International Business

Published 10 Oct 2017

The landscape of business has expanded over time, and has shown more developments than ever in recent years. Business professionals have been offered more opportunities to explore transactions with different cultures, specifically those identified by country and tradition. These new areas are informed by considerations in language, culture and society, and technology, among others, with the greatest significance to be found in the realm of communication. The shared and consensual way of life that characterizes culture is a possibility brought on by communication, which allows for a unique set of practices adhered to by the group members (Ting-Toomey 1989). This is the basis of cross-cultural communication: a comprehension of the exclusive traits that identify various cultures, that influence the manner and success by which any business transaction can be evaluated.

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Key in the understanding of cultures and the eventual shift into effective communication in international business is the acknowledgment of perhaps the most basic of all concepts: the reality of high-context and low-context cultures. High-context cultures rely on the entire business picture in order to interpret events and make decisions, while low-context cultures simply take the meanings of verbal communication to assess things (Littlejohn and Foss 2008). Most Asian cultures are classified as high-context, while Western countries are known to be low-context. Several theories may be appropriate in the study of cross-cultural communication and its nuances, such as symbolic interactionism, coordinated management of meaning, and interpersonal deception theory (Griffin 2003), which can assist in the proper and thorough conduct appropriated in dealing with people from different cultures.

Language is probably the biggest barrier presented in any cross-cultural communication situation in business, and is almost always addressed by the use of translation. While knowledge of the English language, with it being the default choice in most international settings, is often considered enough to get by; however, when faced with idiosyncrasies of certain cultures, knowing the universal language may not be enough (Mauser 1977). An apropos example would be doing business with the Japanese, who rely much on the nuances of their language-as informed by culture and history-to express their ideas and views; the use of an interpreter or translator would help, yet the process usually leaves important meanings out. This is particularly evident in most high-context cultures, wherein non-verbal messages always come into play. Translation is almost always limited to the verbal aspect of communication, thus making it at once integral and detrimental.

Language is not limited to the words being conveyed or their equivalent translations: as it is both verbal and non-verbal, it necessarily requires an understanding of how a particular culture expresses themselves in both areas. Part of this process involves the acts of speaking and listening as well as the gaps between them; body language also figure prominently in most high-context cultures (Hilton 2007). Limiting the efforts in business opportunity exploration within the parameters of verbal language may result in incorrect interpretation, or worse, loss of access.

Thus language is crucial, as expected, in the efforts to understand and apply cross-cultural communication in international business. But contrary to what is often assumed, this aspect refers to both verbal and non-verbal cues-the knowledge of which is to be gained by a complete and intensive study of a culture’s history.

Anything or any set of values or practices that are specific to a particular group is known as culture, and knowing the sensibilities and sensitivities of each is essential in doing business. While such may be more accessible when dealing with cultures within one’s own country-e.g., the differences between people from the U.S. East Coast and those from the West-being familiar with the same in countries across the world may prove to be difficult. Understanding a culture’s practices and values is also necessary so one may be prevented from misunderstanding; for example, the seemingly ill-mannered Chinese custom of slurping soup is actually seen as a sign of appreciation. Slapping one’s back may be considered acceptable in Greece or Italy, yet inappropriate in Japan (Khan 2006). Ultimately, this information will be useful in negotiations and may result in positive business transactions.

In terms of doing business within a international organization, certain norms are to be followed. Particularly, these are the individual, group, and national norms-all of which adhere to the established set where the organization is located (Torbiorn 1985). These are part of culture, seen in this light through its permutations. Individual norms may be inherent in one’s society or community, group norms may refer to the unique rules set forth by an organization, and national norms are simply the general values of a country’s culture. Whether one is part of such an organization or is pursuing business deals with them, the satisfactory compliance to the norms is essential in effecting a fruitful outcome.

Culture is a much bigger arena than language, yet language falls under its realm. A proper knowledge of culture is perhaps the most important weapon for anyone intending to do business internationally; once this is fulfilled, the concerns of language may be addressed as well.

Technology, on the other hand, works on a different sphere compared to language and culture. Rather than limit the access points of cross-cultural communication in business, it actually evens out the playing field, consciously erasing boundaries created by time and space. This is because technology is created through the framework of science, which is devoid of context or culture; what is most apparent is its versatility, which is at work as long as the necessary equipment or formula is available. The advent of the internet is proof of this new level of equality, and is also the means by which cross-cultural communication can either be enhanced or redefined to form a new form altogether-one that dismisses cultural and language nuances.

However, removing any semblance of cultural identity may be seen as a negative in promoting business among cultures. Hunsinger (2006) stated the importance of including cultural identity in the process of technical communication, for it will serve as a means to enhance relationships between countries or cultures due to the level of human interaction it provides. Therefore, no matter how much technology has overwhelmed communication, particularly in the convenience and efficiency it offers businesses, it may be correct to keep it alongside the individuality and identity of culture.

Technology is in place and is constantly developing for a reason-to release people from the constraints of location and other limiting factors that hinder equal opportunity. It has also been quite beneficial to the purposes of international business, since it makes available the kind of communication that does not require face-to-face interaction. But culture may indeed still be infused in the somewhat antiseptic environment of technology, and provide exchanges that retain a sense of humanity and individuality.

In conclusion, cross-cultural communication may only be effective in the international business space if the participants have ample knowledge of its aspects and significance. More particularly, the relevant considerations of language, culture, and technology must always be kept in mind.

Language is an integral part of cross-cultural communication that can never be taken for granted, and this is evident in exploring opportunities in countries that do not necessarily subscribe to the same level of English use as by their Western counterparts. Translation and interpretation may be useful in bridging this gap, but other forms of language must also be duly noted. Verbal and non-verbal language do not always match, specially in high-context cultures, therefore it is important to avoid any degree of loss in the translation or interpretation.

Culture, the umbrella concept covering language, is something most business professionals would best study. Everything about cross-cultural communication can be literally traced to culture, thus the level of understanding may be assumed to be commensurate to the level of business opportunities available. Thorough knowledge of a different culture may be most likely rewarded with the essential values of trust and familiarity, thus asserting its importance.

Finally, the positive effects of technology in cross-cultural communication should not always be preferred over the maintenance of cultural identity; the degree of convenience and efficiency may ultimately be far outweighed by human interaction and personification, thus making technology still a rank below culture and individuality.


  • Griffin, E 2003, A First Look at Communication Theory, Boston, McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
  • Hilton, G 2007, ‘Becoming Culturally Fluent’, Communication World, November 2007, pp. 34-36.
  • Hunsinger, R. P 2006, ‘Culture and Cultural Identity in Intercultural Technical Communication’, Technical Communication Quarterly, vol 16 no 1, pp. 31-48.
  • Khan, O 2006, ‘The Hokum of Cultural Sensitivity’, The Conference Board Review, November-December 2006, pp. 23-25.
  • Littlejohn, S and Foss, K 2008, Theories of Human Communication, Belmont, Thomas Wadsworth.
  • Mauser, F 1977, ‘Losing Something in Translation’, Harvard Business Review, July-August 1977, pp. 14, 163-164.
  • Ting-Toomey, S and Korzenny, F 1989, Language, Communication, and Culture: Current Directions, Newbury Park, Sage Publications.
  • Torbiorn, I 1985, ‘The Structure of Managerial Roles in Cross-Cultural Settings’, International Studies of Management & Organizations, vol 15 no. 1, pp. 52-74.
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