Cross-cultural communication - American businessCross-cultural communication is the ability to successfully form and maintain relationships with members of a culture different from one’s own. Many factors contribute to success in communicating with a person of another culture; these include manners, social structure, and values. Understanding cross-cultural communication is vital if one is pursuing a career in international business, and the best way to achieve this is by practice. Reading about other cultures is helpful, but understanding them cannot be done by reading alone. Practice, instruction, and experience are the three keys to success. Many U.S. CORPORATIONs send personnel who are being transferred abroad to cultural training seminars before they leave the country; often spouses also attend the seminars. Around the world, thousands of language-training centers offer immersion courses in local languages and culture. Communication is the act of sharing information, often using both oral and written symbols as well as nonverbal symbols such as body language. For example, handshaking is a common form of nonverbal communication. In the United States, a solid, firm handshake is customary, whereas Orientals and Middle Easterners generally use a gentle grip. To many non-Westerners, using a firm grip may suggest that one is unnecessarily aggressive. Another form of nonverbal communication is eye contact. Eye contact is used throughout the world, but the way it is interpreted varies. Americans are taught to look directly at people when speaking; not doing so suggests one is either not sure oneself or is trying to conceal something. In other cultures, making direct eye contact can convey disrespect or even convey sexual messages. Culture also affects verbal communication. For example, the general tone in which one speaks varies among groups around the world. Many Americans consider raised voices to be rude and inappropriate, but other groups consider an increase in volume to be a sign of enthusiasm. Even with accurate translation in business communications, many misunderstandings are caused by bypassing, where the sender and receiver “bypass,” or miss, each other’s meaning. Management professor Naoki Kameda writes that bypassing in cross-cultural communication is caused by the absence of general agreement, egocentric interpretation of received communications, and self-conceited conception of communications. People give their own meanings to words, and cultural differences result in misinterpretations. Even among English speakers there exists a strong potential for miscommunication. Language specialists often refer to “Englishes,” recognizing that each country injects its own culture into the language. Americans are often accused of being presumptuous in international business settings, assuming that others understand English and, in particular, American English. One area of frequent cultural miscommunication is in the use of acronyms. People situated within the “beltway” surrounding Washington, D.C. (Interstate 495), are masters of acronym-speak, a language that few people outside the beltway, never mind outside the United States, comprehend. Marcelle DuPraw and Marya Axner describe six fundamental patterns of cultural differences that influence crosscultural communication.
• Communication styles. Meanings of words, nonverbal communication, and BUSINESS LANGUAGE vary among cultures.
• Attitudes toward conflict. In the United States, conflict is generally avoided, but when necessary, it is dealt with directly. In many other cultures, conflict is considered embarrassing and addressed discreetly.
• Approaches to completing tasks. Americans are known for being task-oriented and developing relationships while working together. People from Asian and Hispanic cultures generally prefer developing relationships first and then approaching tasks together.
• Decision-making styles. In the United States, decisionmaking authority is often delegated, while in many other cultures it is highly centralized. Majority-rule decisions are common in the United States, while in Asian cultures consensus is preferred.
• Attitudes toward disclosure. In the United States, most businesspeople are up-front, willing to discuss issues and problems. In many other cultures, candid expression or questioning can be considered shocking and inappropriate. Probing questions, often used to better understand a problem, may seem intrusive to non- Americans.
• Epistemologies (approaches to knowing). Americans emphasize cognitive knowledge gained through counting or measuring while other cultures incorporate transcendent knowledge gained through meditation, or spiritual understanding.