Cross-cultural communication has become a hotly contested topic in both scholarly and professional domains. The ascendancy of globalization has also dragged along the interest of researchers in the field of communication. As people interact, their need to communicate increases. Consequently, over and above their cultural differences, people often have to find a way of communication. In some cases, the communication process is never easy as it is marred by a welter of barriers such as language, culture, religion, ethnocentrism and cultural relativism, culture shock, and values as well as beliefs of either party. The once ignored cross-cultural communication has grown to be an important tool for business, especially those operating worldwide in different regions. MNCs have to come up with various methods to combat the barriers to effective cross-cultural communication. This paper explores cross-cultural communication including two major theories that explain intercultural communication and their criticisms. The paper also looks at some of the barriers and how to avoid or overcome them. The paper also looks into the implications cross-cultural communication has on businesses whether be it MNCs or SMEs. In the end, a deeper understanding of cross-cultural communication is possible.
Thousands of people often move from one location to another in search of employment, new life, education, tourism, and business among other activities. In fact, globalization has made it easier for people from different backgrounds to interact. Based on the above rationale, the cross-cultural adaptation theory provides a platform for the understanding as well as explaining the relationship there is between the competence of host communication, the ethnic interpersonal communication, mass communication and psychological adjustments across culture. According to Maude (2011), to forge and maintain relationships, people along different cultures, often engage in discussions. In this context, cross-cultural conversation forms a basis for adaptation since it serves as a mechanism that connects people with a culture that is different from their host. Therefore, the core concept in this framework is personal communication otherwise referred to as host communication competence (Maude, 2011). Authentically, host communication competence is elicited through the ability to communicate with the symbols and meaning systems of the host.
Essentially, the dimension kickstarts a personal journey towards adapting to the host's language. The other aspect concerns the ability of an individual to participate in mass as well as interpersonal communication within the host country (Maude, 2011). When a person has succeeded in interpersonal and mass communication, they become competent in the host's social communication. The last dimension is an ethnic-social communication where an individual can express their affective and cognitive experience of the others in the host’s environment (Maude, 2011). The central idea of the theory is that one has to achieve host communication competence through participation in social communication activities that strengthen their interpersonal and mass communication skills. Through the achievement, the person is bound to communicate efficiently and is said to have adapted to cross-cultural communication.
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory is just but a framework that looks into cross-cultural communication. The structure describes how different cultures affect the values of individuals and how the values relate to behavior. According to the theory, every country is positioned about others through various scores on six cultural dimensions (Hofstede, 2011). The first dimension is power distance that relates to how people perceive authority in a nation. The power distance could either be high or low depending on the culture in question. The second dimension is uncertainty avoidance index that measures the tolerance levels of society towards uncertainty and ambiguity including the society’s response to unexpected events, the stress of change, and unknown situations (Hofstede, 2011). Low scores often indicate an openness to change and fewer rules, the converse is true. The other dimension of the theory is individualism versus collectivism, which looks into the degree of integration among individuals into groups.
The next dimension is masculinity versus femininity that looks at the distribution of emotions along gender lines. Masculine values include aggressiveness, assertiveness, ambition, and power among others, while femininity values lay emphasis on social relationships (Hofstede, 2011). According to Hofstede (2011), another dimension is a long-term and short-term orientation that assesses a society’s perception of time, especially when building relationships.
Lastly, the indulgence and restraint dimension of the framework measures the ability of a given culture to satisfy the pressing needs as well as the personal desires of its members. Therefore, strict social rules exist in restraint cultures. This theory, however, not directly linked to cross-cultural communication, best explains the different barriers and enablers of intercultural communication that often considers the national cultures that reflect the six dimensions.
As theories, there are myriad of criticisms on different grounds concerning the two theories of cross-communication: Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory and cross-cultural adaptation theory. Hofstede’s cultural dimension theory is more western-based, thus having some form of western bias within its propositions (Schmitz & Weber, 2014). Secondly, it is also aligned with the national or organizational culture that is territorial in nature and thus rigid in nature.
Thirdly, the theory employs a variety of statistics and critical methodologies such as questionnaires that measure self-representation (Schmitz & Weber, 2014). Therefore, it is prone to personal bias, impractical, and ambiguous in nature. Culture could also change with time; there is no parameter in Hofstede’s explanations that takes the change into account. Lastly, the rigidness of the dimensions based on an area makes the use of other forms of identity limited (Schmitz & Weber, 2014). Furthermore, the items used to construct the dimensions are also contradictory in nature as they lack any consistency within the samples and the subsamples as well.
