Thursday, September 20, 2012

Cross Cultural Communication

One of the key components to effective cross cultural communication stems from knowledge. Understanding cross-cultural communication will help to foresee any potential problems that may arise and overcoming these problems. Effectively communicating in business involves understanding the culture and what norms are acceptable or unacceptable. The example below illustrates communications in three countries and how they differ from each other. The three countries were selected from Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

Saudi Arabia

Preferred communication style

  • Speaking loud or aggressively is a way to show sincerity and is showing interest in the conversation and not to convey a negative tone.
  • Preferences: Indirectness, politeness, ambiguity. 
      Non-verbal communication practices
  • Good strong eye contact. Arabs believe that a man’s sincerity and honor is judged by looking directly in the person’s eye.
  • Avoid pointing fingers at people or showing the soles of the feet when seated.
  • Avoid misreading handholding among Arab men, for whom it is an expression of affection and solidarity.
  • Women and men are not supposed to have eye contact which makes it very difficult for women to do business in Saudi Arabia.
Business communication norms
  • Arabic is a language complete with hyperboles. Flattery and offering compliments to hosts is part of the relation-building phase.
  • Questions about marriage, children, wealth, and religion are very common. Be prepared to answer these questions without acting uncomfortable.
  • If an Atheist, refrain from stating that as that is something incomprehensible in Arabic society who bases the faith on a monotheistic religion.
  • Avoid any negative comments about Islam, the political situation in the Middle East, or the House of Saud.
Strategies to increase cross-cultural communication
  • To communicate effectively with people of different languages and cultures, the two areas of importance in cross-cultural communication are through linguistic and cultural knowledge.
  • Cultural awareness: knowing the do’s and don’ts of the country. Understanding the customs, values, and basic etiquettes and learning about the country’s history. Understanding the management structure, negotiation techniques, specific greetings, and appropriate entertaining.
  • Develop a cultural sensitivity and maturity to business approaches that may not presently exist.


Preferred communication style

  • Hungarians prefer face-to-face meetings.
  • Hungarians are emotive speakers who say what they think and expect you to do the same.
  • Hungarians do not like euphemisms or vague statements.
  • Use stories, anecdotes, and jokes to prove their points.
  • Greet by shaking hands. If a woman is present, the men wait for her to extend the hand first.
  • Older generations may still bow to women.
Non-verbal communication practices
  • Hungarians view eye contact as indicative of sincerity and believe that people who cannot look them in the eye while speaking have something to hide.
  • Punctuality for all social situations is taken extremely seriously.
  • Do not remove the suit jacket without asking permission.
  • Close friends kiss each other lightly on the cheeks starting with the left.
Business communication norms
  • Socializing is an important part of the relationship building process. Hungarians expect many invitations to dinner or cultural events.
  • Initial meetings are scheduled to get to know each other and for Hungarian colleagues to determine if the business person(s) are trustworthy.
  • Expect to engage in small talk and getting-to-know-you type language. Do not move onto the business topic first.
  • People should be addressed by surnames with titles.
Strategies to increase cross-cultural communication
  • Learning another language may not be feasible. If that is not an option then having a translator available can be a benefit in cross-cultural communications. However, trying to learn basic conversation pieces, words or simple dialect can help in showing respect and gaining business with the country.
  • Focus on global team building to be competitive in the international marketplace.


Preferred communication style

  • Greetings in Japan are very formal and by ritual.
  • Foreigners are expected to shake hands, although the traditional form of greeting is to bow. The deeper the person bows depends on the relationship.
  • Wait to be introduced. Do not introduce yourself as that is considered impolite.
  • Indirectness, politeness, ambiguity
  • This is a group society, group consensus is important. Even if meetings are scheduled with one person, there will most likely be a group meeting.
Non-verbal communication practices
  • Rely on posture, tone of voice, and facial expressions to tell them how a person feels.
  • Have more trust in non-verbal than the spoken word because spoken words can take on different meanings.
  • Frowning while someone is speaking is a sign of disagreement.
  • Japanese maintain an impassive expression when speaking.
  • Expressions to watch out for include inhaling through clenched teeth, tilting the head, scratching the back of the head, and scratching the eyebrow.
  • It is disrespectful to stare into a person’s eyes, especially if the person is senior whether it is age or by status.
  • Japanese avoid eye contact in crowded situations to allow them privacy.
  • Japanese value the ability to sit quietly. They are non-confrontational.
Business communication norms
  • Gift giving is highly ritualistic and meaningful.
  • Dress attire is conservative.
  • Japanese prefer to do business after personal relationships are established. Being introduced by someone who already has a relationship is better because it shows the hierarchy the person has within the company.
  • Appointments are required.
  • Japanese prefer broad agreements and mutual understanding so that when problems arise they can be handled flexibly.
  • They have a difficult time saying 'no', so you must be vigilant at observing their non-verbal communication. Phrase questions to get a yes answer.
Strategies to increase cross-cultural communication
  • Values, beliefs, and practices affect responses to situations and people.
  • It may be culturally ok in North America to accept competitiveness as a belief to support better performance but in some countries such as Japan for example, believe that competition leads to disharmony.
  • By knowing how each culture communicates can eliminate problems that may occur when communication styles vary or conflict with each other.

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