International businesses are facing new challenges to their internal communication structures due to major reforms brought about through internationalization, downsizing, mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures.
Lack of investment in cross cultural training and language
tuition often leads to deficient internal cohesion. The loss of
clients/customers, poor staff retention, lack of competitive edge,
internal conflicts/power struggles, poor working relations,
misunderstandings, stress, poor productivity and lack of co-operation
are all by-products of poor cross cultural communication.
cultural communications consultants work with international companies to
minimise the above consequences of poor cross cultural awareness.
Through such cooperation, consultancies like Kwintessential have
recognised common hurdles to effective cross cultural communication
Here we outline a few examples of these obstacles to cross cultural co-operation:
Lack of Communication
may seem obvious to state that non-communication is probably the
biggest contributor to poor communication. Yet it continues to prove
itself as the major problem within most companies.
Lack of communication with staff is not solely due to lack of spoken dialogue. Rather it relates to access to information.
example, not giving feedback (negative or positive), informing staff of
decisions and actions that will affect their roles or failure to
properly communicate expectations are all ways in which information can
be withheld from staff. This will eventually result in an alienated
staff base that feels divided from management and superiors.
managers are too selective in providing information, this can cause
suspicion and jealousy among staff and will eventually result in
internal strife instead of cohesion.
A management which does not and
will not communicate and interact physically with staff demonstrates a
lack of interest, trust and respect.
In the West it is often the case
that communication lines are vertical. Staff report up to managers and
managers up to senior levels and so on. Ideally lines of communication
should run both ways. Those with a subordinate place in the
communication process tend to feel estranged, indifferent and possibly
Lack of communication in all its forms is
unhealthy. Companies and managers must be aware of how, what and to whom
they are communicating.
Communication difficulties through language come in two forms:
Use of inappropriate language
carries with it subliminal meanings and messages transmitted through
vocabulary, stress and tone. The wrong use of words or emotions hidden
behind phrases can send messages that affect staff self-perception,
confidence and attitude. Critical language causes poor interpersonal
relationships and low self-confidence whereas supportive language and
tones has the opposite effect.
offices may have native speakers of over 50 languages all under one
roof. It is important that the main language of the office is
established, whether it be English, French or Spanish. Once this is
constituted all employees should only converse in the main language.
This avoids exclusion of staff who can not understand other languages.
In addition, a company should ensure that all its employees are fully
conversant in the main language. Language tuition should be seen as a
necessity not a luxury.
International businesses with a
highly diverse workforce in terms of nationality and cultural background
face challenges from the differences in language, values, belief
systems, business ethics, business practices, behaviour, etiquette and
Cross cultural differences can negatively impact a
business in a variety of ways, whether in team cohesion or in staff
productivity. As we have seen above, different methods of communication
are just one area in which cross cultural differences are manifested.
such multicultural companies, objective help may be needed through a
cross cultural consultant who will show teams and individuals how to
manage communication and work together more cohesively and productively.
culture pertains to the internal culture of a company in terms of how
it is managed. For example, does the company view its different
departments such as sales, production, administration and HR as closed
or open systems? A closed system is one in which a total lack of synergy
exists between a sales and production department due to the structure
and communication lines between the two. A consequence of such
compartmentalization is that managers of departments have a tendency to
become territorial. It is vital that team work, team building and team
spirit are encouraged in order to create open systems.
are especially valid in joint ventures and mergers whereby co-operation
between two or more companies requires their total commitment to an open
Understandably many companies are primarily focused on the
financial and strategic side of company operations. International
businesses are now realising that many of their business problems have
roots in man-management and communication.
In summary, we can
conclude that the biggest hurdle to effective cross cultural
communication is a reluctance to invest in the expertise and resources
needed to overcome the problems as outlined above. Cross cultural
hurdles are easily negotiable with some objective and well-qualified