International and intercultural communication and negotiation provides corporate organizations with several difficulties. Due to different values and cognitive styles, communicating during international collaborations is even more important than during mono-national collaborations. Miscommunication can be caused by misunderstanding different code, because code is dependent on culture-specific communication rules and underlying value/cognitive styles. Different styles may come in a variety of forms, it may be how individuals speak, what non-verbal cues they give or where they position their main point in conversation.
In this paper different forms of cross cultural communication are examined, and examples are given as to how confusion could occur within a business environment, real organisations have been used where possible. Styles of Communication Communication is highly important when conducting business across different cultures. As this analysis will show, issues arise when different cultures try and communicate with each other. “Communication is only possible between people who to some extent share a system of meaning” (Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner: 1997: 74).
The systems of meaning can create solutions for intercultural communication . as well as presenting new problems. As a result, intercultural communication issues arise. Cross cultural styles of communication are a vital aspect to many businesses that look to expand into new markets or deal with individuals of other nationalities. Culture matters, as the head of strategy for Accenture in Europe stated “Every CEO who has been through a cross-border merger says he knew culture was going to matter but did not realise how much” (Gapper, 2008).
Across cultures there are a variety of styles in which different nationalities communicate, this is particularly true with regard to the quantity of information within a message that is valued and delivered. There are three primary styles; elaborate, exacting and succinct (Mooij, 2011). An elaborate style refers to the use of expressive and articulate language, the exacting style indicates that communication is precisely as long as necessary to make the point needed, and the succinct style incorporates the use of silence and understatements as part of the communication (Massey et al, 2001).
Different nationalities tend to favour different methods of reaching the main point within their conversation. This can often lead to difficulties when there are inter-cultural differences within a business environment. For instance, as a general rule, Americans “believe that words should say what they mean and people should be accountable only for what they say in words” (Tannen, 1984). This ‘exacting’ style of communication is at odds with the ‘elaborate’ style favoured by the Arab nations, where indirectness is the more commonly used.
These differing styles would naturally raise issues if businessmen from America and an Arab nation were to work together. Whereas one individual would wish to get straight to the point of the conversation, his counterpart would aim to talk around the main topic, causing frustration for both individuals. In countries, such as China, where succinct communication is the norm, businessmen and women of other nationalities should be aware that talking too much is viewed as a sign of dishonesty (Desai, 2010, pg173).
This cultural diversity increases complexity, confusion and ambiguity within communication, the challenge of working in groups is therefore increased (Shachaf, 2008). Such cultural differences are attributed to the majority of merger failures (Gitelson et al, 2001). In addition to the styles of communication employed by different nationalities, there are a number of other factors which can vary. These include issues such as when to talk, what to say, pacing and pausing, intonation and cohesion and coherence (Tannen, 1984). In 1997 Wal-Mart took over from Wertkauf in a bid to launch the Wal-Mart brand internationally (Brunn: 2006).
One of their failures was a lack of awareness with regards to the communication style the German people are used to. In general, the communication style of the Germans is to be reserved with strangers and formal in their work interactions. In contrast, the management style of the American firm Wal-Mart, tends to prefer to break the ice quickly and be informal in their work communications, allowing action to take place quickly (Nees, 2000). Similarly, the German customers were annoyed by being greeted at the door and found persistently helpful clerks an intrusion on their privacy. High and Low Context Communication
It is viable to say that people are influenced by their own cultural norms, thus when communicating with other cultures, confusion can occur. Intercultural styles of communication vary due to factors such as language, communication methods and idioms. Intercultural communication has been categorised by Thomas (2002) as high or low context correlating to the amount of context given. The level of context is the amount of surrounding information that is given, for example in a written text or verbal communication. The amount of context given can vary and this has implications for a communications process.
“In low-context cultures, the message is largely conveyed by the words spoken. In high-context cultures, a good deal of the meaning is implicit and the words convey only a small part of the message” (Thomas: 2002: 121). As a result of these methods of communication, the original method may be delivered with clarity, or have to be interpreted by the receiver. These indirect and direct styles can be associated to different cultures; “In the United States, effective verbal communication is expected to be explicit, direct and unambiguous” (Thomas: 2002: 120)
From David Thomas’ example, it can be seen that the United States has a culture of direct communication. The result is clarity and communication being quicker but at a cost of little context. Low context communication is often straight to the point and heavily coded (Thomas: 2002). In other cultures such as Indonesia, cultures are “considerably more inexact, ambiguous and implicit” (Thomas: 2002: 120). This indirect communication is less coded and involves a lot of verbal and expressive delivery. In low context and explicit communications, body language, innuendos and assumed understandings count for little.
(Steers: 2010: 218). This is the message content being directly delivered, as opposed to the message context. In contrast to this, high context and indirect communications tend to rely more on personal relationships, reputations and perceived mutual understandings. The result is that the receiver has to interpret the message content out of the high context given (Steers: 2010: 218) The high and low context methods can be related to Geert Hofstede’s ‘Cultural Dimensions’; “High and low context communication styles can actually help to perpetuate collectivism and individualism” (Thomas: 2002: 121).
The relation can be seen when considering dimensions. An individualistic culture is more likely to adopt an explicit communication style. This is because individuals work in isolation and when interaction takes place, the message has to be direct, due to the lack of collectivism. Oppositely, a collectivist culture is likely to adopt a high context and implicit style. This is because each team member has understanding of each other and personal relations are. Therefore they are more likely to interpret an implicit message better. (Hofstede Website)