- THE FACTORS AFFECTING CROSS
- ENVIRONMENT AND TECHNOLOGY
- SOCIAL ORGANIZATION
- CONTEXTING AND FACE-SAVING
- AUTHORITY CONCEPTION
- NONVERBAL BEHAVIOR
- TEMPORAL CONCEPTION
- FURTHER READING:
Business is not conducted in an identical fashion from culture to culture. Consequently, business relations are enhanced when managerial, sales, and technical personnel are trained to be aware of areas likely to create communication difficulties and conflict across cultures. Similarly, international communication is even further strengthened when businesspeople can anticipate areas of commonality. Finally, business in general is enhanced when people from different cultures find new approaches to old problems creating solutions by combining cultural perspectives and examining the problem at hand from each other’s differing cultural perspectives.
Problems in business communication conducted across cultures often arise when participants from one culture are unable to understand culturally determined differences in communication practices, traditions, and thought processing. At the most fundamental level, problems may occur when one or more of the people involved clings to an ethnocentric view of how to conduct business. Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s own cultural group is somehow innately superior to others.
It is easy to say that ethnocentrism only affects the bigoted or those ignorant of other cultures, and so is unlikely to be a major factor in one’s own business communication. Yet difficulties due to a misunderstanding of elements in cross-cultural communication may affect even enlightened people. Ethnocentrism is deceptive precisely because members of any culture perceive their own behavior as logical, since that behavior works for them. People tend to accept the values of the culture around them as absolute values. Since each culture has its own set of values, often quite divergent from those values held in other cultures, the concept of proper and improper, foolish and wise, and even right and wrong become blurred. In international business, questions arise regarding what is proper by which culture’s values, what is wise by which culture’s view of the world, and what is right by whose standards.
Since no one individual is likely to recognize the subtle forms of ethnocentrism that shape who he or she is, international business practitioners must be especially careful in conducting business communication across cultures. It is necessary to try to rise above culturally imbued ways of viewing the world. To do this, one needs to understand how the perception of a given message changes depending on the culturally determined viewpoint of those communicating.
THE FACTORS AFFECTING CROSS-
CULTURAL BUSINESS COMMUNICATION
Culture directly affects the communication process in an international business setting through seven variables:
- environmental and technological considerations
- social organization
- contexting and face-saving
- authority conception
- nonverbal communication behavior
- time conception
These seven items form the acronym LESCANT.
Most barriers when communicating across cultures derive from the communicator’s misgauge of the LESCANT factors. By assessing in advance the roles these variables play in business communication, one can improve one’s ability to convey those messages effectively to an audience from a different culture.
The seven LESCANT factors alone do not provide a thorough knowledge of another culture. Moreover, these seven dimensions of culture are not intended to represent the only cause of intercultural communication difficulties. Being aware of these factors does, however, provide an underlying foundation on which one can construct a framework for understanding the businesspeople from other cultures. In short, these seven factors represent an approach for asking the right questions needed to see the most significant cultural differences and similarities. The answers to those questions vary according to the individual experiences of those involved.
Among the most often cited barriers to conflict-free cross-cultural business communication is the use of different languages. It is difficult to underestimate the importance that an understanding of linguistic differences plays in international business communication. Difficulties with language fall basically into three categories: gross translation problems, the problems in conveying subtle distinctions from language to language, and culturally-based variations among speakers of the same language.
Gross translation errors, though frequent, may be less likely to cause conflict between parties than other language difficulties for two reasons. First, they are generally the easiest language difficulty to detect. Many gross translation errors are either ludicrous or make no sense at all. Only those errors that continue to be logical in both the original meaning and in the mistranslated version pose a serious concern. Nonetheless, even when easily detected, gross translation errors waste time and wear on the patience of the parties involved. Additionally, for some, such errors imply a form of disrespect for the party into whose language the message is translated.