The cross-cultural adaptation theory is criticized by different authors it being too much optimistic. People who are just sojourners in the host country will find often find it hard or even give up trying to adapt to the host's cultural communication patterns (Liu & Gallois, 2014). Secondly, culture also changes through time making the process of adaptation and thus cross-cultural communication difficult (Liu & Gallois, 2014). Lastly, the theory also has some form of cultural biases according to the perspective of the viewer since the host’s culture is more favored than the aliens.
The third wave of globalization has resulted in the migration of people from one region into another. Consequently, people have inevitably been accustomed to differences in communication, especially when engaging in communication along cultural lines. Therefore, some barriers influence cross-cultural communications. These obstacles are a conglomerate of factors or issues that mar the communication process making it more sophisticated across different cultures (Martin & Nakayama, 2012). Some of the barriers include language, culture shock, religion, cultural relativism, ethnocentrism, culture shock, prejudice, and personal values or culture.
First, personal values often dictate how people communicate. Lack of understanding one’s and others’ personal values in itself constitutes a barrier to effective cross-cultural communication as it affects the ability of people to communicate. Secondly, some of the people often engage in prejudice when communicating across different cultures. Having a biased opinion over people of a particular cultural belonging makes the process of communication hard and challenging (Martin & Nakayama, 2012). The third barrier is ethnocentrism, where one assumes that their culture is superior compared to that of others. In essence, such perceptions make it hard for individuals of different cultural backgrounds to interact and communicate effectively.
The other barrier to cross-cultural communication is cultural relativism where an individual refuses to make judgments on the cultural values of other individuals, thus suspending their values in the process (Welch & Welch, 2008). Culture shock may also affect cross-cultural communication, especially for individuals meeting for the first time. In some instances, religion also acts as a barrier since it allows room for stereotyping and prejudice as does ethnocentrism. Additionally, cultural differences such as language, manners, social norms, beliefs, and communication styles often lead to miscommunication (Martin & Nakayama, 2012). For example, the difference in language makes it hard for people to understand one another (Welch & Welch, 2008). Lastly, the interpretation of non-verbal cues and signs further complicates cross-cultural communication, in that, people perceive them differently depending on their culture. In sum, these are the factors that create a barrier to communication in contemporary workplaces.
Different ways can be used for individuals, corporates, and other relevant bodies that employ communication in their activities. As a matter of fact, a whole new area of research in organizational studies focuses on how to eliminate cross-cultural communication obstacles. First off, an individual should take the initiative of understanding that they cannot change the culture of the other person, but can adapt to it effectively. Therefore, it is imperative that global organizations conduct a set of activities that emancipate their employees on how to adjust to different cultures (Martin & Nakayama, 2012). Secondly, the employees should have some coaching in the case of any conflict that arises from cross-cultural communication misunderstandings. The organizations should, at least, provide the employees with opportunities to engage in solving such disagreements from their points of view and then intervening amicably. Naturally, the success of the intervention on cross-cultural communication is the sum of the efforts of an individual and that of the organization they are affiliated.
Thirdly, organizations should also consider training their employees in different tenets that break the barriers. Some of the essential training in the workplace should include, but not limited to, basic language training, and cultural training (Martin & Nakayama, 2012). In doing so, the individuals become aware of each other and can communicate efficiently beyond the barriers. Consequently, it is pertinent for the organizations to provide techniques, organize training and emancipation workshops to train people on how to get along with each other in matters touching on cross-cultural communication. Lastly, it is also paramount to have an organization orient an individual to some form of intercultural awareness and competence to further break the communication barriers.
Multinational corporations have expanded their operations to different geographical regions around the world, far from their headquarters. Furthermore, the MNCs have employees from diversified cultural backgrounds, taking into account those sent on international assignments. Therefore, these MNCs are bound to encounter the barriers to cross-cultural obstacles to communication. One of the most common barriers that the MNCs face is the language barrier(Welch & Welch, 2008). Companies such as Walmart with global operations have stores located in different countries (Martin & Nakayama, 2012). For example, there is a series of Wall-Mart stores in China. The difference between the Chinese language and English makes it hard for the employees to communicate. All the MNCs that have expanded their operations in China have been forced to cope up with the challenges of the language barrier. China being a more homogeneous country makes any efforts to reduce the effect of a language barrier even much harder. If language becomes a barrier in the sense that different words mean differently conflicts are bound to arise leading to lousy reputation or discrimination.
