Culture and Communications in International Business (Research Within)

Culture refers to patterns of behaviour, attitudes and beliefs that are common to a group of people who commonly share these attributes and who use them for their identity. There are many cultures across the world and each culture has its own specific patterns of living.

Culture is defined as the arts, beliefs, customs, institutions, and other products of human work and thought considered as a unit, especially with regard to a particular time or social group: Japanese culture. The arts, beliefs, and other products are considered with respect to a particular subject or mode of expression: musical culture; oral culture.

Culture is also described as the set of predominating attitudes and behaviour that characterise a group or organisation: a manager who changed the corporate culture.

Apart from definitions of culture, the forthcoming chapters provide an insight into cultural influences on managers in international business. So far the economic issues were highlighted but an essential one remains the cultural aspect. In a globalised world, managers are in contact with their counterparts in other geographical locations. Companies have businesses in more than a single country. These conditions entail a deeper understanding of cultural variations. Taking for granted that cultural differences are internal and do not materially affect the activities of a multinational would be erroneous. Companies start believing that the world is a global village and that adaptation to the needs of local markets remains important. This is where the jargon ‘glocal’ arises where it means think global act local.

Understanding and respecting a foreign culture is a necessity for managers. Very often, there might be religious or socio-cultural factors that are contrasting between one country and the other one. Religious patterns vary, social values might differ apart from administration or bureaucracy that might also be embedded in a country’s broader culture. Emerging economies are usually highly prospected by western companies since they have been unexploited earlier or might, by now, have attained a higher level of economic development to become a potential market. Multinationals will be eager to enter markets like Russia, India or China but they must make adjustments to such environments as customers are not enough familiar to understanding and consuming new products. There might be ingredients that might not religiously satisfy a different country. Some emerging nations might have a community that is largely vegetarian and consumes less meat. Some others might stick to ‘halaal’ food.

It is also useful to note that cultural variations do not expressly mean that one culture is superior to another one. This is simply a dumb and unfounded statements. The fact that a business manager is unaware or not conversant with another culture might also be a source of cultural misunderstanding. This can create the risk for a business to fail abroad if it does not comply by local regulation’s in force. Additionally, there might be the consequence of cultural divide and related problems like lack of tolerance, blasphemy, etc. when local mores are not clearly understood and respected. In this respect, it becomes an imperative for business managers to learn about cultural variations, similarities, the level of homogeneity and heterogeneity, prior to embarking on foreign business. These aspects, once properly mastered, allow organisations to have a better entry possibility in an emerging market and make the best of business both regionally and internationally.

The pervasive aspect of culture

Culture is all pervasive. In other words, it can affect people at various stages and instances of life. In the past, each country had its own culture and patterns of behaviour. With the development of the media and technology, culture evolves much more rapidly from one place to another one and creates impact in various societies. ‘Culture appears to have become key in our interconnected world, which is made up of so many ethnically diverse societies, but also riddled by conflicts associated with religion, ethnicity, ethical beliefs, and, essentially, the elements which make up culture,’ De Rossi said. ‘But culture is no longer fixed, if it ever was. It is essentially fluid and constantly in motion.’ This makes it so that it is difficult to define any culture in only one way. Nowadays, in every corner of the world, people wear the American jeans despite the fact that it is not their dressing style. The consumption culture has had its impact in many places across the world. People drink Coca-Cola as they view it as their favourite Cola drink, the young people stroll around carrying a Walkman, etc.

Artefacts are contained within cultures. Artefacts are the physical things that are found that have particular symbolism for a culture. Artefacts can also be more everyday objects. They main thing is that they have special meaning, at the very least for the people in the culture. There may well be stories told about them. The purpose of artefacts are as reminders and triggers. When people in the culture see them, they think about their meaning and hence are reminded of their identity as a member of the culture, and, by association, of the rules of the culture. Artefacts may also be used in specific rituals. Churches do this, of course. But so also do organisations.