The subtle shadings that are often crucial to business negotiations are also weakened when the parties do not share a similar control of the same language. In English, for example, the mild distinctions between the words misinterpretand misunderstand can prove significant in a sensitive situation. To a touchy negotiator, to say that he or she misunderstands may imply that he or she is dim-witted. To say that same negotiator misinterprets a concept, by contrast, allows the negotiator a way to save face since all interpretations are arguable. He or she has reached an understandable though inaccurate interpretation of the matter. In such a situation, the term applies more objectively to the matter at hand than to the specific negotiator. To a nonnative speaker with inadequate control of the language, however, such subtle distinctions might be lost. When other parties with full control over the language with whom the nonnative speaker communicates assume that knowledge of this distinction exists, conflict deriving from misunderstanding is likely.
Nor do such mistranslations need to actually cross languages in cross-cultural business situations. Dialectical differences within the same language often create gross errors. One frequently cited example of how variations within a single language can affect business occurred when a U.S. deodorant manufacturer sent a Spanish translation of its slogan to their Mexican operations. The slogan read if you use our deodorant, you won’t be embarrassed. The translation, however, which the Mexican-based English-speaking employees saw no reason to avoid, used the term embarazada to mean embarrassed. This provided much amusement to the Mexican market, as embarazada means pregnant in Mexican Spanish.
Attitudes toward accents and dialects also create barriers in international business communication. The view that a particular accent suggests loyalty or familiarity to a nation or region is widespread in many languages. The use of Parisian French in Quebec, of Mexican Spanish in Spain, or subcontinental Indian English in the United States are all noticeable and may suggest a lack of familiarity even if the user is fluent. More importantly, regional ties or tensions in such nations as Italy, France, or Germany among others can be suggested by the dialect a native speaker uses.
Finally, national prejudices and class distinctions are often reinforced thorough sociolinguistics the social patterning of language. For example, due to regional prejudice and racism certain accents in the United States associated with urban areas (e.g. a Bronx accent), with rural regions (e.g. an Appalachian accent), or race (e.g. black English) may reinforce negative stereotypes (usually erroneously) regarding business ability, education level, or acumen among certain U.S. subgroups. Similarly, some cultures use sociolinguistics to differentiate one economic class from another. Thus, in England, distinct accents are associated with the aristocracy and the middle and lower classes. These distinctions are often unknown by foreigners.
ENVIRONMENT AND TECHNOLOGY
The ways in which people use the resources available to them often shifts drastically from culture to culture. Culturally-engrained biases regarding the natural and technological environment can create communication barriers.
Most people are accustomed to ways of looking at the environment and the use of technology particular to their own culture. This, in turn, may make it difficult to accept or even to understand those views held by other cultures.
ISSUES OF ENVIRONMENT.
Five major areas of attitudes toward a nation’s physical characteristics and natural resources are likely to result in cultural environmental presuppositions. These are:
- population size
- population density
- the relative availability of natural resources
These five sources of environmental differences surface when people communicate on a wide spectrum of business-related subjects. Notions of transportation and logistics, settlement, and territorial organization are affected by topography and climate. For example, transportation and logistics in one culture may seem patently absurd in another. The manager of a Canadian company doing business in South America might never think to ship goods from Chile to neighboring Argentina by the circuitous route of the Panama Canal. Because Canada is relatively flat and has an excellent network of railroads and highways, the Canadian manager might assume that the easiest way to transport goods for any short distance would be overland. This preference would be reinforced by the fact that many Canadian waterways freeze over due to its harsh climate. As a result, the Canadian might well assume or even specify a preference for overland transport in any relevant business communication. What the Canadian might not understand in such a situation is that the rugged physical environment of the Andean terrain and the related absence of cross-Andean railroads and freeways would make such an option unreasonably expensive or even impossible. By contrast, warm water ports and relatively easy access to the Panama Canal or other waterways would reinforce the option of water routes even for such relatively short overland distances.
