Furthermore, stereotyping involves a high danger of miscommunication. Every culture has its own fixed set of stereotypes. People from other cultures are expected to act in a certain way and they tend to ignore the possible interpretations that do not fit their expectations (Hofstede et al., 2002). For example, if people from a country are widely considered as unfriendly, their behaviour will automatically be interpreted into that direction (Hofstede et al., 2002).
Moreover, communication can be disturbed by overhasty judgements out of one’s own cultural bias that the behaviour from the other culture is good or bad or so to say right or wrong. (Hofstede et al., 2002). To overcome cultural, and consequently also communicational, barriers right and wrong judgements need to be treated as carefully and sensitively as possible. In numerous everyday issues the distinction between what is right and what is wrong belongs to the most natural things in the world in the individual person’s mind. Frequently in basic respects, people do not need time to judge on whether something is right or wrong as they know the answer. Should they, however, meet someone who judges the very same situation contrarily they might, for the first time, be forced to open themselves to other perceptions. Especially very simple situations show how people automatically judge issues as right or wrong.
For example, in the United Kingdom traffic regulations determine that cars have to drive on the left lane, whilst they have to drive on the right lane in Germany. In this case, the right and left lane are often referred to as the right and the wrong lane depending on the perspective of the speaker. Here, the speaker’s perspective is due to the regulations within one country. This kind of knowledge can be perceived easily but most conflicts provoked by the different understanding of people with a differing idea of right and wrong are a result of a much more complex background.
Another example is that in most Eastern Countries such as Japan or China it is common to read a book from left to right. If a European without any knowledge on this issue would go to China now, he would certainly say that the people are starting to read their books from the wrong side, while a Chinese who goes to Europe would probably say the same (Gesteland, 2001). The ‘wrong’ or ‘right’ always depends on the cultural perspective from which one is looking at something.
Apart from that, stress also plays an important role in disturbing any communication, but especially in intercultural communication. As every unfamiliar situation usually evokes stress in people, the communication may fail due to the participants not being sure what is expected of them or being scared of the intercultural barriers (Hofstede et al., 2002). Altogether, these communication barriers can lead to an incorrect or incomplete exchange of information which may result into ruined negotiations due to misunderstandings. Actually, it still happens very often that new business relationships have no chance to develop from the start on because of misunderstandings due to a lack of cultural knowledge.
This can also result into a loss of sales as well as in poor labour relations if, for example, the manager is from a different culture than his employees. If both parties make no attempt to understand and get to know each other, even if it is just out of their ignorance, there is also the danger of the loss of highly talented employees. Besides, there is the danger of limited co-operation and international esteem which is nowadays vital to a successful business acting on international level. Apart from that, hostility and rivalry can evolve in a multicultural team or company, for example if all the people from one culture ally and work without or even against others. In European acquisitions, cultural clashes are the biggest source of difficulties (Bate, 1994).
To avoid the situation adding up on such scenarios, several things can be done. Concerning the language barriers, it may be just helpful to learn the language or to find an interpreter. Asking for clarification from the first point when there occur linguistical insecurities is also a good way to avoid misunderstandings from the beginning on. Regarding the nonverbal communication, it is advisable to sensibilise the team members’ awareness of their own nonverbal communication which may also seem odd to others. Furthermore, people should be advised that as long as they are not familiar with the other culture, they should not assume that they understand the nonverbal signs given (Hofstede et al., 2002).
As to the stereotyping problems, every effort to increase the awareness of one’s own stereotypes and precautions of other cultures should be made. In addition to that, learning about the other culture and reinterpreting other’s behavior from their cultural perspective while simultaneously revising one’s own stereotypes may be helpful. This also applies to the problem of overhasty judgments: If people know about each other’s backgrounds, they will more easily forgive each other. In an ideal situation, the team members gain enough cultural consciousness and awareness to not only disregard their own deep-seated biases once in a while but also to look at a situation through another perspective and think that maybe the reason someone is doing something in a certain manner is cultural (Hofstede et al., 2002).
To help the team members to get the required named understanding, the team should be trained appropriately. Apart from the essential ability to communicate, a team also needs the creativity to create or find shared social values. A condition for good teamwork is furthermore that the team members all have the confidence that the other team members are skilled enough to work effectively together. A suitable training may be helpful prior to the actual teamwork. In this training, the awareness of the cultural differences should be increased so that stereotypes and prejudices are eliminated from the first moment on and some rules should be fixed based on the shared values (Bate, 1994).
An important thing is as well to build up face-to-face relationships. Today, the steadily upcoming innovations on the technology sector enable communication to flow easier than ever before. Nevertheless, the modern, particularly fast and cost-cutting, means of communication such as telephone, email or video conference bear an immense hidden risk for miscommunication. As too much detail of the risks involved with the individual means of communication and the related reasons would exceed the scope of this work, it can be put down that a non-face-to-face communication causes a great anonymity. Although the words communicated can still be heard or read, a great number of factors influencing the perception of the message in a face-to-face conversation are lost.
An increased mutual understanding brings along an obvious advantage: by successfully working with a multicultural team, the organization can gain the best possible advantage of the team’s diversity. The use of the diversity of the team can lead to higher performance when the members understand each other and can combine and build on each other’s thoughts and ideas. All in all, it can be said that overcoming the communicational barriers within a multicultural team by understanding the cultural values is possible. However, all these measurements can only be effective if the team members are also motivated to learn about each other. It is one thing to know the ground rules and backgrounds, but it takes some effort to adapt to another culture’s behavior. But if one person understands the other and is able to look at certain situations or arguments through their lens, he or she is more likely to forgive perceived misbehavior from others.
Though, one striving for a successful cross-culture communication needs to do more than to only study foreign cultures. The basis for a wide understanding of the communicational effects of foreign behavioural patterns is that the person is also aware of its own individual background. First of all, every person has to analyse his or her position in a cross-cultural environment in order to achieve certain awareness of his or her personal communication characteristics. This comprises all aspects which form part of the studies of foreign cultures. They might also even exceed the latter. Hence, external factors as for instance the history of the country one lives in, they way one was brought up, the way how relationships with friends, family or at the place of work are handled. These external factors build a framework that leads to joint patterns of thinking and acting within a community that share the same background.
Basically, it can be said that an analysis of the things that seem natural, obvious and self-explanatory is the most difficult but also the most important part of a person’s attempt to develop a sound self-reflection. Without this awareness people tend to generalise their perception and actions as normal and perceive everything that differs as foreign. This pattern of thoughts has to be broken so that, first, the knowledge and awareness of one’s individual communication system, and second, the distance gained to it, provide the neutral ground to compare culturally based communicational diversities. Anyway, it should not be ignored that an individual’s behaviour is not only influenced by its culture but also by personal experiences and its personality, and although the cultural background plays a great role, there also exist quiet and shy Italians and fully unorganised Germans.
Adler, N. (2002) International dimensions of organizational behaviour. 4th edition, Cincinnati, Ohio
Bate, P. (1994) Strategies for Cultural Change. Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd, Oxford
Boddy, D. (2005) Management. An Introduction. Financial Times Prentice Hall, Harlow