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CROSS CULTURAL COMMUNICATIONS

 

 
Course Description
 
International business takes place across cultures and it stands to reason that part of its success will depend upon effective cross-cultural communication. In this unit we seek to develop understanding of the factors influencing the quality of such communication and the differences that exist between cultures. In recognizing that differences exist between cultures, we will examine how it is possible to communicate effectively across such division and how problems arise in that process.
 
Learning Outcomes:
 
At the end of this unit, students should be able to: 
 
Course Utility
 
This unit will not "tell" you how to do things. Its main objective is for you to become aware that a stereotypical
view of a particular nation is not all there is to that nation. Not everyone will fall into that stereotypical
characterization. Some will, most wont. This unit will help you to understand and appreciate that you have to make
allowances for people who do not perform in exactly the same way as you.
 
 
Course Contents
 
Core Text
 
Trompenaars, Fons (1993) "Riding the waves of culture" : Nicholas Brealey Publishing Ltd.
 
 
Indicative Reading
 
 
Websites
 
http://www.culture-at-work.com/
 
http://www.business-english-training.com/arab.html
 
http://international-business-etiquette.com/besite/uae.htm
 
http://www.techcomm-online.org/issues/v46n2/toc.html
 
http://www.geert-hofstede.com/geert_hofstede_resources.shtml
 
 
Mode of Assessment
 
The assessment for this course is out of 100 %, for which the students will be required to answer ANY 2 questions (each carrying 50 marks) out of a choice of 5 questions. Time limit = 1 Hour. Some sample questions are given below:
 
1. Discuss the benefits and limitations of cross cultural theory for business people
 
2. Discuss the view that increasing cross-cultural contact will inevitably lead to cultural homogeneity.
 
3. Evaluate the problems that may arise while managing across culture due to differences in the way rules are perceived and implemented.
 
4. Compare and contrast the methods of communication - both verbal and non-verbal - with your own culture and that of one other national culture
 
5. Discuss the effects on international business due to different orientations as observed in individualistic and collectivist cultures.
 
6.  Discuss the various levels of culture and explain the ways in which a knowledge of each can affect the conduct of business.
 
7. Distinguish between universalism and particularism and indicate how an appreciation of these concepts can affect the outcome of cross cultural communication.
 
8. Compare and contrast the way in which your own culture and one other handle issues of personal status.
 
9. Discuss, with examples, specific and diffuse cultures.
 
10. In what ways does a broad understanding of cross cultural communication affect your business practice?
 
 

STUDY MATERIAL

 

Cross Cultural Communication Power Point Slides

 

Other Notes

The knowledge: Fons Trompenaars

Having researched and written extensively on how reconciling cultural differences can lead to competitive advantage, Fons Trompenaars is now widely recognised as a leading authority on organisational culture. He talks to Simon Lelic about what he sees as the five cultural dilemmas that sit at the heart of KM, and the need to move beyond ‘knowledge management’ and towards ‘knowledge leadership’.

To Fons Trompenaars, knowledge management is, or should be, fundamentally a cultural issue. “Data becomes meaningful when you structure it in a certain way – it becomes information. When you structure information, it becomes knowledge, and when you structure knowledge it becomes science,”

"It is the process of structuring that adds meaning. And since different cultures have different ways of structuring meaning, you can see that, by definition, knowledge management is a cultural construct.” This, he feels, is what many managers still fail to grasp. Technology continues to drive knowledge management, when what is needed is a holistic, systemic approach, one that aligns the use of technology-based tools with the philosophical and cultural concepts that underpin knowledge management.

The importance of culture in any sphere of human activity is something Trompenaars has been aware of for most of his life.

The son of a French mother and a Dutch father, he grew up cognisant of the problems – and opportunities – that cultural differences often present. After reading economics in Amsterdam, Trompenaars studied for his PhD at Wharton School in Pennsylvania, sponsored by the Dutch government. Inspired by the likes of GeertHofstede, Hasan Ozbekhan and Russell Ackoff, the title of his thesis was ‘The organisation of meaning and the meaning of organisation’, a discourse on the way culture affects how we perceive organisational structures. After a number of years at Shell putting what he had learnt into practice, Trompenaars founded the Centre for International Business Studies in 1989, now Trompenaars Hampden-Turner, an Amsterdam-based consultancy specialising in – naturally – cross-cultural management.