Population size and the availability of natural resources influence each nation’s view toward export or domestic markets. The United States and China, for example, both have gigantic domestic markets and are rich in natural resources. Both nations export out of choice, and have a tendency to internalize their views of foreign markets. Foreign markets in such countries may be culturally reinforced as being secondary markets as a result, with a cultural emphasis on domestic markets. By contrast, Switzerland, with neither a large domestic population nor abundant natural resources, is culturally oriented toward export with foreign markets viewed as their primary markets and the domestic Swiss market as a comparatively negligible secondary market.
Population density and space usage influence the development of different cultural perceptions of how space and materials are used. Thus, how people lay out or use office space, domestic housing, and buildings in general shifts from nation to nation. For example, in many nations the size, layout, and furnishings of a business office communicate a message. The message communicated, however, varies from nation to nation.
Such differences may be subtle or overt. For example, the distinctions between the U.S. and French upper-level executive’s office may be quite subtle. In both France and the United States, the size of an office, plushness of its furnishings, and location in the building (corner office or top floor of the building) reflect the status of the office’s owner. In France, however, the individual aesthetics of the office decor convey an important statement about the office owner while in the U.S. office the wall decorations and furnishings are often selected by a designer with little input from the office';s occupant.
Much more overt is the contrast between the U.S. or French executive office and the open systemoffices of Japan. In the open system office, Japanese department heads have no individual offices at all. Instead, their desks are simply one of numerous other desks placed in a regularly patterned arrangement in a large open area. No partitions are used between the desks at all and no individual offices exist. Yet each person in this officeless open system is strategically placed in a way that communicates his or her rank and status just as surely as the U.S. or French individual office system. Thus, the department heads’ desks are normally placed at a point farthest from the door where the department heads can view their whole department easily at a glance. Moreover, further status may be indicated by placement near a window. The messages communicated by such placement in a large open area may be entirely lost on the French or U.S. visitor unfamiliar with it.
ISSUES OF TECHNOLOGY.
More seriously, the failure of businesspeople to modify their communication to accommodate environmental differences often derives from ethnocentric inflexibility toward culturally learned views of technology.
Generally, cultures may be divided into three approaches toward technology: (1) control; (2) subjugation, and (3) harmonization.
In control cultures such as those of northern Europe and North America, technology is customarily viewed as an innately positive means for controlling the environment. If a road approaches a mountain in a control culture, a tunnel is blasted through the mountain. If the tunnel collapses, the cultural view is that the technology was inadequate to the task and needs to be improved.
In subjugation cultures such as those of central Africa and southwestern Asia, the existing environment is viewed as innately positive and technology is viewed with some skepticism. If a road approaches a mountain, the road may simply stop at the mountain. If a tunnel is used and does collapse, the cultural view is that the very idea of going through the mountain was misguided, not that the technology was inadequate.
In harmonization cultures such as those common in many Native American cultures and some East Asian nations, a balance is attempted between the use of technology and the existing environment. In these cultures, neither technology nor the environment are innately good and members of such cultures see themselves as part of the environment in which they live being neither subject to it nor master of it.
One major communication stumbling block among those from control cultures is the belief that other cultures wish to be more like them. Control cultures tend to describe themselves as the industrialized nations. Their members are often acculturated to believe that the way in which people in less industrialized nations use their resources results from inherently inferior technology. Arguably, in some cases this position may be defensible. Often, though, the reason people use the resources available to them in the manner that they do is because it makes good business sense to use them in that fashion within the context of their own cultural views.
Social organization, as it affects the workplace, is often culturally determined. One must take care not to assume that the view held in one’s own culture is universal on such issues reflecting the culture’s social organization as nepotism and kinship ties, educational values, class structure and social mobility, job status and economic stratification, religious ties, political affiliation, gender differences, racism and other prejudices, attitudes toward work, and recreational or work institutions.
