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Cross-Cultural Communication

Cross-Cultural Communication
Mahesh Kumar* and Kalyana Chakravarthi **
Keeping in view the ever-changing management practices across
companies, institutions and workplaces, Cross-Cultural Communication
(CCC) calls for immediate attention, in this context, in terms of education
at B-schools or training interventions in the corporate world. This paper
focuses on the importance of learning, understanding and
implementation of CCC. It is a fact that most of us are working from
home. Every organization has different cultures, with people from different
walks of life on its rolls. It is a challenging task for corporate executives
and individuals to work in/with multi-cultural teams in an organization.
In this context, effective communication in a cross-cultural setting becomes
an unavoidable skill. Hence, CCC must be taught as an integral part of
the curriculum at B-schools, and periodical training interventions should
happen frequently at various corporate entities where multi-cultural
workforce exists, for better results.
Communication and style of communication are influenced by culture across the globe.
Culture refers to the norms, beliefs, customs, ethics, codes, mores, values, sentiments,
behavior and attitudes of individuals in a society. Culture is a way of life.
As a learner, executive or a global manager, one has to come out of one’s cultural
paradigm and try to know others and their culture. Today’s managers have to work in
cross-cultural teams or virtual teams having members from various countries and
backgrounds. Sometimes, one also has to lead or receive delegations. People also visit
countries as tourists. Someone has rightly said, “If mind is the hardware, culture is
the software.” Hence, a perfect knowledge of Cross-Cultural Communication (CCC)
ensures that one can live in a multilingual, multiethnic and a multidisciplinary society.
The words of Derek Torrington,“Think globally, act locally,”1 are relevant, in the sense,
that today’s managers should have a global vision and local precision in all their
dealings, including in CCC.
Faculty Member, Business Communication and Soft Skills, IBS (Deemed University), Hyderabad,
India. E-mail: [email protected]
** Faculty Member, Business Communication and Soft Skills, IBS (Deemed University), Hyderabad,
India; Former Associate Professor, BC & SS, ASBM, BBNSR & ex-Domain Faculty Trainer, FTP/IRSC,
INC HQ, Hyderabad, India. E-mail: [email protected]
A comment of an expert in CCC.
© 2009 The Icfai
University Press. All Rights Reserved.
A proper knowledge of CCC is imparted by the process of acculturation2 or
enculturation3 to enable an individual to operate in a positive ambience and not in a
negative one.
The following five stages are important in learning CCC:
• Identifying similarities and differences between different cultures;
• Coping to live with them, reacting positively, adjusting and adapting. Or else,
one will suffer culture shock, aggression, frustration, isolation, home sickness,
depression, hyper-criticality, alienation and confusion;
• Integrating various cultural elements into one’s operating systems/paradigms;
• Understanding the form, content and salient differences; and
• Managing the work proactively with differences to produce mutually satisfying
The process of knowing or understanding CCC is best done by concentrating on
the below mentioned aspects.
Kinesics is the study of body language. Gestures, postures and facial expressions of
individuals are different from one another across the globe. Some are genetic, some are
adopted, and some are situational. For example, while greeting, the Japanese bow and
the Germans stand upright. In Europe, a cross-legged posture with one knee on the
other does not bother anybody, but Indians do not welcome it. In America, however,
cross-legged posture with ankle on the thigh is accepted.
In the Maldives, during conversations, raising eye brows means ‘yes’. In other words,
if you ask a Maldivian, ‘Have you understood?’ and if he/she raises his/her eyebrow,
it means ‘yes’.
This is the study of eye movements. Arabs maintain eye contact with men, but not
with women. Japanese do not focus on the eyes while speaking to someone, and
prolonged eye contact is not liked by them. In Europe, a steady eye contact is a sign
of confidence, trustworthiness and interest. Of course, Indians are also particular about
eye contact, but in informal situations, we may not bother about these things.
It is the study of touch. Arabs like it only to the extent of shaking hands, sometimes
by covering the counterpart’s hand with both hands. When two Arabs meet, they first
exchange verbal greetings and then, shake hands; some might also touch cheek to cheek
Adult learning.
Socializing ways or bringing up children.
The Icfai University Journal of Soft Skills, Vol. III, No. 2, 2009
but kiss in the air. Very good friends, sometimes, rub shoulders. Europeans do not
usually like this and restrict it only to a firm handshake. In Germany, a short, but firm
handshake is appreciated. In Italy, France, Spain and Mexico, women kiss on both
cheeks to greet a known individual. The ‘peck’ is very popular across the world.
