Ommunicating with Intercultural Audiences
Communicating with Intercultural Audiences
For this lesson, we will turn our attention to the issues associated with writing for an intercultural and international audience. In past decades, international communication issues were the province of very large companies such as IBM and Johnson & Johnson; now, however, e-mail, fax machines, and the Internet have opened global markets to virtually every organization. Today, you are very likely to find yourself participating in important negotiations with people whose first language is not the same as your own.
If words were the only issue, the problem could be addressed simply by translation. However, cultural protocols are a major part of successful international business dealings, and many of us are woefully ignorant of most other cultures. When you begin to work professionally with those whose sense of identity is rooted in a culture different from yours, you will be more successful in your interactions if you take the time to learn a bit about that language and culture. Becoming culturally aware is just an extension of our by-now-familiar idea of audience accommodation. You are likely to get a more positive response if you present your message in a way that helps your audience feel comfortable and knowledgeable.
By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:
a?become familiar with several types of cultural differences.
a?learn about the importance of recognizing cultural variations and their effects on business communication.
a?develop strategies for communicating interculturally and produce a memo that provides effective protocols for intercultural communication with an audience of your choosing.
Lesson 10 Commentary
When you communicate with someone from another culture, you encode your message using the assumptions of your own culture. However, the receiver decodes the message according to the assumptions of his or her culture, so your meaning may be misunderstood.
The following is a list of categories of cultural differences that can affect business communication; recognizing and adapting for these differences will help you become a more effective intercultural communicator.
The United States is a low-context culture -we rely mostly on words to convey meaning. Many other cultures, however, rely much more on nonverbal actions and setting to convey meaning; they are high-context cultures. In these cultures, business is often conducted in what we view as a social atmosphere, because developing trust is critical to the relationship.
In the United States and Canada, the protocols for making decisions are speed and efficiency. Often details are worked out later. However, in Greece, Latin America, and the Pacific Rim, decisions are often made slowly, attention is given to every detail, and agreement often must be unanimous. Successful business negotiations with people from these cultures takes time and patience.
Many cultures react differently than we do to material success, efficiency, and progress. People in the United States are, in general, goal-oriented. We see as progress finding a way for two people to do the work that four people used to do. However, in India and Pakistan, where unemployment is high, creating jobs is often more important than working efficiently. Executives in these countries may rather employ four workers than two, and this goal influences the ways in which they encode and decode messages.
Roles and Status
One of the most obvious cultural differences is that in many countries women donat play a prominent role in business. Female executives may find that they are not taken as seriously as their junior male colleagues in these countries.
Space arrangements and titles also differ in other cultures. In France, the CEOas office isnat in the corner with lots of windows, plush carpet, and an expensive desk, but in the middle of an open area surrounded by lower-level employees. In the Middle East, CEOs keep their expensive possessions at home and do business in small and modest offices.
Concepts of Time
Different cultures often view the temporal dimensions of business interactions in different ways. German and U.S. executives view business time as blocks, with one task allotted to each block. In Latin America and Asia, however, building a foundation for the business relationship is more important than meeting a deadline. In these cultures, it is not an insult to be kept waiting 15-30 minutes; the concept of time is more fluid and flexible.
Use of Manners
Many languages have two forms of the pronoun a?youa?-a formal form reserved for acquaintances and an informal one appropriate for very close friends and family. Do you know when to use the Spanish a?usteda? and when to use the more familiar a?tua?? In many parts of Spain and Latin America, you are expected to greet colleagues with a quick kiss to each cheek. In many Arabic countries, you should not offer gifts to a manas wife, but you may offer them to his children.
In the United States and Germany, standing two or three feet away from a business associate is culturally appropriate; we reserve special nearness for more personal or intimate interactions. To Arabs and Latin Americans, however, special closeness is often the cultural norm in business transactions, and these colleagues may react negatively to those who keep moving away from them.
Even in our own culture, we often have problems interpreting body language. Deborah Tannen has made a career of explaining to men and women just what the other means by a particular gesture. (See Deborah Tannenas homepage for more information on her work). These gestures may be even more confusing in a business situation, because you may misread or overlook a gesture that is common and important in another culture. For example, in many cultures, especially in Latin America and Asia, keeping your eyes lowered is a sign of respect, not of dishonesty and evasiveness.
To determine when your assignments are due, refer to your Course Schedule.
Prepare a memo outlining protocols for effective intercultural communication with an audience of your choosing. Imagine that your superiors have entrusted you with the assignment of researching business communication with a cultural audience with which your company will soon be doing business; your assignment is to prepare a brief memo that informs your fellow employees of cultural differences that they should anticipate and accommodate.
You can decide which audience you would like to research and write about (perhaps you would like to research protocols for business interactions in Saudi Arabia, or perhaps you would rather identify important cultural differences in contemporary Chinese business interactions). Your memo will likely not be exhaustive, but should focus on identifying five or six important cultural differences and detail how they might affect or alter your fellow employeesa communications with members of this culture.
Use standard memo format; the completed project will likely be 1-2 pages in length. This is the last of your three shorter written assignments and is worth a total of 10 points. When youave completed the memo, post it to the Intercultural Memo drop box. Name the file using the convention a?InterculturalMemoSmith.doc,a? substituting your own last name for Smith.