Cross Cultural Communication

Posted: October 17th, 2013





Cross Cultural Communication


            Communication can be defined as the process through which information is transmitted and received between entities. Conversely, cross-cultural communication refers to the transaction of information between and among people of different cultural backgrounds as well as the barriers that interfere with their proper communication. This communication was promoted largely by globalization and the expansion of capitalism in the 19th century. Verbal communication is a major aspect of communication that is used in all parts of the world with varying rates of success. Cross-cultural communication within the workplace and other environments makes use of various verbal communication styles (Elmer 138).

Cross-cultural communication within the workplace is fast becoming a mandatory requirement for all organization. Businesses have expanded to cover more geographical locations and numerous cultures. Different cultural contexts bring new communication problems to the workplace. In such cases, understanding that the sender and receiver of the message originates from different cultural backgrounds assists in improving communication. Proper understanding of cultural diversity, the bottlenecks to proper intercultural communication and the working solutions to these problems will help individuals and organizations to overcome this communication hurdle (Gudykunst 198).

Despite popular belief, working within MNCs may serve to aggravate the cultural awareness instead of moderating or eliminating it. Within multinational corporations, the communication flow between multicultural employees poses a serious challenge to the overall running of the organization. Most large European companies have CEOs or MDs who originate from non-English countries. Such structures end up lacking coordination between the top-level management and the subordinates that create conflict among them. These conflicts can be attributed to the strategic predisposition that a company adopts. Scholars such as Schein accept that culture is extremely difficult to change and implement. He addresses the physical artifacts form the basic elements of the organizational structure, for example, the facilities, offices and furnishings (Sorrells 174).

The three main strategic predispositions determine the ultimate approach that a company will have in regards to handling cross-cultural communication in the workplace. An ethnocentric predisposition means that the firm adopts a nationalistic approach that highly reflects the values and philosophy of the parent company. A parent company in the USA may have subsidiaries in other countries that apply similar structures, policies and regulations. Polycentric predispositions allow the company to tailor the management to suit the cultures of the country in which the multinational is operating its activities (Peterson 299). An example is the Coca Cola Company that has adapted the Eastern culture in its marketing strategy in the Middle East. A geocentric model is that which firms attempts to adopt global systems to management. All these approaches have their advantages and disadvantages depending on the context in which they are applied. Using one approach may lead to drastic results in one situation and excellent results in another (Peterson 13).


Aspects and Barriers to effective cross-cultural communication

            Aspects of cross-cultural communication refer to several elements that can be perceived differently by people from different cultures. Context is a crucial aspect of cross-cultural communication. High and low, context cultures were first addressed by Edward T. Hall. He argued that depending on the environment and the stimuli, a context could be either high or low. An example would be a workplace in Japan where messages are communicated in a coded and implicit manner that would be categorized as high-context, on the other hand, in most American organizations, the messages are explicit, and people say exactly what they want, showing a low-context environment. Verbal, non-verbal, oral and written aspects of cross-cultural communication are also beneficial. Proper communication will require that these aspects be considered as significant in some cultures for instance the Chinese culture values hand and face signals (Monaghan 34).

Identification of the barriers to cross-cultural communication begins with an awareness of one’s own culture and other foreign cultures in the workplace. Ethnocentrism forms the biggest barrier to cross-cultural communication. By definition, ethnocentrism is the assumption that a person’s culture is more superior, rational and moral and that other cultures are inferior. An ethnocentric individual judges people from other cultures in relation to his own culture. In some cases, ethnocentrism can be accompanied by racism in that individuals can be classified into racial groups and that each group can be placed on a hierarchy of race.

This bias focuses on the behavior, language, religion and customs of the other cultures. Ethnocentrism serves to define the identity of each culture and in some instances; it may be outright and develop a negative connotation in the workplace. If ethnocentrism is allowed to creep into the workplace, the result is intercultural conflict that is characterized by exclusion, cliquish behavior and favoritism. When conflict is rampant, any channels of communication break down between the cultural groups in the workplace (Davidann et al 28).

Cultural shock is another barrier towards proper cross-cultural communication in the workplace. The experience of coming into contact with people from different cultures can be too challenging and might result in culture shock for some employees. Culture shock can be accompanied by emotional and physical indications. It involves the initial mental scare that comes with meeting people from different cultures, new environment and different methods of organization. Culture shock occurs mostly when employees go to foreign countries, and they encounter different conditions such as an all-male workforce or an overly bureaucratic system.

Stereotypes form a significant barrier against effective cross-cultural communication. Employees make assumptions about other people based on their race, gender or religion. Stereotypes affect men as well as women (Wallace et al 29). However, they are not always true especially in conflict situations. When people communicate with stereotypes in their mind, they tend to make rash decisions. Stereotypes are closely related to judgmental attitudes. These are perceptions that develop when employees evaluate people from different cultures and make conclusions on their religion, values and beliefs as being inferior or undesirable.

How the barriers to cross-cultural communication can be surmounted

In global companies, successful cross-cultural communication enables businesses to run more effortlessly. By accepting the possible problems that can occur and taking practical steps to reduce conflicts, one can assist the employees work together better. Adjusting behavior takes time, so one should ensure that they provide opportunities for employees to learn about each other’s cultures, and habits before problems occur (Wallace et al 29). The management should set expectations throughout the company so that additional effort might be required to understand each other. The organization can also foster engagement in thoughtful consideration instead of jumping to hasty conclusions that lead to volatile, unproductive conflicts (Chanlat et al 232-7).