This is the science of spatial distance in social contexts. Intimate distance is when the
persons move or stand closely, almost touching each other; Personal distance is one
or two feet away from one another; Social distance is three to eight feet between
individuals; and public distance is about ten feet. In Japan and China, people maintain
four feet distance, and in the Middle East, distance is judiciously maintained, depending
on the individuals and context.
It deals with punctuality and time management. The European society is time-conscious
and punctuality is admired. In Japan and China, it is treated as an insult if a person
is late for an appointment. In South America and Middle East people are not time bound.
Many Indians are also not very particular about time management and punctuality,
It is better to be conscious about these things before one interacts with an individual from
a different cultural background, or else due to the lack of awareness, one may send wrong
non-verbal cues, resulting in cultural shock or mis-communication in an inter-cultural
This informs us about the color sense of a person. Each color represents something,
good or bad, in each culture. Color choices are different in various countries depending
on local sentiments. In China, writing in red ink is avoided because it portends death.
Similarly, when a bouquet is sent to a Chinese, care should be taken to avoid white
flowers, since it indicates a bad omen. In Europe, offering a red rose indicates love
for the one offered the flower. A red carpet welcome is part of international protocol
while receiving VIPs.
It explains about the effects of the odor. In the Middle East, having a body spray with
a strong smell is accepted, but in western society it is resented.
In Japan and China, presenting gifts is an integral part of business protocol, whereas,
it has negative connotations when done with an intention to influence the decision in
one’s favor.
Cross-Cultural Negotiation
In European society, people strictly follow the agenda at a negotiating table. The Arabs
tend to interrupt a person while he is communicating. The Italians are voluble or very
Cross-Cultural Communication
eloquent in their conversation, whereas, other Europeans are very reserved and talk
less. Further, they do not like threats or challenges in the form of deadlines. The Japanese
talk slowly with pauses. The Chinese do not say ‘no’, rather respond with a ‘let’s see’.
The Russians are hard bargainers.
Forms of Address
One should not use first names in all societies. However, using the second name is
accepted in almost all societies. In Germany, professional titles are used after Mr. (Herr)
and Mrs. (Frau). In Mexico, the professional title is used before the name of the person.
(Ingenero Fernandez for an engineer or Doctoro Fernandez for a doctor). In Mexico, the
following titles are used to address people:
a. Senor (Sr) for Mr.
b. Senora (Sra) for Mrs.
c. Senorita (Srita) for Miss
In France, the titles Madame and Monsieur are used for ladies and gentlemen
Visiting Cards
Generally, visiting cards or business cards are printed on both sides. On one side,
information is printed in the local language and on the other, in English. In Japan, cards
are handed over with both hands and with a bow. In Middle East, the left hand is
not used for giving or receiving a business card. In China, one should not put the card
in the pocket without reading it, and also not in front of the person who gives it.
The dining etiquette and social graces are very important and specific to various
cultures. One should be careful in understanding them before, interacting with people
of different cultures.
Based on the above information, observations and analysis, it is clear that all
students, faculty members, administrators, trainers of management education, corporate
executives and researchers must treat and discuss CCC as an integral part of their
business and career, so that, they can make transactions more meaningful and effective
in future.
1. Christine Genzberger (Ed.) and Edward G (1994), Japan Business: The Portable
Encyclopedia for Doing Business With Japan, Hinkelman World Trade Press.
The Icfai University Journal of Soft Skills, Vol. III, No. 2, 2009
2. John Mole (1996), Mind Your Manners: Managing Business Cultures in Europe,
Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
3. Terri Morrison, Wayne Conaway, George Borden and Hans Koehler (1995), Kiss,
Bow, or Shake Hands: How to Do Business in 60 Countries, Adams Media Corp.
1. http://www.bestwebbuys.com/Intercultural_Competence-ISBN_9780205453528.
2. http://www.colorado.edu/conflict/peace/treatment/xcolcomm.htm
3. http://ezinearticles.com
4. http://www.mindtools.com/CommSkll/Cross-Cultural-communication.htm
5. http://www.pbs.org/ampu/crosscult.html
Reference # 50J-2009-06-06-01
Cross-Cultural Communication