Working with his associate Charles Hampden-Turner and a team of 20, dilemma reconciliation is the approach that dominates the majority of Trompenaars’s time. “Processing knowledge effectively has become today’s most important source of competitive advantage,” he explains. “It determines the way you can apply and retain the core competencies within an organisation, and the way an organisation learns. In turn, effective knowledge management is dependent on the type of organisational culture in which it reconciles dilemmas.” Through his extensive research and Trompenaars Hampden-Turner’s ongoing work with clients, five central dilemmas have emerged that Trompenaars believes are key to the success of the vast majority of knowledge-management initiatives.

The first of these he identifies as the universal versus the particular, a dilemma that he explores in great depth in his most recent book, Did the Pedestrian Die?.[1] “Imagine you’re riding in a car, you’re friend is speeding and he hits a pedestrian. You come to court, and your friend’s lawyer tells you not to worry, as you were the only witness. You know he was speeding, but what right does your friend have to ask you to lie? Would you do so?” This is a question that vividly demonstrates the divide between universalist and particularist thinking. Trompenaars’s research has revealed that 92 per cent of Americans, for example, would fall into the universalist camp: respect to the truth and to the law overrides any notion of there being exceptions to the rule. Conversely, the majority of those in South Korea, Venezuela and France (and indeed most of the Latin world) would tend to a more particularist standpoint: in Trompenaars’s experience, most ask for more information before they are able to decide whether they would lie for their friend, the most common question being, did the pedestrian die?

In a corporate context, this cultural dilemma raises obvious difficulties for a knowledge manager, particularly those operating in a multinational organisation. Even on a functional level, it is a disparity that needs to be addressed. As Trompenaars says, while HR, finance and marketing professionals are generally universalist in their outlook, salespeople tend to be more particularist – they invariably demand exceptions for their clients, for example. For a KM system to succeed, therefore, it must reconcile the two. Implementing a standardised system in every office around the world and across functions will isolate the particularists, just as allowing every office and department to develop their own approach to KM will lead to chaos. “Mass customisation is the reconciliation of the universal and the particular,” he says. “You will not solve knowledge management through one approach alone; it’s about how you combine the two.”

The second of Trompenaars’s five dilemmas is the individual versus the team, which is closely aligned to the third: specific and codified versus diffuse and implicit knowledge.

“A short time ago we worked with General Motors to help integrate its joint venture with Isuzu, a Japanese truck-producing firm. Because their knowledge was so individualised, the Americans spent about 30 per cent of their time codifying their knowledge and writing it up in handbooks and procedures. The Japanese, on the other hand, never wrote anything down. Their knowledge was stored in the network of their relationships. This infuriated the Americans, but in a group-oriented culture, you need other ways of communicating knowledge. Whereas in an individualised society, there is a tendency to keep knowledge because knowledge is seen as power, in Japan, knowledge is only knowledge when it is shared; your status is dependent on how much you contribute to the group.”

Eventually, GM’s managers succeeded in convincing their Japanese counterparts to compile more concise, less time-consuming manuals, which went some way to satisfying both parties, but the challenge of reconciling the individual and the group, particularly in an international organisation, is clear. Again, though, and as Trompenaars says, this dilemma is not unique to multinational settings. IBM experienced a similar problem in the US, he explains, a dilemma that was ultimately resolved by altering the firm’s system of rewards. “IBM gave bonuses depending on how many computers you sold as an individual salesperson. This led to pretty good sales, but also to a great deal of stress and internal competition, which the firm realised was impacting on sales potential.” As such, the company introduced a system whereby bonuses depended not on individual sales but on each salesperson making a presentation to their colleagues detailing what they had learnt from their customers. Their peers then voted on which presentation was most useful to them. Sales went up 38 per cent. “So individuals were held responsible for what they had learnt as part of a wider community,” says Trompenaars. “Talk about knowledge management in action!”

The IBM example also illustrates a means of reconciling Trompenaars’s fourth dilemma – internal versus external control, or how to connect an organisation’s inside world with the external environment. “Effective knowledge management should not be constrained by the walls of the organisation,” he says. “Inner-oriented cultures prefer to start by enhancing internal processes, while externally-focused cultures begin with the insights and needs of the client. The internal and external environments need to be amalgamated in order to develop, not a balanced, but an integrated scorecard, in which the client has a direct influence on internal processes, which in turn serves to increase knowledge of the client.” Trompenaars points to Sony as a prime example of a firm that has done wonderfully well in this regard, in contrast to, say, Philips, which has patented a huge number of revolutionary products yet often struggles to find a market for them.

