Culture is a system of shared customs, values, behaviors, beliefs and artifacts used by members of a society so they can cope with one another and the world at large. It also incorporates main cultural aspects that are agreed upon by scholars which include behavior patterns, artifacts, thought patterns as well as culturally transmitted skills and techniques which are employed in the making of artifacts. The common perception is that belief systems have an important role to play in the study of intercultural communication as they are at the center of people’s actions and thoughts. Among major challenges multinational organizations experience include intercultural communication (Wong & Ron, 2001). Therefore, in this regard, the focus of this paper will be the assessment of such issues in such firms. The analysis is going to identify, describe as well as discuss some of the important cultural patters affecting communication in businesses. Inclusive, there will be various strategies these firms can use in order to counter barriers to successful business relationships. Additionally, the paper is going to analyze the varying ways through which these organizations can improve or enhance cultural communication.
Intercultural Communication Issues at the Workplace
According to Castillo-Ayometzi (2010), globalization has helped facilitate the current wave of business organizations to expand their businesses overseas, as such, resulting to numerous multinational companies. Multinational companies face numerous challenges when it comes to management of employees from multiple countries. Some of these are major issues generated from cultural diversity of tea members who work in these companies. Among multinational organizations faced with these challenges of intercultural communication is the Logonet Group. This is a multinational company that offers services such as contract design, manufacturing, work-wear design and promotion merchandise collections among others. In the modern business world, technology makes it possible for people from different countries and cultures to communicate. Though to some extent technology has aided in the management of communication difficulties majority of people still face barriers when it comes to communication in terms of language barriers, time differences, perception differences as well as geographical distance. It is these problems that lead to difficulties when the companies have to meet promises they make to customers or whenever they provide specific timelines for a project (Ferraro, 2005).
Besides the logistical and time zone challenges faced by MNC’s, these firms also come across issues that are related to the manner in which they manage different cultures especially when massive differences in relationship concepts, time and contracts exist. Understanding the major ways via which cultures vary across the world is crucial since it aids in comprehending differences between domestic and global management (Hooker, 2003).
Among major issues MNCs face are working complexities which are caused by virtual teams. Most organizations, according to Hooker (2003) lack resources of flying to and from around most of the global locations in order to facilitate meetings. These firms, therefore create virtual global teams. These teams are comprised of individuals working together but from different parts of the world. Such people might never have any face-to-face meetings. In this instance, collaboration and teamwork gets facilitated by technology. Virtual global teams increase the difficulties of working since it involves working with individuals from different cultures, countries and with different ideas in relation to collaboration. Solely, technology is used for communication, as such, eliminating face-to face meetings which are essential in promotion of interactions among employees. Organizations also look towards internationalizing operations, as such, should understand ideal ways to respond to local, national or regional norms and customs, as a result of cultural differences. What is more, cultural variances also generate numerous challenges whenever they are not properly understood.
When it comes to global communication, multinational firms also experience difficulties as a result of differences in time zones (Hooker, 2003). For example, when an employee from MNC’s subsidiary in the United States requests information from another in China, the response could be delayed till the next day due to time differences which vary from 12 to 15 hours. Language barrier also is another issue that face intercultural communication in MNCs. Problems in language can cause miscommunication, which in turn affects operations or promotes conflict among the employees. Though the issue of time zone might present greater challenges to handle, the barrier of language can be handled through increasing the cross-cultural trainings.
Messages that are sent and the receiver are crucial issues as well that MNCs face in intercultural communication. This is attributed to the fact messages communicated are tailored to different cultures and languages. This means different people interpret verbal and non-verbal communication differently depending on their cultural background according to Wong and Ron (2001). Therefore, an employee working within an MNC should always remember that what matters is not the one who sent the message but the communication/message the receiver receives as well as the subsequent interpretation in the mind. It has become increasingly essential for team leaders in MNCs as well to demonstrate their respect for team knowledge, cultural diversities and ideas. The team members and leaders are also supposed to showcase genuine desire and ability to understand others. Every employee is also supposed to consider the culture of another person as valuable and not make assumptions cultural variances are not in existence lest they build a culture that is toxic within the firm (Castillo-Ayometzi, 2010).
Another aspect MNCs face when it comes to communication is high context-low context aspect. Normally, cultures are categorized as high or low based on how an individual understands the messages exchanged or communicated. Some of these cultures regard some things highly while others do not. What is more, culture is what designates the manner in which people receive information. People in high-context cultures (HCCs) interpret messages based on their overall situation. As such, the spoke messages can be ambiguous or vague. In such cultures, there is great value placed on nonverbal information and cues regarding the background of an individual. Low-context cultures (LCCs) on the contrary are dependent more explicit message content. Frustrations in communication can arise when employees or people from LCC and HCC interact (Castillo-Ayometzi, 2010. For example, an individual from LCC can get disappointed and bored in the course of a conversation where an individual from HCC is increasingly inquisitive or when they portray information that is irrelevant regarding the goals of a project. Members of LCC expect enough information to execute a particular task while members of HCC demand additional specific information regarding the entire project and this includes the role played by every person.
