Intercultural communication refers to a system of global communication. It describes the array of communication challenges that s occur spontaneously within organizations comprising of individuals from varied social, religious, educational, and ethnic backgrounds. At times, people use intercultural communication synonymously with cross-cultural communication, in which sense it focuses on understanding the way people from different nations and cultures communicate, act, and perceive the world in which they live. Intercultural communication focuses on, besides a people’s language, social attributes, cultures, and patterns of thought of different collections of people. In addition, it entails gaining a clear understanding of the different languages, customs, and cultures of people who come from other countries. As such, it plays outstanding roles in the study and methodologies of disciplines such as cultural studies, anthropology, linguistics, communication studies, and psychology, among others. Moreover, globalization has liberated, and integrated markets such that business organizations operate worldwide across cultural barriers. Consequently, intercultural communication skills present an indispensable ingredient to international business, without which global organizations would face enormous challenges in drafting and implementing their management, advertising, negotiation, and public relations policies and practices in the countries they carry on their activities.
An organization goes through three phases of globalization, namely, the international, multinational, and global phases. Business organizations in the last two phases utilize the services of expatriates extensively than the first phase organizations. Consequently, their activities cut across different cultures in different countries. In such scenarios, workers from different cultures, religions, and beliefs intermingle and communicate in the workplace. This highlights the importance of intercultural communication to global business. As many organizations go global, demand for the skills vital for effecting intercultural communication keeps on rising, fuelled by the knowledge that such skills are essential tools for breaking the limitations and barriers that are available as organizations enter and operate in foreign territories. In order for global business organizations to breach intercultural barriers and gaps, it is imperative that they fully understand the present cultural differences, a measure that will ensure that they do not damage their business relations. From the foregoing, it is evident that the reasons for learning effective intercultural communication are diverse and wide-ranged. Several theories that set principles that explain how intercultural communication works include those that focus on accommodation or adaptation, effective outcomes, communication networks, identity negotiation, and acculturation and adjustment. The primary role played by these theories is creasing out imminent ripples of misunderstanding and misperceptions through providing basic guidelines regarding the various ways of addressing different intercultural situations, thereby mitigating clashes among culture groups. In basic terms, effective intercultural communication skills are the general skills that have universal use across cultures and races. They include, listening without judging, confirming meanings, giving suggestions and acknowledging a mutual understanding. These skills and others are extremely authentic to the management of any progressive global organization. They help the people constituting the workforce in creating effective and efficient cultural and business synergies through socializing them into its corporate culture.
Around the world, few competitive businesses are mono-cultural in structure, regardless of their modes and extent of operation. Globalization has enabled free and fast movement of people and other resources across national borders, and, therefore; it is commonplace to find part of the management of business organizations that operate on the national level being from different cultures or nations. At the global stage, organizations engage themselves in the pursuit of more revenues, services, products, talented employees, and so on, a feat that requires them to work and deal with workers from varied cultures. Consequently, today’s global business leaders need to be conversant with the most effective ways of managing people from different cultures. They must understand and grasp the essence of the various cultures quickly because a people’s culture shapes customers’ and employees’ behavior. This means that they have to possess highly effective intercultural communication knowledge and skills that will help them shape culture (at least in their organizations) to a positive one, and in conformity with the goals and objectives of the organization. Organizational leaders who portray an authentic mastery and application of intercultural communication skills earn respect from their juniors – it is all about ‘Respect my culture I respect yours’. Employees tend to rally behind that leader who understands and respects their cultural values better, and this recognition is an asset to the organization as all employees pull in one direction, and they are able to identify with the organization. Intercultural communication, therefore, converts the problems or challenges presented by cultural differences in global businesses into opportunities, hence more profits and the overall well-being of the organization.
The number of the major players in international business, and indeed any business, such as suppliers, employees, and customers based in remote areas is increasing by the day. In order to reach and make business transactions with these people, global organization leaders have to possess clear and effective intercultural communication skills. They should develop the desire to understand the ways and means people from different cultures communicate and then work towards helping them improve their communication skills. Intercultural communication helps business leaders establish how employees from different cultures communicate, work together, negotiate, approach deadlines, greet, meet, and build relationships, among others. This implies that before prospective organizations venture into the global business platform, they ought to carry out detailed research on the cultures of the natives to avoid poor performances and losses. The research should provide the top management with a vaster understanding of cross-cultural differences, protocol, etiquette and communication. This knowledge, coupled with informed planning will lead to the achievement of the organization’s goals, and a probable maintenance of its competitive edge. Strategic planning aims at getting things to be done, and in the right manner right from the start. Organizations engage in searching for new suppliers and/or customers, advertising, or negotiating the terms of a contract, among other foreign business undertakings. In such cases, intercultural communication can, will and does play a vital role. It influences an organization’s ability to communicate efficiently and effectively in a culture as well as the way people perceive the organization.
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The business people who possess effective intercultural communication skills manifest certain key characteristics and competencies. They show open-mindedness, patience, inquisitiveness and self-awareness. The importance of these traits to businesses is that they help nurture a personal, sympathetic, and intuitive attitude in doing business with strange people. However, the mere possession of these traits does not guarantee a friendly and constructive interaction between the management and employees. The managers, therefore, need to acquire practical skills and operational tools necessary for expressing themselves and blending in to fit in their target cultures, through experience, research, asking colleagues and undertaking intercultural training courses. Authentic knowledge of intercultural communication skills, therefore, helps the individual develop better interpersonal skills, as well as learning new methods of doing things. It also assists the individual to build sound relationships with people from different cultures, which leads to better and increased business activities.