Several solutions could be employed in breaking down cross-cultural communication barriers in an organization. One of the most important approaches is to establish an organizational lingua franca. This will especially be ideal for a situation where an organization has a global portfolio in terms of functions and employee recruitment. For an individual to be recruited to the company, it would be a prerequisite for the individual to have a working knowledge of the company’s official language. This will allow employees to have operating ability in any of the company’s global braches and still have an advantage of knowledge of their native languages and consequently, their culture (Wallace et al 29).

The organization should coach employees to mediate conflicts related to cultural misunderstandings. Companies can also provide opportunities for employees to respond to situations from viewpoints different from their own. The human resource manager can divide employees into pairs to conduct role-playing exercises that allow participants to acknowledge the existence of different cultures. The employees can be encouraged to pair up and think about a conflict they have experienced recently due to cultural differences. Each participant can describe what he or she might find offensive or unusual. They can even suggest how the problem would be handled in their own culture. Together, the participants can develop a resolution to the problem (Bonvillain 189).

Theories of cross-cultural communication

Seven Dimensions of Culture theory

Trompenaars’ Seven Dimensions of Culture model seeks to understand the diversity between cultures so that employees can work with others more successfully and avert misinterpretations. Trompenaars alongside Hampden-Turner built the model after researching the values and preferences of people in different cultures in the world. The results of the research were that people from different cultural backgrounds are remarkably different in many ways. Each culture has its own way of interpreting things, its own values and beliefs and its preferences. The conclusion of the study was that what differentiates people from one culture to another could be summarized in seven dimensions (Byrne 193).

The seven dimensions include achievement versus ascription, individualism versus communitarianism, universalism versus particularism, specific versus diffuse, sequential time versus synchronous time and internal direction versus outer direction. The models have been used to understand people having different cultural backgrounds to avoid misunderstandings, and to create better relationships with employees. The model also emphasizes that one culture is not automatically superior or worse than another is and that people from different cultural backgrounds make different choices (Elmer 178).

Social script theory

            This theory argues that when people engage in day-to-day activities, they tend to have certain social scripts that are repeated in their minds. These social scripts influence how they interact with other people and, therefore, determine the way in which they communicate. Social scripts are cultural-dependent, that is, they depend on one’s own culture. An example is the corporate scripts for China that may be different from those in America. Some of the characteristics of social scripts are that they are not innate; they are internalized through interactions that externalize the concepts in the mind (Monaghan 34).

What the theories of communication explain

Various aspects of the Seven Dimensions of Culture hold different significance for cross-cultural communication. While there are seven dimensions, it will suffice to discuss three at length. Universalism is characterized by people having a high esteem for rules, values, laws and obligation while particularism is characterized by a belief that people relationships and circumstance dictate the rules by which people abide. The response by such employees would therefore be based on what is happening then. Universalism possess the strategy of assisting people to understand how their work and their values and beliefs are interrelated, while particularism gives people the independence to put together their own decisions. Examples of universalistic cultures include the USA, New Zealand and Switzerland while particularistic countries include China and Russia (Gudykunst 198).

Characteristics of individualism include a belief in personal freedom and that one can make their own decisions. Corporate strategies involve elaborate reward and praise systems as well as allowing people to be creative in the workplace. Communitarianism, on the other hand, promotes group cooperation over individual work. It also promotes strategies such as reward systems, group performance and avoiding favoritism. These two dimensions of culture within the workplace materially influence the level of cross-cultural communication.

In the social script theory, the script that is entrenched in the minds of people from one culture will make them behave in a different way as compared to another culture. Organizations in capitalist and liberal environments such as the USA or England may develop expressive and competitive behavior among their people. Consequently, people tend to be impersonal, aggressive and indifferent at the workplace in America as compared to China where the culture dictates that respect and hierarchy are valued elements (Peterson 28).

Implications of the insights for cross cultural communication

            Cross-cultural communication involves attaining a compromise between different cultures. The differences that appear because of failure to communicate across cultures have great implications for project managers. One, they cannot successfully complete a project because of miscommunication. Two, misunderstanding will mean increased costs and wastage of time and labor. Organizations can avoid this problem by ensuring that the company embraces flexible policies especially at the global level where a subsidy can operate in different cultural settings (Peterson 299).

Work cited

Bonvillain, Nancy. Cultural Anthropology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, 2012. Print

Byrne, Darran. A Cross-Cultural Study: Examining the Relationship between the Cultural Dimension of Individual-Collectivism and the Behavioural Aspect of Conformity: Focus on American and Chinese Nationals. Dublin: University College Dublin, Graduate School of Business, 0030. Print.

Chanlat, Jean-François, Eduardo Davel, and Jean-Pierre Dupuis. Cross-cultural Management: Culture and Management Across the World. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2012. Print

Davidann, Jon T, and Marc J. Gilbert. Cross-cultural Encounters in Modern World History. Boston: Pearson, 2012. Print.

Elmer, Duane. Cross Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting in Around the World. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2002. Print

Gudykunst, William B. Cross-cultural and Intercultural Communication. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications, 2003. Print

Monaghan, Leila F, and Jane E. Goodman. A Cultural Approach to Interpersonal Communication: Essential Readings. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub, 2007. Print

Peterson, Brooks. Cultural Intelligence: A Guide to Working with People from Other Cultures. Yarmouth, Me: Intercultural Press, 2004. Accessed on 18 September 2012. Retrieved from

Sorrells, Kathryn. Intercultural Communication: Globalization and Social Justice. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE, 2012. Print

Wallace, Harvey, and Cliff Roberson. Written and Interpersonal Communication: Methods for Law Enforcement. Boston: Pearson, 2012. Print


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