Communication is defined as the process of conveying information, sharing ideas with each other or giving directions to any one. It is very essential for every organization to ensure the effective cross cultural communication process at their workplace.
Cross cultural communication means the interaction of people from differing cultural backgrounds. It helps in building and intensifying the business relationships with the overseas firms, customers, foreign colleagues’ etc. However, it may leads to substantial problems as well if the problems of verbal and nonverbal communication will not be managed effectively. Let`s first briefly discuss the verbal and nonverbal communication.
Communication, either cross cultural or any other, always has two forms: verbal or nonverbal communication. Verbal communication is the one in which the information is transmitted from one person to another by using words.
In the context of workplace, verbal communication has the power to move the people to action and to actually take the initiative. It helps in activating one`s own mind and of others as well. When you speak uplifting and positive words, you can inspire, motivate and stimulate creativity in the people. There is a famous quote, `whenever we use language, namely with the words that we use, we always do or accomplish something. Our words, sentences, syntax, etc. always accomplish and achieve specific things` (Hall, 2010).
Non verbal communication refers to communicating by actions and without using words. It includes facial expressions (anger, happy, sad), body language (shaking hands indicate nervousness, sitting in upright position show that you’re attentive) and appearance that shows how groom your personality is (dress, body Oder, etiquettes).
Non verbal communication also works to figure out what the other person is feeling even if he is not expressing that condition in words, for e.g. whining and stressed while saying “I am okay” in a low voice. Therefore, pace of the voice is also an indicator of nonverbal communication (Relationship with self 2010).
Now let’s discuss their importance in the context of cross cultural communication. To ensure the effective occurrence of cross cultural communication at the workplace, it is important to carefully manage the problems regarding verbal and non verbal communication. The most important one is to contemplate on the issue of clear translation and interpretation of the words being exchanged between the people belonging to differing cultures. For effective communication to take place it is important for receiver to understand the message in the same way as the sender intended to, because same words may have different meanings in different cultures.
For e.g. two persons speaking different languages cannot communicate with each other unless there is a translator with them to translate the words for each of them. Similarly one person using slang language says “where are my cheaters?” other person may think of cheaters as `glasses` whereas that person intended to ask for unfaithful workers. This is because some cultures like Japanese tend to use very classical language while other cultures may not.
Apart from this there are behavior constraints; every culture has their own rules of how to behave. The actions or words considered to be good in one culture may not be considered as same in other culture. For e.g. saying “good morning” may not be considered ethical in other cultures, they might prefer to say “Assalam o alaikum”, to shake hands with female employees may be considered to be professional by some females while other females may not be comfortable with this, some cultures exhibit their feelings and emotions openly by being aggressive, because they think it is good to spill out your anger while other cultures may think of this as non professional attitude and prefer to be calm and share only the rational aspects.
These and many other rules like how close to stand, whether to maintain eye contact or not, whether to express views openly or just conform to others so as not to be odd etc. varies from culture to culture (OTPIC, 2005,).
It is interesting to know that even importance of non verbal communication also differs from culture to culture. American doesn’t emphasize much on non verbal cues whereas Japanese and Europeans actively emphasize it. According to them, it is used when verbal communication is no longer able to explain the issue to other person. This happens when language differences exist between two people then they have to use the specific actions by which they can communicate effectively. However, non verbal cues have also different implications in different cultures. Every culture use different systems to understand the facial expressions, gestures, posture, pace of voice, touch, physical appearance, etc.
The research shows that some facial expressions` meanings are consistent within all the cultures like sadness, fear, anger and surprise, but they differ in the way of their acceptance in different cultures. Suppose Japanese explaining the reason of his absence at work because of death in his family. He may explain it with a smile due to his cultural rules of not to impose sadness on others, but this might be attributed wrongly by Americans because generally they perceive smile to be a sign of happiness and they may blame him to be liar.
Many cultures encourage being aggressive to have influence over others while other cultures may prefer to be calm and logical in motivating others to action. This is the reason why many employees are not satisfied with their jobs as they are abused by their authorities, but some cultures perceive it to be the right way of doing things (LeBaron 2003).
Apart from this, cultures tend to differ on the issue of dress code at the workplace as well. Many cultures perceive it professional to have same dress code for both genders while other cultures prefer to have different dress codes for males and females. Besides, same gestures have different meanings in different cultures. It is normal for an American to show disgust and anger by showing a finger while it may be attributed as non professional attitude by other cultures such as Europeans or Middle East ones (Reisinger 2009, 176).
Both verbal as well as non verbal problems are essential and cannot be avoided or ignored, though the entire discussion shows that it is more important to address the issues of non verbal communication at first because miscommunication as a result of non verbal cues may lead to various conflicts as discussed above. This may ultimately leads to high turnovers, low job satisfactions, decreased morale, poor cross cultural communications etc.
This does not imply that problem related to verbal communication is not important. They are but they can be given second priority because your actions are observed first and words later. How a person behave, show his feelings, deal with other employees is more important.
A person using familiar language, but acting against the rules, his expression and tone is weird and is unacceptable by other cultures at the workplace cannot be said to have using right non verbal cues. Therefore, to have diverse workforce at the organization, you must have the required strategies to deal with the issues of verbal as well as non verbal cues, focusing on non verbal of course; only then every organization can have an effective cross cultural communication.
To avoid such cross cultural communication problems one should try to study and understand the history of each others` cultures and be sensitive to ones` own non verbal cues as well as to others so as to use them accordingly. It will help to build an effective cross cultural communication system which can enhance and further intensify the relationships.
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OTPIC, 2005, `Cultural barriers to effective communication`, Conflict Research Consortium,
viewed 29th May 2010, from <http://www.colorado.edu/conflict/peace/problem/cultrbar.htm>
Reisinger, Y 2009, ‘Cultural Influences on Intercultural Communication’, in International
Tourism: Cultures and Behavior, Butterworth-Heinemann, Jordan Hill, Oxford, United Kingdom, Chapter 7, pp. 165-198.
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