Visible artefacts: These can be the way people dress, tools, equipment, icons, and other physical materials that they use. For example, the presence of statues which are worshipped by people in oriental cultures, gives us an impression of the value and importance of visible artefacts.

Invisible artefacts: These refer to patterns of behaviour that cannot be easily seen or understood. They are beliefs that have been transmitted through the ages and are unconditionally accepted by the new generation. For example, uttering the word ‘Namaskar’ or nodding the head either show approval or disapproval are evidences of invisible artefacts, that is things that cannot be easily interpreted yet they have an implication.

Culture is supported by religion and dogma

Culture is sustained by religion and dogma. This is true because religion still makes people fearful about God and obliges them to follow culture. This is more evident in oriental cultures where people participate with fervour in many festivals, perform rituals and sacrifices and follow the spiritual path which they believe brings them to the path of salvation. Albert Einstein stated that ‘The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It will have to transcend a personal god and avoid dogma and theology. Encompassing both the natural and the spiritual, it will have to be based on a sense of intelligence arising from the spirit of all things, natural and spiritual, considered as a meaningful unity.’

Subcultures

Subcultures are cultural groups that come from mainstream cultures. It is believed that the main reason underlying the existence of sub-cultures is that the main culture has been unable to cater for all sections of the community which follows the broad cultural patterns and backgrounds. Subcultures have less formality and splendour than major cultures. Many subcultures are hence unofficial and they look rather for a little group of people who look for satisfaction within it. For example, people who were born after the second World War were considered as ‘baby boomers’, people who remain in their house once they are way from work have been considered as ‘cocooners’. Subcultures, because of their informality, can be numerous and have their own set of values, beliefs and customs.

Drawing from Marxist theorists, literary critics, French structuralists, and American sociologists, subcultures was an initial study of Hebdige who presented a model for analysing youth subcultures. The scholar argued that each subculture experienced the same trajectory, while he outlined the individual style differences of specific subcultures, such as Teddy boys or skinheads and punks. Hebdige emphasised the historical, class, race, and socioeconomic conditions that surrounded the formation of each subculture.

Examples of subcultures

The Hispanic subculture in the USA—One urban subculture heavily related to Mexico, and parts of the U.S. which have high levels of Mexican immigration, is that of the cholo. Popular culture regularly depicts the cholo as either a baggy pant and XL shirt wearing man with a penchant for bandanas, or as a hoop-earring wearing, overly lip-lined woman, and many would agree that that’s their ‘look’.

The Harley Davidson Subculture—Youngsters who are rich, trendy and drive the big HD motorcycle. For example, black leather vest in the company of insignias that serves as the identical uniform for members of the Harley Davidson subculture bears a striking semblance in the form and the function to prohibited colours which only tend to inspire some radicalism into the bikers.

But the most straightforward, prosaic theory is that, as with virtually every area of popular culture, it’s been radically altered by the advent of the internet: that we now live in a world where teenagers are more interested in constructing an identity online than they are in making an outward show of their allegiances and interests. It’s hard not to be struck by the sensation that, emos and metalheads aside, what you might call the 20th-century idea of a youth subculture is now just outmoded. The internet doesn’t spawn mass movements, bonded together by a shared taste in music, fashion and ownership of subcultural capital: it spawns brief, microcosmic ones.

Importance of Culture to International Businessmen

Culture is a very important aspect that businessmen will have to consider especially when they are concerned with international business activities. When, the businessman goes on board of an aeroplane, he starts feeling that he is alienated from the ties he has with his native land. In fact, when he enters a foreign country, he must get accustomed to the mode of living in that country, or the prevailing culture in the country.

Perspective

Communication is important in international business

Businesses are selling products around the world. Partnerships are being formed with people from diverse cultures as business relationships are formed. Each country and the cultures within a country bring communication challenges to businesses. Good international business communication practices help maintain these intricate business dealings. Bad communication practices can cause loss of business and even international tension among countries. Communication is intricately blended with non-verbal communication and etiquette.