The last of Trompenaars’s five dilemmas of knowledge management relates to the disparity between perceptions from the top down and from the bottom up. “Data about clients and products is stored in the heads of individual staff members,” he says. “Middle management translates it into information that in turn is organised as knowledge by top management. For effective KM, the reconciliation of this dilemma can be found in ‘middle-up-down’, in which middle management is the bridge between the standards of top management and the chaotic reality of those on the front line,” he says. It can also be reconciled by the ‘servant leader’, he continues, a leader who connects the bottom with the top through the style with which he or she leads, drawing their authority by serving the community as a whole.

“In all these dilemmas, the context of organisational culture dictates the starting point of reconciliation,” says Trompenaars, “but effective knowledge management is dictated by the integrated scorecard of rules and exceptions, group and individual, explicit and implicit, top and bottom, and inner and outer worlds.” In fact, Trompenaars is adamant that the only real competence an effective leader needs is the ability to integrate opposites, a conclusion he also draws in his book, 21 Leaders for the 21st Century. Perhaps, he suggests, ‘knowledge management’ would be better termed ‘knowledge leadership’. “After all, the essence of making knowledge fruitful is to reconcile the types of dilemmas I’ve mentioned,” he says, “and that’s essentially leadership, not management. In KM there is too much management and not enough leadership.” It is a convincing argument, but in a world where the promises of technology still tend to obscure the centrality of cultural concerns, it will only be the most forward-thinking companies that take heed

Other Cultural Issues - Geert Hofstede

Power Distance Index (PDI) focuses on the degree of equality, or inequality, between people in the country's society. A High Power Distance ranking indicates that inequalities of power and wealth have been allowed to grow within the society. These societies are more likely to follow a caste system that does not allow significant upward mobility of its citizens. A Low Power Distance ranking indicates the society de-emphasizes the differences between citizen's power and wealth. In these societies equality and opportunity for everyone is stressed.

 Individualism (IDV) focuses on the degree the society reinforces individual or collective achievement and interpersonal relationships. A High Individualism ranking indicates that individuality and individual rights are paramount within the society. Individuals in these societies may tend to form a larger number of looser relationships. A Low Individualism ranking typifies societies of a more collectivist nature with close ties between individuals. These cultures reinforce extended families and collectives where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group.

 Masculinity (MAS) focuses on the degree the society reinforces, or does not reinforce, the traditional masculine work role model of male achievement, control, and power. A High Masculinity ranking indicates the country experiences a high degree of gender differentiation. In these cultures, males dominate a significant portion of the society and power structure, with females being controlled by male domination. A Low Masculinity ranking indicates the country has a low level of differentiation and discrimination between genders. In these cultures, females are treated equally to males in all aspects of the society.

 Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) focuses on the level of tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity within the society - i.e. unstructured situations. A High Uncertainty Avoidance ranking indicates the country has a low tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity. This creates a rule-oriented society that institutes laws, rules, regulations, and controls in order to reduce the amount of uncertainty. A Low Uncertainty Avoidance ranking indicates the country has less concern about ambiguity and uncertainty and has more tolerance for a variety of opinions. This is reflected in a society that is less rule-oriented, more readily accepts change, and takes more and greater risks.

Long-Term Orientation (LTO) focuses on the degree the society embraces, or does not embrace, long-term devotion to traditional, forward thinking values. High Long-Term Orientation ranking indicates the country prescribes to the values of long-term commitments and respect for tradition. This is thought to support a strong work ethic where long-term rewards are expected as a result of today's hard work. However, business may take longer to develop in this society, particularly for an "outsider". A Low Long-Term Orientation ranking indicates the country does not reinforce the concept of long-term, traditional orientation. In this culture, change can occur more rapidly as long-term traditions and commitments do not become impediments to change

 

Doing business overseas: it's a whole new ballgame.

(understanding international business)

Trying to deal with foreign buyers and sellers can be like walking through a minefield

Traveling outside the U.S. presents a special set of problems for purchasers who deal with overseas suppliers. Language, customs, gestures, and business protocol and behavior provide a multitude of ways to be perceived as an "ugly American." To avoid such a perception, businessmen should do a little homework before visiting another country. They should check out books at the library, call embassies or consulates of countries to be visited, and/or talk to business colleagues who have been there. No one article will provide all the facts needed, but the following is intended to offer a sampling of what to do and what not to do.

For example, shoes are forbidden in Muslim mosques and Buddhist temples. They never should be worn into Japanese homes or restaurants unless the owner insists; in Indian and Indonesian homes, if the host goes shoeless, the guest should do likewise. Whenever shoes are taken off, they should be placed neatly together facing the door their owner came in through--particularly in Japan.