All of these areas have far-reaching implications for business practice. Choosing employees based on resumes, for example, is considered a primary means of selection in the United States, Canada, and much of northern Europe all nations with comparatively weak concepts of familial relationships and kinship ties. In these cultures, nepotism is seen as subjective and likely to protect less qualified workers through familial intervention. By contrast, it would seem anywhere from mildly to highly inappropriate to suggest to members of many Arabic, central African, Latin American, or southern European cultures to skip over hiring relatives to hire a stranger. For people in these cultures, nepotism both fulfills personal obligations and ensures a predictable level of trust and accountability. The fact that a stranger appears to be better qualified based on a superior resume and a relatively brief interview would not, as it might for example in the United States or Sweden, affect that belief. Such a suggestion, depending on the situation at hand, could be made. To effectively suggest such a course of action, however, one would need to communicate this in a manner adjusted to the way that employees would likely react to so distressing an order.
Similarly, the nature of praise and employee motivation can be socially determined. For example, a promotion of a single member of a traditional Japanese work group may cause the productivity and morale of both the group and the promoted employee to fall. A similar promotion in the United States, by contrast, might be seen as a reward for the promoted employee and might even be viewed as encouraging the remaining members of the group to work harder for a goal that they too might attain. Thus to communicate such a promotion openly may prove to be a poor policy in Japan but a good policy in the United States.
Finally, it is often difficult to rid business communication of a judgmental bias when social organization varies markedly. For example, those from the United States may find it difficult to remain neutral on class structures prevent upward mobility. For instance, the socially determined inferior role of women in much of the Islamic world, or of lower castes in India to name just two may prove particularly disturbing to those from the United States. Nevertheless, if the U.S. businessperson cannot eliminate the attendant condemnation from his or her business communication, then he or she cannot expect to function effectively in that society. An individual may personally believe that a country’s social system is inefficient or incorrect. Nevertheless, in the way that individual conducts business on a daily basis, it is necessary to work within the restraints of that culture to succeed. One may choose not to do business with people from such a culture but one cannot easily impose one’s own values on them and expect to do well.
CONTEXTING AND FACE-SAVING
Communication depends on the context in which the communication is set. The more information sender and receiver share in common, the higher the context of the communication and the less necessary to communicate through words or gestures. Communication, then, can be seen as being high or low in contexting.
In a highly contexted situation, much of what people choose not to say is essential to understanding the transmitted message. Even though a person may not have said anything directly, others are still expected to understand the unspoken message.
Edward T. Hall was the first person to coin the term contexting. Hall observed:
The matter of contexting requires a decision concerning how much information the other person can be expected to possess on a given subject. It appears that all cultures arrange their members and relationships along the context scale, and one of the great communication strategies, whether addressing a single person or an entire group, is to ascertain the correct level of contexting of one’s communication the rules vary from culture to culture, so that to infer by the level of contexting that they do not understand may be an insult, even though your assumption is correct.
High context cultures include such nations as Japan, China, Mexico, Greece, the Arab countries, Brazil, and Korea. Mid-level contexted cultures include England, Finland, Italy, and France. Low context cultures include the United States, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, and the German-speaking portion of Switzerland. This set of examples is very limited and also fails to account for cultural and regional differences domestically. Thus, the Western Apaches of the southwestern United States may well be the most highly contexted of all cultures worldwide, although their numbers are insufficient to affect the general low context communication among the majority of people in the United States. Similarly, regional differences in Germany are apparent in the contrast between relatively higher contexted Bavarians and lower contexted north Germans although all are Germans and all would be lower contexted than the average Briton or Japanese.
Finally, no two cultures share the same level of contexting. Thus, in any cross-cultural exchange, one party will act as the higher contexted and one the lower contexted.
In high context cultures much of what is not actually said must be inferred through what may seem to be indirection. To people from lower context cultures, those in high context cultures may seem needlessly vague. Conversely, those from high context cultures may view their low context counterparts as impersonal and confusingly literal. As a communicator in an international business setting, it is important to assess the level of contexting inherent in the communication of the culture in which one conducts business to understand clearly what has been conveyed.
Since contexting represents a cross-cultural shift in the conception of explicit versus implicit communication, any area of business communication in which such distinctions play a part are significantly affected. Thus, in high context cultures, the emphasis on words chosen in general and on the written word in particular is relatively weak since words provide only one aspect of the context of the communication. As a result, how something is said matters more than what is actually said. By contrast, in low context cultures, the actual words matter more than the intended meaning. What is actually said and especially what is actually written matters more than the context in which it was said.