Because cultures vary so widely across the globe, understanding the differences in culture and the importance of international communication is vital to the business environment. A person’s culture impacts the way he communicates. For example, in Japan people do not like to say the word ‘no’. In a business meeting, a Japanese business person may mean no, but never directly state it. This can cause confusion.

Another cultural example is in Saudi Arabia. Never discuss women, even to ask about a female family member’s health. In Saudi Arabia, you may be having a business meeting and the person may leave the room for up to 20 minutes. The Saudi person may have gone to prayers as he considers the business meeting more of a discussion than a formal meeting.

In the Western World, business is handled by phone calls and emails. Less formal communication can cause confusion and misinterpretation due to language differences. For example, if you use generally accepted Americanized statements, you can cause a lot of confusion such as, ‘I’m on it. I’ll jump on that right away,’ or even, ‘I get it’. Other email communication needs to be considered.

For example, in Japan, typically, a person will greet you by your last name and then the word ‘san’. This is a sign of respect to you. If you simply send back an email response without a greeting, it may be considered rude.

Points to ponder

Good international business communication practices help maintain these intricate business dealings whereas bad communication practices can cause loss of business and even international tension among countries. Cultures vary so widely across the globe, understanding the differences in culture and the importance of international communication is vital to the business environment.

Case Study: Cultural sensitivity in international business

Culture plays an important role in life of people as it is closely associated with them. It is very necessary to understand what a culture requires and what emotions are attached to it. Different countries follow different culture and because of this some things will be acceptable in some countries whereas the same things will appear to be rude in other countries because of cultural difference. People who are culture sensitive will know that the difference between the culture of different people can create differences in their relationship with respect to the way they behave, communicate etc. According to Hofstede, culture could be considered as ‘the manner in which the mind is programmed such that it can differentiate the people of one category with those of other.’ A culturally sensitive person should try to adapt the culture of other country, their traditions, their way of living, their lifestyle etc.

Nowadays people are getting closer to each other so tolerance, dialogue between people of different culture and respect towards their culture and respect for diversity becomes more important. Learning and trying to understand the customs and culture of the foreign country indicates respect for the other country and for any business relationship to be successful respect for each other is very essential.

Many employers feel and have sensed that cross cultural sensitivity is an important skill and proper care should be taken when dealing in and trading with international market. In domestic market people will know what to do and how to do but to achieve the same motive in different country with the same concept and then getting success by using same interpersonal professional skills is more important. Proper training should be provided should to the staff about the nature of the place, its scope and language, values and aesthetics.

When people are travelling from one country to another it is necessary that they do a research about the culture of the country in which they are travelling so that they can go well prepared, which can save them and people around them from any embarrassing situation. Doing business internationally means cultural management of different countries and for maintaining international business relations, people will have to deal with that countries norms, rules, values and regulations. Overall people need to involve in the culture of different people and try to adapt to their cultural skills and style. Right type of knowledge for right kind of job is very important in global business. The ability to negotiate better, understanding the cultural problems and becoming an insider often give a competitive edge in the business. Managers should possess high level of managerial skills as the relationship between various business networks depends upon the manner in which the manger interact and behave with international clients and how much capable they are in dealing with crossing cultural boundaries. Cross cultural training helps in improving success by trying to improve the level of personal cultural awareness and this will help in understanding the culture of other people.

Questions

Why is important for a business manager to learn and understand the customs and culture of a foreign country? Why is it necessary for foreign managers to do a research about the culture of the country in which they are travelling? What is the relevance of cross cultural training for a business manager? Submit your answers in research form to studentwork@learnforthuniversity.com

Communication in international business

Communication refers to the way we deliver messages to people. The main form of business communication is oral communication. When such a communication method is used, we must learn how to be effective communicators.

