Culture in Business Communication and Management

Australians’ approach to business negotiations

Negotiation has two parties who have different or common interests and are trying to reach an agreement on matters that are beneficial to them. The content of the negotiation is influenced by culture, strategy, background and context. When the negotiating parties have different cultural sensitivities, the meeting is that of a cross-cultural encounter. Various studies on cross-cultural interaction in business have found miscommunications or differences in discourse interactions. Communication difficulties come from various discourse strategies as a result of cross-cultural encounter. A major problem is miscommunication which refers to a “sociolinguistic transfer” wherein an individual has to use cultural practice in speaking with another cultural group in the process of negotiation. Speech acts in a cross-cultural encounter are also some of the concerns.

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In the Australian and Asian context, business people make requests in business dealings. Australians make requests in a four-stage process, for instance, pre-requesting, which first indicates that a request is going to be made. This is followed by the actual request and the post requesting. The latter is an expansion or explanation of the request but also asks confirmation whether the request will be given due consideration or will be declined. Re-requesting restates the original request. Australians use polite methods in the pre-request phase, but may become more candid during the request proper. (Ismail, Azariadis, & Jusoff 2009, p. 137)

Asians look at it differently. They do not practice the re-request steps because it might be understood as aggressiveness. In the post-request phase, Asians would on the surface provide positive response, which could mean “yes” but it could also mean a polite, indirect denial of the request. (Ismail et al. 2009, p. 137)

How specific cultural dimensions influence human resource management practices

An analysis of the cultural dimensions of Germany and Indonesia is an interesting point of discussion. This analysis will help in the mutual understanding of the two types of cultures and enhance the relationship of businesses of the two countries considering that there are many German business firms operating in Indonesia (Lange 2010, p. 37). In House et al.’s (2004 as cited in Lange, 2010, p. 37) study of German and Indonesian cultural dimension, the researchers found that in the context of societal values, Indonesia has high uncertainty avoidance while Germany has low of this.

In the context of performance orientation as cultural dimension, the two countries have contrasting results according to House et al.’s (2004 as cited in Lange, 2010, p. 39) study. Performance orientation refers to the way society supports and motivates improvement, principles and achievement. Germans relate the employee’s responsibility with their cultural practices and values as a people, particularly their ways of businesses, societal perceptions and ambitions. Germans usually give importance to time, and so they make immediate decisions in meeting business challenges. On the other hand, Indonesians are not so emphatic about efficiency and punctuality and in meeting deadlines.

In the context of communication, Germans and Indonesians also have contrasting cultural practices. Indonesians have a culture of saying “yes” that does not actually mean yes. They are used to being polite and so they do not usually provide a negative answer to any question. To determine what Indonesians really mean, you have to read their body language. Germans strongly assert their opinion and are candid in their language as opposed to the Indonesians’ politeness. Even in written language, there is the presence of subtle tone in Indonesian’s way of communicating (Lange 2010, p. 41). Managers and employees of the two cultures must have full understanding of the cultural dimensions before they can manage human resource and operate effectively.

Culture matters for global managers

Culture is one of several factors that influence strategy formulation which has its greatest impact when strategy is most fluid. Managers are responsible for formulating strategies to accomplish organisational objectives in the global context. In determining the threats and opportunities for the organisation, the influence of culture on the issues is most prevalent. Managers have to master the art of cultural integration.

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Cultural practices shape the existing structures of the organisation and decision-making processes of managers. In a study of Swedish and British executives (Axelsson et al. as cited in Cray & Mallory, 1998, p. 69), the researchers found that Swedish managers needed more time in making decisions because they tended to weigh down their opinions and gather more information from fellow managers and experts, which required longer interaction among managers and subordinates. On the other hand, the British would require shorter period in interaction with subordinates, fewer experts and lesser resources in collecting information.

Hofstede (1980 as cited in Cray & Mallory, 1998) conducted a large-scale study on IBM employees from forty countries and asked them to fill up questionnaires. The respondents all belonged to the sales and servicing of IBM products. They were of different cultures but shaped by one organisational culture, the IBM organisational culture. Hofstede’s study indicated that the participants were affected by multiculturalism and that the managers’ HRM practices were influenced by the various ethnic cultures existing within the IBM organisational culture. Culture shapes the type of leadership that is useful for an organisation. Managers must understand the environment in which the organisation operates. Leadership across cultures must focus on the different styles of interaction between leader and followers in an environment influenced by culture.