The contexting implications of this variance in the emphasis on the actual word are far-reaching for business. In low context cultures, emphasis on explicit communication leads to a rigid adherence to law while in high context cultures the law is seen as flexible to accommodate different situations. In low context cultures written agreements are seen as binding while personal promises are viewed as nonbinding. In direct contrast, high context cultures are more likely to hold a flexible understanding of written agreements while holding personal promises to be more binding. High context cultures, as a result, find that their interpersonal behavior is governed by individual interpretation (that is, the context of the relationship) while low context cultures find that their relationships are dictated by external rules.
Finally, a correlation exists between face-saving and contexting. Cultures with high contexting are more concerned with face, that is, preserving prestige or outward dignity. Low context cultures are less concerned with face since words are more likely to be taken without underlying implied meaning. As a result, high context cultures tend to favor a business communication approach based on indirection and politeness; low context cultures follow more of a confrontation strategy and use a direct plan approach to business communication. High context cultures tend to interpret directness in communication as uncivil and rude; low context cultures tend to view directness as honest and inoffensive. As a corollary, high context cultures view indirectness as honest and showing consideration while low context cultures view indirectness as dishonest and offensive. Finally, high context cultures tend to prefer minimal amounts of verbal self-disclosure, preferring vagueness to stating the obvious. Low context cultures by contrast are intolerant of vagueness and demand a high amount of explicit verbal self-disclosure.
Different cultures often view the distribution of authority in their society differently. Geert Hofstede, the Dutch international business researcher, has called this dimension of cultural variation power distance defining this as the extent to which a society accepts the fact that power in institutions and organizations is distributed unequally.
The view of authority in a given society affects communication in the business environment significantly as it shapes the view of how a message will be received based on the relative status or rank of the message’s sender to its receiver. Thus in a relatively decentralized business environment as exists even in many highly centralized U.S. companies people generally pay attention to a person based on how convincing an argument he or she puts forth, regardless of that person’s rank or status within the organization or society at large. By contrast, in a highly centralized culture, a relatively high-ranking individual communicates is taken very seriously, even if one disagrees.
This, in turn, has far-reaching effects for the form managerial communication takes based on the relative authority conception of a given culture. In working with cultures such as Israel and Sweden, which have a relatively decentralized authority conception or small power distance, one might anticipate at the outset more acceptance of a participative communication management model. Conversely, in working with cultures such as France and Belgium, one might anticipate at the outset relatively less use of participative management models and more concern with who has the relevant authority.
Among the most markedly varying dimensions of intercultural communication is nonverbal behavior. Knowledge of a culture conveyed through what a person says represents only a portion of what that person has communicated. Much of nonverbal communication may be broken down into six areas: dress; kinesics, or body language; oculesics, or eye contact; haptics, or touching behavior; proxemics, or the use of body space; and paralanguage. Any one of these areas communicates significant information nonverbally in any given culture.
One of the most apparent differences is the interpretation of dress. The message given by polished shoes, for instance, could easily be lost on a culture in which sandals are the standard footwear. Similarly, a woman’s decision to wear her best suit would be lost in a culture in which no women wear business suits.
Even when cultures share similar forms of dress, the message inherent in the choice of clothing is not always the same. For instance, the selection of a conservative tie for a formal negotiation might well be shared by several cultures, but exactly what a conservative tie is (even when all parties belong to cultures in which men generally wear ties) remains determined by the standards that prevail in that particular culture. Thus, what is a conservative tie in one culture may seem unconservative or flashy in another, giving a different message altogether.
Just as importantly, people often bring to a crosscultural meeting ethnocentric prejudices regarding what they believe to be proper dress. Thus, a European or American may condemn as somehow less than civilized a Saudi or Iranian in traditional garb. Conversely, a Saudi or Iranian may well consider as flagrantly immoral the bare face, arms, and legs of a European or American woman in business attire.