Certain elements of effective communication are:

  • Body language: The ability to express by making gestures.
  • Eye contact: Eye contact must be maintained through communication.
  • Initial and final courtesies: Communication must include starting and final courtesies such as Good Morning, Thank you, Good bye.
  • Empathy: Empathy means to enter into the recipient’s frame of communication.
  • Tone: A god tone must be used while communicating with a person.
  • Pitch: The pitch refers to the different rise and fall in tone.
  • Expression: Expression may be a smile, a serious look, a calm and placid look, persuasive attitude in communication.
  • Diplomacy and resilience: The art of communicating tactfully and the ability to sustain negative feelings about a product or a negotiation.

Communication must be done both verbally and orally it is useful to cast a glance at the appropriateness of the different types of communication in different contexts. The issue of communication is intricate and demands much subtlety as well. When it comes to the translation of a language to a different one, it is expected that the translation is a suitable interpretation of the initial one, otherwise it may lose its flavour and significance. We shall also stress on misunderstandings that result because of poor interpretation of communication and the innuendoes that exist. At a further stage, we will also deal with foreign language learning which can represent an asset for the international businessman.

Communication in low-context culture

Communication in a low-context culture means that importance is given to gestures and words in order to express something. Most of the things explained are explicit, in that effort is done to explain something as clearly as possible. Scandinavian is considered as a low-context language.

In international business, such a concept is useful because information should be given in an explicit way to emerging nations where the educational level is low and where people need lots of information to use an equipment.

Low context implies that a lot of information is exchanged explicitly through the message itself and rarely is anything implicit or hidden. People in low context cultures such as the UK tend to have short-term relationships, follow rules and standards closely and are generally very task-oriented.

High-context culture

The high-context culture comprises of business people who are in the business field for a certain period and who are familiar with technical jargon. Besides, they possess sufficient academic background to interpret and decipher messages.

In a high context culture, communication can be implicit and people can understand things without much interpretation. This implies that a lot of unspoken information is implicitly transferred during communication. People in a high context culture such as Saudi Arabia tend to place a larger importance on long-term relationships and loyalty and have fewer rules and structure implemented.

Non-verbal communication

Non-verbal communication refers to anything that is not written. It comprises of dialogue or the spoken word. It can also include signs. The advantage of the spoken word is that it is spontaneous and direct and leads to more interactive participation between the marketer and his market. The disadvantage is that face-to-face contact may involve emotions and misunderstanding as well. This can affect the communication process. Noise can also affect the process.

Translation

As a result of globalisation, working with international clients, customers and partners is more important than ever. Although English is widely spoken, many individuals for whom it is not a first language would prefer to read about products and services, or engage with content, in their native tongue. Not only that, but localisation can sometimes play as important a role as translation. According to the most recent EuroBarometer report, English is significantly less popular than we would like to believe. For example, it is the second language of only 39 percent of the French population. In Italy, this figure is just shy of 35 percent, and in Spain it is less than 23 percent. The situation gets drastically worse when we take emerging economies into account: only 5.2 percent of people in Russia speak English fluently; 5 percent in Brazil; and less than 0.75 percent in China. [13].

Translation means to convey a message in a language to another language. Translation is important because as a result of international business, a message must be interpreted by other people. Let us look at the translation of a message in different languages.

Tout va mieux avec Coca-Cola (French) Todor va mejor avec Coca-Cola. (Spanish)

At this level, translation is literal and easily understood by whatever recipient in any part of the world. This type of translation is literal translation and poses no problem when such a thing is possible. However not every translation can be literally done as this can create confusion ad misinterpretation. For example, telling someone after eating a meal that ‘my stomach is full’ can be translated in French as ‘je suis pleine’ which means that I am pregnant.

For this reason, back translation is very important in certain situations. It means that the language must be rehearsed in the language and understanding of the recipient before it can have the same meaning.

Innuendoes

Innuendoes refer to insinuation that is made to make something look bad. May be because of anthropological issues, we have various interpretations about a particular thing. If one refers to a documentary on Chinese cuisine in Hong Kong, he may hear that even snakes are eaten over there. In France, the French people eat toads. The British may think that monkeys are eaten in Mauritius. All these refer to innuendoes. We cannot say straightforward that one type of person is bad or inferior compared with the other one. For this reason, innuendoes can distort our appreciation of foreign cultures and make us rather enclosed within our own cultural confinement. They can also be detrimental to international businessmen because people may have different interpretations of different things. The example of the ‘mad cow’ disease has generated innuendoes about British dairy production and has affected British business considerably for a certain period.