Language can be a big obstacle. Just because someone speaks English, no matter how fluently, one should remember it never is spoken nor understood quite the same way as at home. Slang and jargon should be avoided.

Even when one's foreign counterpart speaks English, he or she probably speaks and understands dictionary definitions not expressions. A request for a "bathroom," "restroom," "powder room," or "comfort station" is likely to be taken literally by foreigners who will reply, "Sorry, but we don't have one of those." Even though it may seem indelicate, a toilet should be called a toilet. This is particularly useful when making hotel reservations because many hotel rooms that may be equipped with a sink do not have a toilet closer than the end of the hall.

Every culture has its own holidays, many of which are considered true holy days. If a business trip is scheduled during Ramadan, Carnival in Rio, or Chinese New Year, it would be comparable to a foreigner's asking Americans to attend a meeting on Christmas morning. It is suggested to call a consulate or tourist bureau or check with a travel agent for holidays and their dates.

The meaning of gestures is different around the world. One should not assume that American gestures will convey the intended meaning correctly. For instance, in Brazil, the okay sign with thumb and forefinger is equivalent to the upthrust middle finger sign in the U.S. In England, V means victory if the palm is facing out toward your audience; otherwise, the V sign again is the equivalent of the middle finger. To use fingers to beckon someone is insulting to most Middle and Far Easterners.

The Pacific and Asia. When traveling in the Orient, names may prove confusing. The Chinese system of sum are first, given name last does not always apply. The Taiwanese, many of whom were educated in missionary schools, often have a Christian first name, which comes before any of the others--as in Sammy Lo Wang, who should be called Mr. Lo or, to his friends, Sammy Lo. In Korea, which of a man's names takes a "Mr." is determined by whether he is his father's first or second son. Although names run backwards in Thailand, Chinese style, the Mr. is put with the given name, and to a Thai it is just as important to be called by his given name as for a Japanese to be addressed by his surname.

Having said all that, sometimes all of the above should be disregarded. The reason is that many Easterners who deal regularly with the West are changing the order of their names to un-confuse Westerners. So, while to each other their names remain the same, the given name may come before the surname to visitors. Then again, it may not. The safest course is to ask.

China. The Chinese appreciate promptness and courtesy in business dealings. A certain amount of small talk--about the weather, family, or personal hobbies--is expected before getting down to business. The handshake is preferred as a greeting. "Mr." never should be relied on to take the place of a person's proper title, such as "Committee Member Chow," "General Ti," "Factory Manager Tsobota," or "Bureau Chief Hsu."

Japan. Japanese sometimes will say "yes" to mean "l understand what you said," not "I agree." They almost never will say "no." Non-verbal communication is highly important. Once contact has been made, one shouldn't expect to get right down to business. The Japanese will wish to spend time getting to know the other person before discussing any matters of substance. Most business decisions in Japan are reached through a group decision-making system that is a multi-step procedure for building consensus among different levels of the organization. Such a process can take months. During that time, the Japanese will be evasive about how negotiations are going.

A bow is the traditional greeting, but generally Japanese shake hands with Westerners, and some Japanese regard a bow from a Westerner as a form of mockery. The safest course is to wait and follow the lead of one's Japanese counterpart. Last names and titles are used in introductions. The usual form of greeting is a long and low bow, not a handshake. A Japanese never should be addressed by his first name; only his family and very close friends use the first name.

In the Japanese culture, silence is an important aspect of clear communication. Usually, Americans abhor silence and try to fill those gaps. Among the Japanese, though, it is common--even expected--to have periods of silence in which the Japanese businessman contemplates what is said.

What a Westerner considers an honest look in the eye, the Asian in Japan takes as a lack of respect and a personal affront. Even when shaking hands and bowing, and especially when conversing, only an occasional glance into the other person's face is considered polite.

Malaysia. Much diplomacy is used in business dealings, making it necessary to read between the lines of discussions. In the past, punctuality was not a high priority in Malaysia, but timeliness has become more important. Between men, a handshake accompanies a greeting, and close men friends use both hands to clasp the other's hand. Toasting is not a common practice since the country's large Muslim population does not drink alcoholic beverages. At Muslim dinners, the left hand never should touch food. The lead of the host should be followed.

Singapore. The business culture in Singapore is basically British. Though the people share with the Chinese a reputation for driving a very hard bargain, Western businessmen will find themselves on familiar ground when negotiating with Singapore residents. Locals are much more direct and up front in discussions than those in many neighboring countries. Humorous remarks never should be made about the food being served.