Nonverbal behavioral differences in kinesics may be less obvious than dress differences. How people walk, gesture, bow, stand, or sit are all, to a large part, culturally determined. In many cases, a kinesic sign well understood in one culture is totally unknown in another culture. In Indonesia and in much of the Arab world, for example, it is offensive to show the soles of one’s feet to another. This often clashes with behavior in the United States where foot-crossing is common with no attention to where one’s sole points. In Japan, a relatively elaborate system of bowing is common but has no counterpart in the United States. This entire system of nonverbal communication is therefore generally lost on most U.S. businesspeople.
Some kinesic behavior may carry distinctly different meanings in more than one culture. In such cases, all parties recognize the gesture, but interpret it differently. During George Bush’s visit to Australia while he was president, he held up two fingers in a V sign. In both countries the symbol is widely understood, but in the United States the V emblem is a sign of good will, victory, and solidarity, while in Australia it carries a lewd, sexual meaning.
Haptics or touching behavior also reflects cultural values. In a generally nonhaptic society such as Japan, touching another person in a business setting even with a handshake is traditionally considered foreign. While those Japanese familiar with U.S. handshaking may adapt to its use, one can expect that such cultural compromise would not easily extend to so haptic a response as a pat on the back.
The United States itself is a fairly nonhaptic society, particularly between men. In many cultures that behave more haptically, men often walk with arms interlinked or hold hands which to U.S. males might appear effeminate or overly intimate.
Oculesics or the use of eye contact also varies significantly depending on the culture involved. In several cultures, for example, it is considered disrespectful to prolong eye contact with those who are older or of higher status. In many cultures, it is considered improper for women to look men in the eye. By contrast, in the United States, studies have shown that eye contact has less to do with age or rank than with a person’s credibility or sense of belonging. While fairly steady eye contact in the United States may indicate the listener’s interest and attentiveness, intense eye contact may prove disconcerting.
Finally, proxemics or how far apart people stand when speaking or how far apart they sit in meetings carries significant information to people who share the same culture. Here, too, as with other nonverbal behavior, such information is likely to be garbled across cultures. Personal space is culturally determined. In the United States, for instance, people tend to feel most comfortable in business settings when speaking at approximately arm’s length apart from each other.
In many Latin American, southern European, central African and Middle Eastern cultures, however, a comfortable conversational distance would be much closer. Indeed, in many parts of the world, friendly or serious conversations are conducted close enough to feel the breath of the speaker on one’s face. The U.S. or northern European communicator unaware of this may face a very discomforting situation, with the speaker literally backing his or her U.S. or northern European counterpart into a corner as the speaker continues to move closer to the retreating listener. The result in a business situation could be disastrous. The speaker with the closer personal space conception would likely feel distrustful and even spurned by the listener with the larger space conception. Conversely, the person with larger personal space conception might feel the encroaching speaker to be pushy, overly aggressive, or rude.
International business communication is also affected by cross-cultural differences in temporal conception or the understanding of time. Most U.S. and northern European businesspeople conceive of time as inflexible, a thing to be divided, used, or wasted. This is not, however, a universal view. How one uses time, consequently, may profoundly affect the way in which business is conducted in various parts of the world.
While it is dangerous to overgeneralize, most cultures fall with varying degrees into two types of temporal conception. The first type adheres to preset schedules in which the schedules take precedence over personal interaction or over the completion of the business at hand. Edward Hall coined the term monochronic to describe this system of temporal organization. By contrast, those who follow what Hall termed a polychronic temporal organization rank personal involvement and completion of existing transactions above the demands of preset schedules.
Admittedly, not all societies can be easily divided into monochronic and polychronic systems. Often certain subsets within a society will function monochronically, while others within the same culture will function polychronically. For example, most major corporations in the United States follow a strict monochronic system. Many doctors in the United States, however, follow a comparatively polychronic system. Still on the whole, one might generalize that U.S. culture as a whole holds a monochronic conception of time.