Although innuendo may be used for politeness, it is generally more insulting, humorous, or bawdy. Innuendos can be used to attack people and reputations without breaking the rules of social etiquette, to criticize governments or institutions without getting in trouble, or to humorously say something inappropriate without any consequences. In other words, innuendo is a powerful technique for getting around the limitations of any discourse. However, one should be careful; if people understand the innuendo, it could still get the person in trouble sometimes [14].

Business Language

For the International businessman, business language is very important. Nowadays, it is possible for an individual to learn and study languages by making use of specially devised audio-tapes and books. Business language is generally formal and makes use of jargon related to business. It has nothing to do with the subtlety of poetry and literature.

Business language is crisp and to the point. There is no need to use cosmetic language when making a deal with an interested party. The language must be clear, understandable and simple. Communication will be enhanced.

Foreign language learning

Foreign language learning has got a wide popularity worldwide. In the European Union, learning more than one language is considered as an advantage over those who communicate in their native language only. Knowing the language of another culture bridges the gap within different cultures while creating more proximity among the different races. More opportunities are hence created.

Perspective

Corporate benefits of learning a foreign language

With the evolving business landscape, and thinning borders, it would be a huge disadvantage for an individual or business-person to be limited to just one language. Learning a foreign could be a difficult, and exasperating activity. But the benefits are well worth it. Besides the ‘growing popularity’ of foreign languages, learning how to speak a foreign language fluently could also open you up to be more accepting of the culture and traditions of others [15].

Upgrading the manager’s personal network

Without any dispute whatsoever, learning a foreign language widens the door to know more people. Because of people, generally trust somebody more if he can speak their language. So knowing how to speak their language removes the initial ‘strangers’ barrier’, and apprehension they might have of him. So knowing how to speak their language, makes one appear ‘like one of their own’.

This could earn the business manager more trust than it could earn a typical stranger who doesn’t understand the language. Why? Because understanding a language also means that one does understand its cultural norms and etiquette.

It opens you up to a large swath of professionals and individuals who speak the same language. Considerably widening the network of helpful contacts. These are people one could either do business with or serve as a go-between, during business negotiations and meetings. In today’s global world, learning a foreign language is essential to a manager’s success in another country.

It would also help him bridge the language gap he might face in his educational pursuits in a foreign country. Learning a foreign language could tremendously reduce this language barrier.

Improves decision making

Bilinguals have been shown to have the ability to gain a more logical and rational thought process, than their monolingual counterparts. Learning a foreign language does take a considerable conscious effort to master. It employs the whole rational faculty one has. A marked benefit of this is, it improves the decision-making process and quickens the rate at which one comes to a meaningful conclusion. The manger is better able to tie effortlessly between two languages without a break in the thought processes. This is an ability many monolinguals do not have.

Increased perception

With a foreign language, the manager becomes skillful at observing and focusing on relevant proceedings in his area of business interest. He also gains the ability to filter out irrelevant and unnecessary details. And learning a foreign language makes him an adept at spotting misleading information, this is especially essential in contract negotiations and meeting with potential partners and clients.

One more added benefit of learning a foreign is it improves the manager’s multitasking skills. He can switch effortlessly between two differing activities. These skills can make him a better communicator. It can also help him develop a better ear to listen. Which makes the manager a better listener than his monolingual colleagues.

Points to ponder

Learning a foreign language makes a manager become more adept of the culture and traditions of others. A marked benefit of this is that it improves the decision-making process and quickens the rate at which one comes to a meaningful conclusion. One more added benefit of learning a foreign is that it improves the manager’s multitasking skills where he can switch effortlessly between two differing activities.