As discussed earlier, managers increasingly find themselves functioning within a global environment. This trend toward a borderless world complicates the communication process and thereby threatens the manager’s success when attempting to build rapport, probe for information, and interpret nonverbal behaviours. Let’s begin this discussion by explaining the role culture plays in the communication process, and by pointing out key factors that increase the likelihood of mutual understanding. Culture can be defined as “the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one human group from another, … the set of common characteristics that influence a human group’s response to its environment”. At the same time it represents the social legacy that is passed down from generation to generation and reflects what a particular group or society has found to work best within their environment. However, most cultural assumptions and perceptions that direct our behaviour exist on a subconscious level. Culture affects the communication process by influencing an individual’s values, attitudes, language, thought processes and nonverbal communicative behaviour. The likelihood of successful communication taking place will therefore be a function of the compatibility of two cultures or the degree to which each communicator is willing and able to adjust to cultural differences. In other words, culture can be considered noise that interferes with the effective exchange of information. As communicators attempt to cut across cultural boundaries, the sender must encode thoughts using one cultural framework, while the receiver must decode them in another. As environmental noise, culture acts to distort the message that is being sent and thereby produces a mismatch between the sender’s meaning and the receiver’s interpretation of that meaning. Such filtering produces a situation of perceived conflict rather than actual conflict which we can also call pseudoconflict because the misunderstanding does not exist in reality but rather results from a misunderstanding of each other’s culture. Unfortunately, if pseudoconflicts are allowed to exist because of a lack of sensitivity to cultural differences, the consequences are indeed real. It is, however, possible for managers to reduce the frequency of pseudoconflict. Let’s consider some general observations which might help the manager be prepared to work in multinational environment. Managers should start with accepting the existence of cultural difference and the role it plays in the communication process. No matter how hard one tries, one cannot avoid communication. International managers may say that they are restraining themselves and let the host nationals take the lead in a negotiation situation. This may be an effective strategy; however, all behavior contains a message. We communicate by our activity or inactivity. Communication does not necessarily mean understanding. Even when two individuals agree that they are communicating it does not mean that they have understood each other. Understanding occurs when they have the same interpretation of symbols used in communication. Communication is irreversible. One cannot take back one’s communication. It can be explained, clarified but cannot be wiped out. Communication occurs in a context. Communication occurs at certain time, in a certain place, using certain media. Such factors have message value. For example, a business conversation with a French manager in France during an evening meal would be inappropriate. Communication is a dynamic process. Communication is a continuous and active process. A communicator is not just a receiver or a sender of a message but can be both at the same time. These statements outline several important characteristics of intercultural communication. Some are obvious, others are not but to understand them is essential for effective communication.
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