Because people generally complete tasks at the expense of scheduling in polychronic societies, people in high authority may become easily overwhelmed with multiple tasks. To prevent overloading people in positions of high authority, those in polychronic societies often use subordinates to screen for them. Once a person can get past those screening, the person in authority will generally see the task through regardless of the relative importance of the task. Because a polychronic system encourages a one-on-one interaction, such cultural organization usually allows for highly personalized relationships to flourish between the person in authority and the task-bringer. The flow of information is open in both directions at all times. Indeed, for the system to work smoothly, it is to the advantage of both superior and subordinate to stay fully aware of all aspects professional and personal of each other’s lives. This personal involvement makes it even harder for the person in authority to refuse once the task is presented. Thus, in such situations being able to break through those who screen for the person in authority is often the hardest part of having the person in authority assist in a task. No direct barriers exist between the leader and the subordinate; the superior will always welcome the subordinate. This develops a system in which influence and close circles of contacts among those screening for those higher up create an informal and unofficial business hierarchy.
In a monochronic system, personal feelings are rarely allowed to flourish on the job precisely because personal involvement must not be allowed to affect preset schedules if the system is to function smoothly. Personal relationships are determined by the terms of the job. Multiple tasks are handled one at a time in a prescheduled manner. People in authority are, in contrast to those in polychronic societies, available by scheduling appointments. In such a system, time screens tasks for the authority figure rather than the authority figure’s subordinates or the personal relationship among the people involved.
The communication strategy for facing a generally polychronic system of time conception differs significantly from the strategy for facing a generally monochronic one. For example, in a polychronic system, one should be aware that people distinguish between insiders and those outside the existing personal relationships. One must therefore try to establish an inside connection to facilitate the effectiveness of a given message. By contrast, in a monochronic society, one needs only to schedule a meeting with the appropriate people. One should not expect people in a monochronic system to give preference to those they know over complete strangers. The outsider is treated in exactly the same fashion as the close associate.
The influence of temporal conception on communication is extensive. This is further complicated by the fact that no culture is exclusively polychronic or monochronic. Members of any culture lean to one direction or the other, although the cultures as a whole may organize their thoughts and conceive of time more one way or the other. The central issue here is to keep alert to communication differences that would indicate that one culture was more monochronic or polychronic in orientation, and to adapt one’s communication strategies accordingly.
As business has turned more and more to an integrated world market to meet its needs, the difficulties of communicating at a global level have become increasingly widespread. Lack of understanding deriving from ethnocentrism or ignorance of culturally based assumptions erroneously believed to be universal can readily escalate to unproductive conflict among people of differing cultural orientation. Still, in an increasingly competitive world economy, it is harder for the successful business venture (than it may have been in the past) to conduct business exclusively within the safe confines of a single domestic business environment. Consequently, the need for dealing with intercultural differences and cross-cultural communication barriers has grown as well.
The cross-cultural issues suggested in this brief summary provide a framework for asking the right questions when preparing for business communication with those from other cultures. By asking the way in which each of these factors is likely to affect communication with people from that specific culture, many of the communication barriers between people of different cultures can be anticipated.
Brake, Terence, et al. Doing Business Internationally: The Guide to Cross-Cultural Success. New York: Irwin, 1994.
Hall, Edward T. The Silent Language. Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Publications, 1959.
Hickson, David J. and Derek Salman Pugh. Management Worldwide: The Impact of Societal Culture on Organizations Around the Globe. New York: Penguin USA, 1996.
Hofstede, Geert. Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind. London: McGraw-Hill, 1991.
Mead, Richard. International Management: Cross-Cultural Dimensions. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1998.
Nolan, Riall W. Communicating and Adapting Across Cultures: Living and Working in the Global Village. Bergin Garvey, 1999.
Trompenaars, Alfons, Charles Hampden-Turner, and Fons Trompenaars. Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Cultural Diversity in Global Business. New York: Irwin, 1998. Victor, David A. International Business Communication. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.