In the business world today, borders are blending and multi-national mergers are causing many company nationalities to become indistinct. As the globalization of markets rapidly increases, many companies are finding international expansion a necessity of competition. North America is greatly affected by this movement towards a global market, and many companies are finding it extremely important to adapt to other cultures.
Favorable trade agreements and explosive growth of the middle class in countries once considered underdeveloped have both been important factors in the rush towards globalization. However, the most important factor in increased globalization has been technological advancements, including new transportation and information technologies. Presentation of information is more frequently processed by members of a virtual team – a work group not necessarily in the same geographical location. With the proliferation of e-mail, videoconferencing, fax machine, and the telephone, virtual teaming is becoming increasingly efficient.
The most considerable obstructions to successful international marketing involve misinterpretations and contrary views resulting from cultural differences. Being both aware of some of these issues and prepared to make the necessary accommodations can save companies time, effort, and a considerable amount of money.
Context is described as the most important dimension of culture and yet is the most difficult to define. Context refers to the stimuli, environment, or ambiance surrounding an event. Communication styles and business practices as a whole are often identified with the context of a country.
North American, Scandinavian, and German communicators are generally considered to be low-context cultures. They expect a high level of detail in their visua,l verbal and written communication. Low-context cultures tend to be analytical, logical and find words and contracts very important. Individualism, freedom and personal achievement are highly valued by these cultures.
High-context cultures, such as Japan, China, Arabia, tend to assume the receiver does not need much background. Information and words are not as important as what is surrounding the situation. They are more aware of a communicator’s status, interpersonal relationships, the setting, and ambiance when conducting business relations. In general, tradition and social customs are more important in high-context cultures. These cultures emphasize membership in organizations and groups. Because they avoid confrontation, they frown upon individual decision making and prefer consensus.
In many countries personal relationships are the key to success. It is important to not expect to get down to business right away, but rather get to know a person first. In Mexico, for example, business deals are only made with friends, so one must develop a friendship with any business partner. It is considered polite to ask personal questions about family, and also to answer any questions about your family. Discussions are warm and friendly.
In Japan it is unlikely to get very far without connections. Carefully chosen intermediaries are a necessity. Not only will the Japanese feel obliged to be loyal to them, but rank of one’s associates will determine their status as well. A Japanese businessman will always consult within his group before making a decision. Because of their intense loyalty, one’s identity is subsumed into the group. It is important to never single out a Japanese counterpart, even for praise or encouragement. Contrarily, the Spaniards have a hierarchy style of management and it is best to deal with “el jefe” or “el pardon”-the one who will be making the decision. Spaniards also will expect whomever they are dealing with to have decisions-making authority.
When dealing with Spain or most Asian cultures, it is also critical to understand the concept of “saving face”. Any loss of control of emotions or embarrassment is considered disastrous in business negotiations in these cultures. Honor and personal pride mean everything and they must not be insulted. Because of this attitude it is very important to carefully prepare presentations so that they are easy for the audience to understand. Paying close attention to determine if anything is misunderstood during the presentation is also a must. Because of this concept of “saving face” the presenter will not know if they are having difficulties. Close attention must be paid to conversations in order to discern the sincerity of what is being said. In Japan, a deal is never refused directly, and any dealings with Japanese business culture should remain indirect.
In nearly all countries, it is important that business cards be printed one side in English, and the other in their language. When presenting the card, it should be presented with their language facing the recipient. In Japan, the exchange of business cards is not to be taken lightly. When you receive the card of a Japanese businessman, be sure to make a show of examining it carefully and then making a remark about the card. Ask any questions about anything on the card which is difficult to pronounce or understand. The card should then be placed in a case or on a near by table. A card shouldn’t be shoved into a pocket or be written on.
Concepts of Time
Time orientation is an important cultural difference that Americans must pay close attention to. In America, time is viewed as a precious commodity. Time is related with productivity, efficiency, and money. Many other countries have a much more relaxed perception of time. They take their time, and enjoy it. In Mexico you can ask if a scheduled appointment is “en punto” (the precise time), or “mas o menos”. “Mas o menos” appointments are often scheduled a half an hour to an hour before the actual time. With both Mexican and Japanese cultures it is also important not to expect instant results. Plenty of time should be allowed for contemplation and decision making. In Mexico it is important to adjust any expectations regarding deadlines and efficiency.
Doing business over borders and through time zones has become commonplace in the twenty-first century. Technological advancements in communication and travel make it possible to do business across the globe almost instantaneously. Doing business with multiple cultures can be a challenging venture. International communication skills of an organization can determine success or failure.
In order to interact with different cultures, it is necessary to understand the basic characteristics of the culture. This type of understanding helps to make adjustments and accommodations. We must rid our minds of pre-conceived notions, stereotypes, and prejudices. It is imperative that one be knowledgeable about such topics as: context, traditions, social rules, etc. It is equally important to possess competent listening skills and to be aware of one’s own nonverbal messages.
The ability to adapt to an intercultural perspective is probably one of the most crucial aspects of doing business in today’s “global village”.
Sellin, Robert H. J and Elaine Winters. Cultural Issues in Business Communication. Berkeley: Program Facilitating and Consulting, 2000.
Guffey, Mary Ellen. Business Communication: Process and Product, 4th ed. Mason, Ohio: South-Western, 2003
“Etiquette and Local Customs”. The Traveler’s Yellow Pages Online. http://www.infoservices.com/stpete/342.htm. InfoServices International,
“What to Know Before Negotiting” Execitive Planet.com. http://www.executiveplanet.com/business-culture.html.
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