Universal ethical principles against a country’s cultural dimensions

Global ethics refers to a set of principles that direct firms in the conduct of business throughout the world. However, these ethical principles cannot be simply implemented because they have to conform and be guided by the cultural norms of the countries they are operating in. This is particularly true with the organisations’ operations in less developed countries. Ethics for some organisations is an unwritten code that describes the morality of employees’ actions or activities in foreign countries. Many organisations put it in writing and are very specific when it comes to ethics that their people should follow in the countries they are conducting business. (Yüksel & Murat n.d., p. 385)

Managers who are assigned to foreign subsidiaries have to observe individual and institutional ethics which have to conform to common practices or culture of the people, to include behaviour and beliefs. Ethical duties include telling the truth, and being consistent with what one says in public and not to hurt local folks. Managers also have to follow institutional ethics which have to conform to democratic ideals, equality and justice.

Democratic ideals are difficult to implement if the country is run by an authoritative regime. Managers should just follow the laws of the land and not say anything about the regime. Local communities have ethics embedded in their own culture. Managers have to avoid giving gifts as this might be misconstrued as bribes by the local folks. However, there are countries that consider gift giving as part of ceremonies for friends, for example, the practice in Japan and China. When a foreigner is accepted as guest, he/she should give a gift as a token of friendship.

Task strategies and process strategies

Tasks refer to the activities that the team has to undertake and the purposes for which the team was formed. Task-oriented teams perform better in situations that maybe favorable or unfavourable to the members because they are prepared and tend to have coped with the situations through their own preparations even if they have encountered them for the first time.

Tasks also refer to the functions of the team members who have different skills and specialties. There are various cross-cultural circumstances that need to be acted upon by “special” members of the team. Teams have to hold meetings that have to be managed and planned and someone has to take care about the time, place, and pressing matters that need discussion and immediate action.

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The various steps and processes are the subject of concern for the entire team. Process strategies are the implementing plans of the tasks. In other words, tasks cannot be performed without the process strategies. The processes should involve step-by-step activities recommended by the team leader and the members. (Mockler 2013, p. 299)

The influence of culture is already present during process strategy formulation. This involves examining the environment for data and information, analysing and criticising the collected information and data, and testing and applying them in real situations, which are all influenced by the national culture. In the process of environmental scanning, the approach depends on what the strategist expects to meet in the process. Observations may be influenced by the history of the firm and the structure of the industry but the general characteristics of the surrounding culture will surely affect the individual’s regard for the environment.

How global managers can gain insight into their leadership-subordinate relationships

Hofstede (1980 as cited in Cray & Mallory, 1998) responded to the points posed by ‘culture-free’ proponents, expounding on two of his dimensions, power distance and uncertainty avoidance, to the structure of the organisation. Hofstede posited that the relation of power distance and uncertainty avoidance affects organisation composition and performance. Power distance is a gauge of the degree to which a society recognises the uneven allocation of power in organisations. According to Hofstede’s theory, in a society where power distance is predominant, power maintains the organisation and protects it from uncertainty. In a situation where people value obedience to rules (which means there is high uncertainty avoidance), a structure of unambiguous and clearly stated procedures can develop unity or consistency.

In a study of Sudanese, British and Pakistani-British, Shackleton and Ali (1990 as cited in Cray & Mallory, 1998, p. 55) found support for power distance and uncertainty avoidance. The researchers provided a graph in which they supported Hofstede’s study results. Further studies supported Hofstede’s dimensions. Axelsson et al. (1991 as cited in Cray & Mallory, 1998) conducted a study on Swedish and British organisations using the theories of uncertainty avoidance and masculinity.

Power distance and technology must be well understood by managers, for example, power distance and Internet use. The Internet denies distance which makes it difficult for authorities to control although they can regulate it, to a certain extent. In countries with high power distance, authorities seek to control it by discouraging constant Internet use. Effective communication provided by the Internet is advantageous for managers. In countries ruled by authoritarian regimes (with high power distance), communication is not very effective because this is limited to a certain extent.

