Few would disagree that we have truly entered into a global age of intercultural communication. Modern communication satellites, cell phones, and the inter-connectivity of the World Wide Web have enabled the near-instantaneous communication with all individuals on Planet Earth. This world wide communications web applies to an even greater degree to the business world. Contracts, deals, negotiations are executed and carried out across the different cultural barriers and environments. Not only is there the obvious barrier of language in intercultural communication, there are widely diverse cultural environments that inhibit communication between people from dissimilar backgrounds. However, by utilizing certain methodologies and protocols, cross-cultural communication can be tremendously enhanced.
We can generally eliminate the language barrier, since English truly is the universal language in today’s world. It is pretty well known that commercial aircraft pilots and aircraft control tower operators all use English to communicate, not Russian, or Chinese, or Farsi! Language aside, the first barrier to intercultural communication is social values. This may involve something like etiquette rules or manners. There are actions or activities that are considered rude in American culture that may not be rude in another. Smacking your lips after a good meal is actually polite behavior in certain cultures! Americans like to shake hands when meeting or departing; other cultures look down on this behavior as inappropriate. Familiarize yourself with the social values and customs of the target audience to facilitate intercultural communication.
Body language and personal space ‘comfort zones’ are big differences that may hamper intercultural communication. For example, in some cultures, such as the Latin countries, two men standing very close together, and lots of touching, are considered normal male behavior. American men generally like a certain amount of personal space when talking with other men, usually about an arm’s length distance. People from other cultures may use a lot of hand gestures to emphasize various talking points. Having a sound knowledge base on non-verbal communication is just overall good communication sense, not just with intercultural communication.
Intercultural Communication in Business
For the average American or European businessperson, the adage of “time is money” is generally applicable to business dealings. But not all cultural groups perceive time in this manner. As it relates to business matters, certain Arabic cultures may take days to complete a simple business deal. Understand these different time perceptions across cultural groups to enhance and assist intercultural communication.
Try to avoid the deadly mistake of ethnocentrism, or the idea and concept that the entire world revolves around your particular culture: IT DOES NOT! This attitude can lead to perceptions of arrogance on the part of the other cross-cultural participant. Try to do little basic research on the other person’s culture; compliments go a LONG ways in intercultural communication. Avoid using slang and localized idioms, using more words that convey specific denotative meaning. It may even be beneficial to take specific intercultural communication courses that teach and educate on the specifics of; diversity awareness profiles, global competencies inventory, cross cultural adaptability, intercultural sensitivity, learning styles, diagnosing organizational culture, and much more. Becoming proficient in intercultural communication will significantly support the success of cross-cultural contact.