MNCs intercultural communication I also exposed to another challenge which is communication style. There are some styles of communication that are extremely direct while others are indirect. People from different cultures also have the tendency of being extremely open, blunt, frank and honest. On the other hand, employees from cultures with indirect communication tend to condemn openness at whatever level. This is due to the fact in such cultures, direct communication results to ‘loss of face’ and direct communicators are associated with lack of intelligence (Wong & Ron, 2001). Indirect communication prioritizes maintenance of harmony and promotion of interpersonal relationships that are smooth. Consequently, this aids in evading the possibility of offending others or getting embarrassed. Additionally, most HCCs or cultures that are relationship oriented have subtle strategies of saying ‘no’ through silence or body language. People from cultures such as Arabs might lift their eyebrows as a polite way of declining a request while others from other cultures might use click of the tongue to show their decline. Thais and Japanese people smile simply and change the subject while Eastern Asians might remain quite for a long duration.
Bad news delivery has never been enjoyable for the individual delivering it. Nevertheless, there are differences that exist on how such messages are delivered and these vary in accordance to culture. In some cultures such as HCC Asian countries, people are reluctant to deliver bad news (Castillo-Ayometzi, 2010). In other Western cultures, people find it is disrespectful and offensive once the delivery is delayed. For instance, this might happen when a MNCs manager/employee (Asian party) fails to report problems in production within the company, despite the fact it is a common problem when conducting business in Asia. Other issues are linked to the role /function of a contract. A large percentage of the Western business people are primarily dependent on written consent in order to resolve problems and misunderstandings. Cultures that are relationship oriented such as Asians however, mainly rely on relationships to prevent challenges as well as amend problems. As such, it is common for the Asian partners to appeal long distance relationship in the event something goes wrong, only trusting people they have had interactions with for a long duration (Lewis, 2005).
On top of this, time concept is yet another major challenge that MNCs face in communication processes. There are some cultures that strictly keep time (observe punctuality strictly) such that lateness is a sign of great disrespect. Rigid-time countries (monochromic cultures) value punctuality, properly fixed agendas and schedules that are set effectively and maintained as well as business meetings that are rarely interrupted (Castillo-Ayometzi, 2010). There are other cultures as well that tolerate lateness (polychromic or fluid cultures). These people therefore pay very limited attention to punctuality and do not have any level of strictness on deadlines. Such cultures are known to accept loose schedules plus business with numerous extra meetings-within-meetings which can occur simultaneously. According to Lewis (2005), it is these differences that have made MNCs communication increasingly challenging as a result of culture clash base on orientation of time which can become increasingly frustrating and which restrains western managers. Challenges arise because people from monochromic cultures doing business with people who come from polychromic cultures place big time margins when scheduling in order to maintain relationships that are tight with their business partners. This has proven to be increasingly challenging to MNCs businesses in management of employees from different cultures.
Another critical factor that faces communication processes is saving face in multinational firms. According to Castillo-Ayometzi (2010), people from cultures that are relationship based (East and Southeast) are always sensitive in preserving face, probably due to the fact they are group oriented. The self-respect of an individual and self- image are increasingly dependent on the manner in which others perceive the person. In majority of the Asian nations, respect and honor for each other happens by avoiding conflicts. MNCs also face difficulties since in these cultures, for example, criticizing of a worker or employee in public or singling an individual out from a group makes the individual lose face. A Westerner, on the contrary understands that an Asian-based employee might say one thing while they actually mean the opposite in order to ‘save face’. With this understanding, a westerner is able to know what the employee is expressing.
Strategies to Overcome Barriers to Successful Business Relations
Today, business organizations face numerous barriers especially with increased globalization (Wong & Ron, 2001). A message a sender intends to pass along might be misunderstood by the receiver in a similar way. This could lead to a breakdown in communication which in turns affects the operations of the organization negatively. Therefore, it is important to manage communication effectively such that barriers are avoided to make the process of communication smooth within the organization. There are a couple of strategies companies can employ in order to overcome communication barriers.
Eliminating Perception Differences: An organization is supposed to ensure recruitment of suitable individuals for varying jobs. During the process of recruitment, an interviewer is supposed to make sure the interviewee has great command and they are proficient in both the written and spoken language. The induction program is supposed to be effective to allow employees to understand the policies clearly. Proper training should as well be conducted on the old and new employees (Piller, 2007).
