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What is Cross Cultural Communication?

Cross – cultural communication is about how we communicate with different cultures. It is also about the challenges and benefits of relating to other cultures and the efforts people make to overcome any misunderstandings. *Communication refers to language, gestures and body language.

The concept of cultural difference (McCulloch & Reid)

Different cultures have their own ways and shared understanding of doing things in a particular way. These practices develop over time, and permeate the culture including the way they do business. People tend to view other cultures through their own cultural lens. Therefore, they may take offence at something that is normal practice in another culture. Understanding this fact is the first step to building awareness of other cultures.

What are some examples of different cultures?

In the widest sense, a culture can described as a group of people who have differences for example in terms of gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, race, ethnicity and religion. It can also include subcultures for example people who choose to identify with a particular group and take on the ways of behaving within that group. This can include for example a football association, a gang, or a Harley Davidson enthusiast. Subcultures can span across different countries and ethnic groups.


Why is it important to know about cross cultural communication?

It is important because we need effective communication skills in an increasingly diverse and smaller world because of globalization. People are travelling more and societies are becoming increasingly culturally diverse. Understanding of other cultures and beliefs is crucial if we are to live harmoniously with minimal misunderstanding and conflict.

Relevance to today’s businesses/world – benefits and challenges

It has become increasingly important for businesses to be able to deal with diverse cultures within their own businesses, and to be able to communicate with other businesses, often based overseas, whose language, culture and communication can be quite different. A good manager invests time and money into giving employees knowledge and understanding of cross- cultural communication. Training of employees to understand cultural differences, and investment in conflict resolution, are both important components of this strategy.
Benefits of diversity in business
There is evidence that businesses which embrace diversity and which have a mix of cultures, are more likely to succeed than those businesses that are more ethnocentric.
More diversity means different points of view so the best ideas are considered.
It is useful to have employees who can help with cross-cultural communication when dealing with Businesses in other cultures. For example, a Chinese – speaking employee can help with communication and cultural norms when dealing with a Chinese business.
There is likely to be increased conflict in the workplace due to cultural misunderstandings between employees.
A manager will need to spend more time training employees about cross-cultural communication. Implementation of processes to reduce conflict and conflict resolution are also necessary.


Understanding cross cultural differences

Read more on cultural communication etiquette.

High and low context cultures (Communication styles)

A high context culture is one where a lot of information is communicated through the unspoken word and body language. An example of this is Saudi Arabia where loyalty and building relationships is important and there is less-reliance on rules, process and structure.

A low context culture like America is one where information is communicated more directly, without hidden meaning. Rules, process and structure tend to be more important than the relationship in this communication style.


Getting it right: Minimizing misunderstandings

In this video Wenjuan Wang talks about verbal and non-verbal (high and low context) communication, she gives 3 steps for minimizing misunderstandings in intercultural exchanges, gives some examples of body language meaning different things in different cultures and emphasizes the importance of awareness that you are talking to someone from another culture.

Laray Barna’s Sources of Miscommunication in Cross Cultural Exchanges
1) Assumption of similarities: This refers to our tendency to think how we behave and act is the universally accepted rule of behaviour. When someone differs, we have a negative view of him or her.
2) Language Differences: Problems occur when there is an inability to understand what the other is saying because different languages are spoken. Talking the same language itself can sometimes lead to misunderstandings as some words have different meanings in various contexts, countries or cultures
3) Nonverbal Misinterpretation: The way we dress, the way we express ourselves through our body language, eye contact and gestures also communicates something. A simple gesture like nodding the head means YES in certain cultures and NO in others
4) Preconceptions and Stereotypes: Stereotypes involves putting people into pre-defined slots based on our image of how we think they are or should be. It may consist of a set of characteristics that we assume that all members of a group share. This may be true or may be false. However, stereotypes may lead to wrongful expectations and notions. A preconceived opinion of another can lead to bias and discrimination
5) Tendency to evaluate: Humans tend to make sense of the behaviour and communication of others by analysing them from one’s own cultural point of view without taking into consideration why the other person is behaving or communicating a certain way
6) High anxiety : Sometimes being confronted with a different cultural perspective will create an anxious state in an individual who does not know how to act or behave and what is considered to be appropriate (For example: A Japanese man and an American having a business meeting where both are unsure of the other’s cultural norms)


Business school opportunities to learn about cross cultural communication

In the business school, you will get many opportunities for intercultural work. For example, you will be working in multicultural teams that emulate the real-world experience. This will enable you to gain insights and experience in working with other cultures. Take advantage of these opportunities to learn more about how other cultures act and communicate. If you approach this with curiosity and sensitivity, you will gain knowledge and understanding which will give you an advantage in the business world.

CC and your future as a business school graduate
Make yourself more employable, and learn and grow along the way. Take advantage of opportunities to advance your knowledge and awareness of other cultures. In addition to the intercultural opportunities in the business school, you can join a club or do other voluntary work in the University to assist students, which enables you to interact with others. There are also exchange schemes that enable you to experience universities in other countries. Take advantage of work experience opportunities, which may occur during your degree, to enhance your knowledge of working in a business.

McCulloch., R & Reid, A.(2012). Your business degree. Pearson Australia
Samson, D., Catley, B., Cathro, V., & Daft, R. (2016). Management in New Zealand. (2nd ed.). South Melbourne, Vic: Cengage.