Cultural variables that affect the communication process

Cultures have different ways of influencing the communication process. In this instance, we have what we call “high-context cultures” and “low-context cultures”. Context influences the meaning that is perceived from what comes out from an individual and who is supposed to receive the message. High-context cultures depend on nonverbal and restrained situational signs when talking with others. What is not said is more important than what has been said. These cultures come from China, Vietnam, and Saudi Arabia. However, low-context cultures come from Europe and North America which depend much on words to provide meaning to what people said.

In high-context cultures, there is a need for trust among the parties in the communication process. An outsider who participates in this kind of cultural communication has to build trust. Oral agreements can mean a lot for this communication. In low-context cultures, contracts have to be put in writing.

The individualism-collectivism dimension provides a clear understanding of cultural variations in communication. In North America, White Americans who observe European culture are regarded as an individualistic group, while Hispanic Americans are more collectivist. Collectivism in Latin America tends to exhibit more nonverbal behaviours, such as hugging, kissing, and touching. The two groups, White European-Americans and Hispanics, have potential differences based on their socialisation patterns in verbal and nonverbal behaviour. (Martin 1994, p. 160)

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White Americans displayed behaviours of nonverbal patterns when they were asked what they would do to create a favourable impression. The study conducted a content analysis in which the participants portrayed 84 different behaviour categories in three dimensions of interactions, such as, 14 nonverbal (e.g. smile, nod head), 38 conversational management (e.g. asking questions, giving feedback, choosing words carefully) and 30 topic behaviors (talking about topics of mutual interest).

Profile and motivation of Mexican workers

Mexican workers speak Spanish or Latin. Although they believe in the patriarchal system, the mother has an important role in the family because she takes care of the family’s health. Mexican workers are deeply religious, with most of them being Catholic. They know their rights as workers and as individuals they demand these rights in the workplace. Mexicans demand cultural recognition and push for their indigenous rights claims, which show their attachment to their cultural heritage.

Because of their indigenous identity and deep religiosity, they are devoted to their work and have some form of loyalty to their managers. Mexican workers are deeply rooted to the Mexican peasants who have a significant role in history and the present political system. Because of their devotion to God and their deep religiosity, it is not difficult to motivate Mexican workers. A manager can guide a worker through the ordinary tenets of manager-subordinate relationship, motivating him/her to be creative.

In other cultures where rules are not particularly important (meaning, there is low uncertainty avoidance), the organisation can depend more on informal negotiation, which can be interpreted as high ambiguity. Power distance can mean centralisation or concentration of authority, while uncertainty avoidance refers to composition of activities. (Jung 2003, p. 436)

Hofstede (1980) measured power distance in 53 countries by composing a graph known as Power Distance Index. France ranked higher than the United States and the Netherlands, but Mexico, along with the Philippines and Russia were lower than France, the United States, and the Netherlands (Matusitz & Musambira 2013, p. 46), which means these latter three countries have more liberal workers than the former.

References

Cray,D & Mallory, G 1998, Making sense of managing culture, International Thomson Business Press, London, UK. Web.

Ismail, J, Azariadis, M, & Jusoff, K 2009, ‘An overview of the cross-cultural business negotiation between Malaysia and Australia’, Canadian Social Science, vol. 5, no. 4, pp. 129-142. Web.

Jung, C 2003, ‘The politics of indigenous identity: neoliberalism, cultural rights, and the Mexican Zapatistas’, Social Research, vol. 70, no. 2, pp. 433-462. Web.

Lange, J 2010, HRM issues for German companies establishing a subsidiary in Indonesia, Diplomarbeiten Agentur, Hamburg, Germany. Web.

Martin, J 1994, ‘The influence of cultural and situational contexts on Hispanic and non-Hispanic communication competence behaviors’, Communication Quarterly, vol. 42, no. 2, p. 160. Web.

Matusitz, J & Musambira, G 2013, ‘Power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and technology: analyzing Hofstede’s dimensions and human development indicators’, Journal of Technology in Human Services, vol. 31, no. 1, pp. 42-60. Web.

Mockler, R 2013, Multinational strategic management: an integrative entrepreneurial context-specific process, Routledge, New York. Web.

Yüksel, Ö & Murat, G n.d., ‘The globalization and global ethics: the case of less developed countries’. Web.

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