Secondly, a management style that is closely related to Hofstede’s cultural dimensions also affects communication within MNCs. Some of the words in one language could mean something negative in the other concerning the negotiation process. The managers who hail from the west in Walmart tend to adopt the competing style (Welch & Welch, 2008). The managers take a step by step approach to solving conflicts through listening to the sentiments of each party. On the contrary, Asian managers often stick to a long-term conflict resolution model (Martin & Nakayama, 2012). Mostly, the second lot avoids discussing the sensitive issues with the individuals involved as they believe it may affect their privacy. Therefore, different management styles affect the staff because they might not be open in the manner in which they communicate with their superiors. Consequently, the cultural difference and thus different management styles within MNCs warrant being a barrier to intercultural communication.
Lastly, the communication systems used by the MNCs may also act as obstacles to cross-cultural communication. These communication systems defuse all the diversity and tie to the corporate culture of a company. Rigid communication systems affect intercultural communication among the employees of the MNCs. Most of the communication systems that pronounce a barrier to cross-cultural communication are those that confront some restraints due to workplace diversity (Martin & Nakayama, 2012). In sum, management style, communication system, culture, and language are some of the significant barriers that affect MNCs. It is, therefore, imperative that MNCs such as Wall-Mart and others embrace actions that can remove all the restraints that impede intercultural communication.
Contemporary business firms depend mainly on communication as a tool for success amidst the competition, particularly on the international scope. Companies employ a large workforce that comes from different parts of the earth(Guang & Trotter, 2012). Even so, some of the companies also have partners who are from other countries with different cultures to those of their head offices. Therefore, it is critical for businesses to invest in cross-cultural communication training and education of their workforce to avoid the costs associated with its failure in the organization. The understanding of intercultural communication makes it essential for global companies and SMEs to train their managers along different cultural lines to optimize their profitability(Guang & Trotter, 2012). The understanding of cross-cultural communication strategies also informs selection and recruitment practices.
Businesses that engage in negotiations and contracts can also apply the knowledge of intercultural communication in their quest to achieve sustainability and sufficiency as foundations of their partners’ trust(Guang & Trotter, 2012). Also, businesses that are aware of the barriers often come up with different strategies to avoid them when transacting inter-business operations or when communicating with customers(Guang & Trotter, 2012). Ongoing research shows that cultural changes also tie cultural changes. Therefore, businesses cross-cultural awareness can tailor their advertisements to suit their customers without drawing mixed reactions. Therefore, a complete understanding of intercultural communication helps in determining the type and scope of the marketing strategy to be applied in foreign markets(Guang & Trotter, 2012). Authentically, the application of Hofstede's constructs help in profiling different countries and coming up with relevant advertising and branding.
Various theorists came up with theories to explain or expand the understanding of cross-cultural communication. Hofstede’s cultural dimension theory advocates for the differences in cultures and its corresponding effects on intercultural communication. On the other hand, the cross-cultural adaptation theory champions for the fact that effective communication takes place only and only if an individual aligns to the intercultural communication competence of the host. There is a myriad of factors that affect intercultural communication. Some of the factors include language barrier, religion, culture, managerial style, country of origin, ethnocentrism, cultural relativism, and culture shock. Globalization is the force behind the growing concern in cross-cultural communication. Most MNCs such as Walmart, HP, Dell, Apple Inc., and Microsoft as well as Google among others, have to invest in systems that overcome the barriers. The methods used in outdoing the obstacles include training, cultural awareness education, and engaging activities that are cultural oriented. Similarly, all businesses have to have an understanding of cross-cultural communication as it affects some practices such as recruitment and selection, training, orientation, branding, and advertising. In sum, intercultural communication is as important as is any other factor that creates cohesiveness and business success.
Guang, T., & Trotter, D. (2012). Key issues in cross-cultural business communication: Anthropological approaches to international business. Afr. J. Bus. Manage, 6(22), 6452-6463. http://dx.doi.org/10.5897/ajbm11.2673
Hofstede, G. (2011). Dimensionalizing Cultures: The Hofstede Model in Context. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1). http://dx.doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1014
Liu, S., & Gallois, C. (2014). Integrating intercultural communication and cross-cultural psychology: Theoretical and pedagogical implications. Online Readings in Psychology and Culture, 2(1), 1-20. http://dx.doi.org/10.9707/2307-0919.1129
Martin, J., & Nakayama, T. (2012). Intercultural Communication in Contexts. McGraw-Hill Humanities.
Maude, B. (2011). Managing cross-cultural communication. Houndmills, Basingstoke Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
Schmitz, L., & Weber, W. (2014). Are Hofstede’s dimensions valid? A test for measurement invariance of Uncertainty Avoidance. Interculture Journal, 13(22), 11-26.
Welch, D., & Welch, L. (2008). The importance of language in international knowledge transfer.Management International Review, 48(3), 339-360. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11575-008-0019-7
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