Use of a Simple Language: The Company is supposed to use simple yet clear words, which should be emphasized always. This strategy makes it possible for a company not to use ambiguous words or jargon (Piller, 2007).
Active Listening: This strategy is recommendable for companies so they can address communication barriers. According to Piller (2007), an organization is supposed to promote practice of listening attentively and carefully. Active listening means understanding and hearing the message clearly as it is heard. For instance, the company might promote organizational culture of asking questions that are relate to a message communicated in order to make sure receivers grasp the message.
Emotional state: The organizational members in this strategy, who include managers are supposed to make effective body language application while communicating (Chaney, 2005). The individual communicating is supposed to avoid demonstrating emotions in the course of communication in order to ensure the message delivered is not misinterpreted. For example, if the communicator portrays negative emotions (e.g frowning, anger etc), the receiver might think or interpret the message negatively. The receiver might think the information underway is not in any way good.
Simple organizational structure: The organizational structure of a company should never be complex in that such that the hierarchical levels number cannot be optimum. An organization is supposed to have perfect internal span of control (Lin, 2005). What is more, communication should be more effective through use of organizational structures that are simple.
Avoiding information overload: Managers in an organization are supposed to know how to prioritize their work. Work overload must be avoided and managers are supposed to spend good and quality time with their subordinates/employees. They are supposed to listen to problems and feedbacks attentively (Lin, 2005).
Providing Constructive Feedback: Intercultural analysis demonstrates different employees will react differently to criticism. Therefore, organizational managers are supposed to avoid giving negative feedback to employees and instead, focus on offering positive criticism. In this regard, though feedback might be negative, the managers are supposed to deliver it in a manner that is constructive. Constructive feedback has become important since it helps to promote effective communication between subordinates and their superiors (Chaney, 2005).
Appropriate Media Selection: Organizational managers are supposed to choose effectively the right medium for communication. For instance, managers ought to communicate messages that are simple orally like holding staff meetings or face-to-face interactions. Complex messages are supposed to be delivered through written communication means and important message reminders should use communication tools like memos and notices (Lin, 2005).
Flexibility in Meeting Targets: Effective communication needs organizational managers who can ensure their employees meet their work targets in a timely fashion and they avoid placing extreme pressure on employees to meet their targets (Hooker, 2008).
Enhancing Intercultural Communication
In order to facilitate effective cross-cultural business, it is recommended to have proper understanding of a partner’s business so as to make appropriate cultural adjustments. It is recommended for business transactions to favor cultural norms that are relate to social infrastructure upon which they are dependent. For example, while the Westerners might view business as independent activity at times, in real sense, it is totally dependent on pre-existing cultural mechanisms to attain success in everything. A business aspiring to tap into such resource therefore should have respect for the culture that is providing the resources (Lin, 2005).
In the context of an organization, improving intercultural communication implies creating organizations that are all inclusive. According to Woods (2002), an organization aspiring to leverage its human resources should build an environment that is all inclusive while at the same time organizing the operating systems in order to develop progressive learning ability. Development of an all-inclusive organization will require an MNC to show demonstration of great commitment towards diversity by having visible and invisible heterogeneity across all the levels and departments of the company. The organization is supposed to embrace human differences and similarities, values and utilize them across all the levels. It is recommended to use a holistic view of all the employees where the staff get respect and are viewed as whole individuals with family identities and lives extending beyond the company. Mattock (2003) stated an environment that is all inclusive is supposed to allow the employees to behave truthfully and freely within the workplace. Such organizations are also supposed to build an environment that is professionally nurturing.
All employees, despite their cultural background are supposed to enjoy equitable access to opportunities for individual and professional growth. The opportunities are also supposed to be open to all members of the organization without taking into consideration their physical and developmental abilities by provision of effective workplace adaptations. Information and communication sharing should also flow throughout the organization from all levels. Employees should not be discriminated upon based on their culture. Inclusive firms should develop recognition systems and equitable reward (Woods, 2002).
Further, inclusive firms should recognize existence of explicit and implicit company culture. Collaborative conflict resolution process is also recommended. The company is also supposed to recognize the traditional and non-traditional aptitudes, educational experiences, life experiences, knowledge base, skills and personal abilities of every member of staff in order to maximize on the skills.
Chaney (2005) recommended the environment of an organization needs to create an environment minimizing misunderstanding possibilities so as to improve intercultural communication. This can be achieved through:
- Not making assumptions while communicating
- Listening attentively and carefully
- Demonstrating empathy and sympathy
- Inviting and welcoming discussions
- Seeking to understand common interests
- Treating others with respect
The work above presents an analysis of intercultural communication within organizational context. Various issues that multinational organizations face are included in the discussion. There are strategies suggested as well through which, companies can manage barriers that limit successful business relations as well as how companies can be inclusive organizations.
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