Thomas Friedman, author and columnist for The New York Times, once stated that we are now in Globalization 3.0, a period “in which the world went from being small to tiny” (Pink 4). Since Friedman made his insightful statement, almost 15 years have passed, and during those 15 years, industries across the world have interlocked, communication has become immeasurably faster, and what was once unimaginable is now entirely possible.
And for all of these reasons, cross-cultural communication is arguably more important in the business world than ever before.
Now, before I discuss why this is so, let me explain what I mean by cross-cultural communication. For me, as a young woman from Qatar studying in the United States, cross-cultural communication is, as its name suggests: communicating with people from different cultures. However, not all cross-cultural communication is effective or productive. In fact, in many cases, cross-cultural communication can become downright nasty.
Several reasons exist for why cross-cultural communication typically breaks down. One of the main reasons, however, is that countries are different. Some countries, like the United States or Australia, are more individualistic, and so may be more used to voicing their idea and beliefs without second thought. Other countries, like Japan, are more hierarchical, and so only those with power and prestige do the talking, and still others are collectivist, and thus may refrain from voicing their ideas in the open.
Another reason that cross-cultural communication breaks down is due to varying digress of emotion, as people in some cultures are much more emotional, whereas people in others are less so. In the United States, for example, people tend to be more emotionally effusive when they express themselves, making it easier for others to know how they feel. In parts of Asia, however, people tend to be much less emotionally expressive, which can lead to confusion and even anger from those unfamiliar with different cultures.
Of course, anyone doing business in another country or with people from different cultures may find doing so immensely frustrating. Fortunately, there are ways to ensure viable communication. Some ways include:
- Listen as much as you speak – Remember that active listening, which requires really listening to what people are saying, can go far in helping you avoid problems.
- Maintain an open mind – Differences are neither good nor bad, they are just different. When engage in cross-cultural communication, then, refrain from making snap judgments or from overreacting.
- Focus on relationships – Many cultures value relationships over tasks, and so it is important to work with people, be cordial, inviting, and humble.
As I noted in the opening of this blog, the world is tiny, and so cross-cultural communication in the business world is important no matter where you are. After all, the days of doing business only in one country are over, and so now is a great time to prepare for a world where we are all interconnected.
Not even the might oceans or landmasses can keep us apart!
Clark, Dorie. “How to Succeed In a Cross-Cultural Workplace.” Forbes, 19 June 2014, https://www.forbes.com/sites/dorieclark/2014/06/19/how-to-succeed-in-a-cross-cultural workplace/#3dd910acc972
Jack, Rachel E., and Philippe G. Schyns. “The Human Face as a Dynamic Tool for Social Communication.” Current Biology, vol. 25, no. 14, 2015, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2015.05.052
Pink, Daniel H. “Why the World Is Flat.” Wired, 01 May 2005, https://www.wired.com/2005/05/friedman-2/
Suderman, Jeff. “Societal Collectivism by Country.” Suderman Solutions, 25 Feb. 2016, http://jeffsuderman.com/leading-globally-individualistic-vs-collective-cultures
Toegel, Ginka, and Jean-Louis Barsoux. “3 Situations Where Cross-Cultural Communication Breaks Dow.” Harvard Business Review, 08 June 2016, https://hbr.org/2016/06/3 situations-where-cross-cultural-communication-breaks-down