South Korea. Korean businessmen are tough negotiators, and negotiations will be prolonged and even seemingly repetitive. Firmness, consistency, and persistence, but not aggressiveness, are valued. Eating and drinking together is expected before sitting down and talking business. Drinking large quantities of alcohol, generally in the form of soju, the traditional Korean rice wine, is a common practice at business dinners. Before the main course, people will raise their drink in their right hand and say gun-gei, clinking all their glasses together. This will be repeated throughout the meal.

Taiwan. A certain amount of formality and polite chit-chat is the norm when entering business negotiations, though Taiwanese business executives will come to the point faster than is customary in most parts of Asia. As in other countries in Asia, promptness is imperative. A handshake is the preferred greeting. Other forms of physical contact--like an embrace or slap on the back--are frowned upon.

Thailand. Taxi rates must be negotiated before the trip. A good rule of thumb is to ask the driver his price to one's destination and then offer him half. Prior appointments are necessary, and punctuality is important. Bargaining is expected, but should be conducted in good taste. While the handshake takes precedence over any other greeting in most Oriental countries (except Japan), Thais still prefer the wai (pronounced why), executed by placing both hands together in a praying position at the chest.

In Bangkok, all Buddhist images, even the famous tourist sites, are holy and never are to be photographed without permission. Other Thai sensitivities: Door sills must never be stepped on, for Thais believe that kindly spirits dwell below; to touch the head of even a close friend risks ending the friendship, so sacred do they consider the head.

The Middle East. In Arab countries, while conducting business with someone in his of rice, the man in charge is likely talking to a stream of other people wandering in and out. The visitor may be dropped in mid-sentence and not picked up again for 20 minutes. No disrespect is meant; this is the communal style in which Middle Eastern business is done. A meeting one thought would take an hour may take two or three times as long. Visiting businessmen should not go over someone's head because they think there is a faster way to get a quick decision. It will have the opposite effect.

An Arab business associate will stop all business several times a day to pray, either at the office or at the nearest mosque. One shouldn't show irritation since prayer is an unshakable rule of Islamic life. Westerners are not expected to kneel or face Mecca, but must not interrupt or display impatience when their host does.

The business week runs from Saturday to Thursday, with Thursday and/or Friday the Muslim days of rest and worship. Punctuality is important for the visitor, although the host may not be on time. One should not pull his hand away sharply if an Arab businessman, walking with him, takes his hand and holds it as they go. This is a sign of friendship, nothing more. Moreover, in the Middle East, Westerners should not refer to the Persian Gulf; it always is called the Arabian Gulf.

Europe. When not to talk business can be as important as when to do so. In England, as soon as the day is done, so is business, and nothing will turn one's host off faster than continuing shoptalk over drinks and dinner.

Belgium. Cheek kissing is done three times, alternating cheeks. One should not be surprised to see men embracing.

Bulgaria. A nod means no and a shake of the head means yes.

Germany. Tipping is discouraged officially, but welcome if done discreetly. Most business appointments are held on Tuesdays; appointments are rarely made for Wednesdays.

France. The hard sell won't go over; negotiations should be formal and subdued. Plenty of time should be allowed to conduct business because decisions often require a lot of deliberation. French businessmen sometimes like to disagree for the sake of discussion. Oral agreements often are made before the signed contract.

Poland. Prior appointments are absolutely necessary. The economy largely is stateowned and operated, so frequent appointments and delays in decisions should be expected.

Portugal. Business stops between noon and three p.m., since everything closes down.

Spain. Most offices are closed between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m. The only time punctuality is taken seriously is when attending a bullfight.

Central and South America. Most people's names are a combination of the father's and mother's, with only the father's name used in conversation. In Spanish-speaking countries, the father's name comes first. Hence, Jose Hernandez-Miller is called Mr. Hernandez. In Portuguese-speaking Brazil, though, it is the other way around, with the mother's name first.

If one is face to face, about two feet apart, in conversation with someone in Latin America, the latter may try to establish intimacy and intensity by virtually moving in nose to nose. If you take a step back, he will step forward and could think you are a snob or he is not nice to be near. So remember: Eye contact must be unflinching; conversation must be nose to nose.

Brazil. One never should start right into business discussions unless the host does so first. Visitors can expect to be served small cups of very strong coffee frequently. Discussions of politics, religion, and other controversial topics should be avoided.

In doing business abroad, the best advice is to do one's homework ahead of time and take the lead from the host or business counterpart. It is a good idea to ask plenty of questions about what someone should be called and how one should act.