In a globalized economy, cultural sensitivity is essential. People living in different cultures have different habits, values, and ways of expression. All international communication is influenced by cultural differences. These differences are cultural differences that cause problems when people communicate. People from different cultures bring a different set of assumptions about appropriate ways to coordinate and communicate in a company.
Understanding and knowing about cultural differences is a crucial skill for succeeding in business. Understanding how to communicate effectively with people from other cultures has become a priority and a part of the daily work environment of many organizations. The following points can highlight more about such differences:
(a) Body movements
Our body sends non-word messages through hands, fingers, eyes, head, face, and so on. These non-word messages have a different meaning in different cultures, such as:
- Handshake: Americans like to greet with the firm of a handshake while the Chinese do not like much touching to greet. Rather they bow to greet people.
- Eye contact: U.S.A people maintain eye contact while speaking to provide importance. Whereas, in Indonesia, looking directly at people considered to be disrespectful.
- Fingers: Use of two fingers to show the victory sign is a symbol of success in the U.S.A. The same symbol has a vulgar meaning in Australia. In Japan such sign represents money.
- Smile: A smile is viewed as a positive sign in American culture but considered a sign of weakness in African cultures.
Space is viewed differently by different cultures. In some cultures, people maintain distance in other cultures, people want to be close. For example, North Americans maintain two feet distance while speaking. But Arabians stand close while speaking. Americans view space as a “Right” but Arabians view space as “Indecent”.
Some cultures regard time as an important factor everywhere but some other cultures view time in a more relaxed way. If making an international phone or video conferencing call, be conscious of the time zone differences and make sure to set a reasonable time for all involved parties to interact. People from U.S.A, U.K, or Europe maintain time efficiently; whereas Arabians are late to show that they are busy.
Religion is an important socio-cultural factor and guides the way of living and future thinking. It affects consumption, business, and attitude.
For example Trading of liquor is restricted in Muslim countries but open to the western world. Moreover “Interest” on loans is prohibited in Islamic banking but very common in Commercial Banking.
(e) Social values
The social view differs from culture to culture in the following areas:
- Living style: Some cultures lead a luxurious life while others may not. Arabians give emphasis on luxurious life and spend huge during the lifetime. They view luxury as a status whereas the Japanese are hard work and save more and more for the future.
- Class status: In many cultures, questions on occupation, income, and job title are asked without any hesitation. But cultures that support human equality avoid such questions.
- Addressing people: In many cultures, people are addressed by their first name whereas, in many cultures, this trend is a symbol of disrespect. In U.S.A, subordinate addresses: they’re superior to, “Mr. Park”. However in Bangladesh, subordinate commonly uses the term “Boss”.
Social customs widely vary “across cultures. When doing business with an affiliate from another country, consider the cultural differences that may be presented. From cradle to grave customs are found different among cultures. For example, If a salesperson approaches a meeting with knowledge of a customer’s cultural background, then his words, body language, and actions can all be adapted to better suit those of the customers. The way of greetings and welcoming in China or Japan differs from Arab countries. Moreover, the tribal society of our country follows customs which is absolutely different from our original culture.
In some countries, like the United States and Germany, it is common for people to speak loudly and be more assertive or aggressive when sharing ideas or giving direction. In countries like Japan, people typically speak softly and are more passive about sharing ideas or making suggestions. The International business manager may face communication problems for the below reasons:
- The same word may have multiple meanings, e.g The word run means move fast, operate, cricket score, and much more. The Oxford English Dictionary uses over 1500 words to define “WHAT”.
- Lack of alternated words, e.g Supermarket has no alternate in some languages. The French have no word to distinguish between house and home, man and gentlemen, and mind and brain. The Spanish have no word to distinguish between a chairman and a president.
- Words may have a different meaning in different cultures, e.g Chinese and Japanese use the word “Yes” to mean ‘I am listening’. But American and British use “Yes” to mean ‘Right’
From the above, it is clear that there are lots of cultural differences to affect communication. We should understand the cultures and modify our communication to address our receivers of different cultures.