions, preferences, religion and behaviours.
Culture differences also include a sense of self and space, communication and language, dress and appearance, food and eating habits, time and time consciousness, relationships and affections, values and norms, beliefs and attitudes, mental process and learning, and work habits and practices. Effective communications will enhance understanding, respect, co- operation and work attitudes, which play a crucial role in connecting two groups of people with little or extreme cultural differences working together.
That is the reason why many corporations choose not to sell their products or services in foreign countries because they do not understand the cultures and the communications style of those countries. In an era of global business, contact and communications among cultures are more that anthropological interest, those who possess greater cultural sensitivity and knowledge of international issues are consider having advantages over the competitors. A crash of culture and communication differences might affect harmony or even destroy a potentially rewarding joint venture or strategic alliance.
It is vital and important to avoid as organization put in a great deal of money, time and effort going global aiming to achieve its objectives and goals in a foreign land. Effective cross- cultural communications is achievable by applying appropriate and effective behaviours and styles across cultures. Successful global corporations need to understand a new or different cultural context and to respond to it effectively. Managers should spend time to study and plan for a particular culture the firm is aiming to penetrate, but on the other hand managers may still find themselves having to respond immediately and with little preparation.
If organization is able to understand the key differences in cultural styles such as a sense of space, language, appearance, food, time consciousness, relationships, values, attitudes, mental process and work habits. I am very sure that both managers and employees can communicate and work more smoothly with others in the global workplace and business situations. Example 1- Cultural difference in conversation style. A U. S. manager, visiting Japan to promote a product, told his Japanese colleague, a marketing manager, to arrange a visit to a customer. The Japanese manager knowing that the style of the U.
S. manager was too aggressive for the Japanese and was unwilling to arrange the visit to the client. However, he felt that he had to arrange the meeting and they visit the client together. The Japanese client was courteous to the American visitor and responded to his requests in a diplomatic way (saying, “Yes, yes,” and nodding). In the other words, the answer this client gave the U. S. manager was no more than a fai?? ade, what is supposed to be said. But the U. S. manager took this answer literally and returned to U. S. headquarters with a positive sense of achievement.
Meanwhile, his Japanese colleague received a phone call from the client, who said, “Never bring that kind of guy to see me again! ” This message never reached the U. S. manager, because his Japanese colleague didn’t want to offend him. (Funakawa, 1997, p. 83) From the example above we can see a clear cultural differences in conversation style and as a result the Japanese comments can easily mislead the American visitor. Many American expatriates and visitors prepare themselves by studying the Japanese language and Japanese business practices but the fact is that it is often difficult to apply this cognitive knowledge in practice.
Not only American businessmen who do not know Japanese business practices and customs cause failures in mergers or business activities. Effective cross- cultural communications will still need Japanese colleagues to give constructive and logical feedback and advice for their Americans colleagues. Both American and Japanese managers need to realize and develop knowledge on cultural contexts and learn how to apply cross- cultural communication skills so to limit their perception and hinder them from working effectively across cultures in the global arena.
Example 2- Cultural difference in concepts of time. Concepts of time, however, vary across cultures and the differences in the use of time can lead to lots of misunderstanding. For example the Germans are quite punctual while the Middle East businessmen tend to do things slowly, even a simple agreement may take several days to negotiate because Arabs often engage in lengthy discussions of unrelated issues. In Western society, example German businessmen tend to move pretty much by the clock- a 1 o’clock appointment usually mean 1 o’clock of within 5 or 10 minutes.
But in some Middle East cultures – a 1 o’clock appointment usually means 2 o’clock and if the businessman arrive on time (1 o’clock) to transact and close the deal he may actually offend the person. If you are invited to a meal in the West it is usually consider impolite to leave immediately it is over, whereas in Saudi Arabia, for example, the socialising and chatter usually take place before the meal, and guests commonly leave as soon as the meal is finished and your host, no matter how busy they are, will press you to stay; but you should leave politely. (Stanton, 1996, p. 33)
The Saudis set more value than we do on the exchange of small favours in their everyday affairs, no business is discussed at all until coffee or tea has been served and time has been spend on elaborate personal exchanges. If the Germans or any other Western businessmen try to get down to business it will be taken to be a sign of bad manners and even lack of business expertise. (Stanton, 1996, p. 34) From the two examples above we can understand that slight differences in conversation style and concept of time in two different cultures can bring very different and negative results.
The more interactions people have with each another’s from different cultural backgrounds, the more challenges arise that are new and complex. I felt that companies that are going global should spend time and effort on cultural comparison first then on strategy planning to uncover understanding in foreign markets, customer behaviour, advantages in locating facilities overseas and factors that will influence investment decisions. I have considered and decided to point out the following points as common mistakes organizations tend to make when practising cross- cultural communications and they are:
Firstly, the firm should avoid judging other cultures base on it’s on culture as each country has its long- established traditions. There isn’t any single correct cross- cultural business communication theory, principles or procedures. Secondly, the firm should avoid drawing conclusions for an entire cultural group based on only a few examples or experiences. Thirdly, organization should realise that for effective cross- cultural communications to take place, organization itself must be ready to adapt to changes in the new culture. Time is the influential factor that is needed to adapt and understand another culture.
Lastly, organization should also realise that money and profit are not the only things that the cross border businessmen are looking for. They might be looking for elements like trust, sincerity, integrity and mutual understanding in their foreign counterparts, which are vital for building any long-term successful business relationships regardless of cultural differences. Organizations with better preparations and understanding of a foreign country and culture can avoid unnecessary misunderstanding and enjoy a more fruitful business deals and intercultural communications experience with their counterparts.
1. Boone, Louis E. , Kurtz, David L. and Block, Judy R. , Contemporary Business Communication (second edition), Prentice Hall International, 1997 2. Cunning, William H. , Aldag, Ramon J. and Stone, Mary S. , Business In a Changing World, South western College Publishing, 1996 3. Funakawa, Atsushi, Transcultural Management, Jossey- Bass Publishers, 1997 4. Murphy, Herta A. , Hilderbrandt, Herbert W. and Thomas, Jane P. , Effective Business Communication (seventh edition), McGraw- Hill Companies, Inc, 1997