At the national level, culture provides a framework for understanding each other. However, when one interacts with several cultures, this framework fails as a result of cross cultural differences. Intercultural communication aims to alleviate these negative differences by attempting to build common frameworks and forums through which people from diverse cultures can interact. In international business, intercultural solutions come through vital processes such as team building, HR, web design and negotiations. Moreover, intercultural communication solutions play a tremendous role in cross cultural advertising. The advertising strategies and campaigns applied locally are often ineffective in the international stage. Advertising aims at persuading people to purchase certain items because of the benefits such items bestow on the purchaser, whether it is status, lifestyle, financial or convenience. However, when the product’s advert premieres abroad different perceptions and values attached to lifestyle, status or convenience exist, making the original advertising strategy null and void. It is, therefore, imperative that the managements of international business organization have the necessary intercultural knowledge and communication skills suitable for designing and executing an effective advertising strategy. Most companies often overlook the necessity of deep knowledge of language when designing their adverts, yet it is the key to an effective advertising campaign. In the past, numerous companies fell victims to this trap and ended up incurring immense losses. For instance, the comical introduction of Ford’s ‘Pinto’ in the Brazilian market proved to be a linguistic cross cultural blunder after Ford realized that the word ‘pinto’ meant “tiny male genitals”, and that was why many Brazilians shied away from buying them. Therefore, language, communication style, colors, images and numbers, and cultural values must be carefully assessed in intercultural advertising, which can be made considerably easy by authentic intercultural communication knowledge and skills.
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The United States of America attracts a vast deal of immigrants, who come to live or work. This situation challenges HR staff, presenting intercultural problems in their recruitment, interviewing, selection, training and appraisal of new employees. This US scenario represents the larger international stage where multinationals have face intercultural problems, especially during the process of interviewing potential employees. Unlike in the conventional interviews where the interviewer knows the question to ask and the expected response, an intercultural interview usually presents a contradictory scenario – questions and answers are not the expected ones, answers are hardly comprehensible, and behavior is baffling. Consequently, misunderstandings arise, and the HR management makes decisions based on the faulty outcome of the interview. These misunderstandings may lead an employer turning down a competent job applicant. However, this would never happen, if the interviewer has effective intercultural communication skills, especially those emphasizing on tolerance on other cultures, patience, asking for clarifications, and understanding and respecting other people’s cultures.
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Although some people have an inborn inclination towards intercultural communication, more success in this area comes through training and participation. However, most people harbor a common conviction that intercultural awareness training stereotypes people. The proponents of this school of thought argue that this training gives information about a single culture or nationality, which they view as a negative attribute. As much as intercultural awareness training provides conclusions on cultures and/or nationalities, it does not stereotype. If anything, it equips the business leader with a wide body of cultural knowledge from which he or she can draw while solving cultural clashes and conflicts that are deeply-seated in certain cultures. Stereotypes paint a negative image of an entire nation or culture, as opposed to intercultural training. For example, if we watch terror attacks perpetrated by a Muslim on the media and we conclude that all Muslims are terrorists, which is stereotyping. In addition, a stereotype could also be positive, such as, all Americans are well-mannered.
Globalization has brought people from different cultures together so that they interact vastly in a business setting. Intercultural communication skills enable these groups of people to co-exist in harmony and work productively. It alleviates cases of misunderstandings and/or the commitment of offences occasioned by cultural differences (Schmidt, 2007). It also helps to maximize the potential performance of an organization by utilizing the intercultural differences productively. In international organizations, cross cultural differences present a barrier to the process of business presentation. The Directors, salespeople, managers, consultants, and other personnel have the duty of providing presentations, usually to audiences of mixed cultures and this could inhibit the presentation’s success. It is, therefore, authentic to select the most appropriate language for one’s presentation. It is advisable for the presenter not to use slang, phrases or idioms during the presentation to avoid confusing and puzzling the audience. For example, an American saying a ‘Billion’ refers to a thousand million, while a Briton’s ‘Billion’ would mean a million million. Effective intercultural communication skills hold that the business presenter uses ordinary language. One’s body language should also be kept in check depending on the diversity of the people forming the audience during the presentation. Other factor to be considered during the presentation is time, emotions, presentation style, and content, use of technology and audience participation.
Intercultural communicationrefers to the myriad of problems inherent in most organizations simply because workers come from different social, religious, educational and ethnic backgrounds. Its main focus is on how people from diverse national or cultural backgrounds communicate, act and perceive their world. It feeds and draws from disciplines such as Anthropology, Linguistics, Psychology, and others. With globalization, intercultural communication has become a critical element in international business, without which the multinationals would find it hard, or even impossible, to operate effectively. It touches on every fundamental sphere of international business, ranging from management, advertising, negotiation, human resources, and public relations to corporate social responsibility. The failure by multinationals to use intercultural communication appropriately often results in disastrous outcomes, but effective application of these skills turns cultural challenges into opportunities, hence more profits, market share, desirable corporate image, compact and positive corporate culture, and other benefits. It should be the duty of every manager (top level, middle level, and line managers) to acquire excellent intercultural communication skills so that they can shape and direct a positive corporate culture in order to create strong business and cultural synergies. Poor intercultural communication, therefore, leads to overall performance of the entire organization, while a competent mastery and application of intercultural communication skills gives birth to a vibrant, healthy and mutual respect, which is a fundamental ingredient of business success.