International and intercultural communication

International and Intercultural Communication

  • After reviewing section 2.4 of the text titled International and Intercultural Interpersonal Communication, visit The Hofstede Centre (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. ( and continue to explore national cultural dimensions. Here you will choose two countries to compare and contrast in terms of cultural dimensions.

Develop a two-page, APA-formatted paper that addresses the following:

  • Describe how the two countries are similar in terms of Hofstede’s six cultural dimensions.
  • Describe how the two countries are different in terms of Hofstede’s six cultural dimensions.
  • Given a scenario where two organizations, one located in each country, are to do business with each other, provide recommendations that would be beneficial in helping management address communications in terms of the different cultural perspectives. Your paper must be two pages (not including title and reference pages) and must be formatted according to APA style as outlined in the approved APA style guide. You must cite at least two scholarly sources in addition to the textbook.


2.4 International and Intercultural Interpersonal Communication

Learning Objective # 4: What additional challenges are present in international and intercultural interpersonal communication?

Conducting business in today’s modern business environment presents exciting opportunities for businesses and individuals. Markets and sales expand as new social contacts are made and undiscovered cultures are explored, both within a nation’s boundaries and with potential customers in other countries.

Many U.S. companies recognize the existence of two distinct potential advantages present due to cultural differences within the nation’s borders. First, a rich pool of new employees with diverse perspectives and interests infuses energy into a company’s operations. Second, many cultural groups, including Hispanics and Asian Americans, offer valuable target market segments that may be reached.

International business programs often begin with expansion into countries with many of the same cultural conditions, such as a Canadian firm selling products in the United States. Soon, however, an international program can move into countries with different languages and cultures. In both circumstances, effective business communication involves understanding of—and adaptation to—cultural nuances and differences.

Cultural Dimensions

To understand individual communication while accounting for cultural differences, take note of the primary types of cultural differences. For years, the most widely-cited dimensions of culture have been those proposed by Geert Hofstede, as displayed in Table 2.11. (More detail can be found at:

Table 2.11: Hofstede’s value dimensions of culture

Power Distance Distance between leaders and followers; authoritarian versus collaborative relationships

Individualism or Collectivism Value of personal status versus loyalty to the group

Masculinity-Femininity Male-dominated society versus more equal status between genders

Uncertainty Avoidance Risk-taking versus risk-avoidance societies

Short- or Long-Term Orientation Immediate versus long-term, strategic outcomes

Power distance affects communication patterns between individuals and in group settings. A culture exhibiting high power distance is one in which managers are far less approachable by low-ranking employees. In such a culture, rank affects patterns of collaboration. Use of formal language becomes more likely in higher power distance cultural settings. Conversely, in low power distance cultures, leaders are seen more as peers and patterns of collaboration are more affable and informal.

Individualism/collectivism affects communication in terms of how language is used as well as how it is transmitted. In individualistic cultures, personal pronouns (I, my) are more likely; collective cultures exhibit greater reference to “we,” “us,” and “our group/organization.” Individualistic cultures favor one-on-one interactions; collective cultures more likely feature groups, teams, and meetings.

Masculine cultures hold much in common with higher power distance circumstances. Males dominate family matters, business discussions, and other aspects of society. Women in those settings play submissive roles. Femininity associates with more caring, interpersonal connections among all members of society, which in turn is reflected in the ways people and employees communicate with one another.

Uncertainty avoidance affects word choice. Cultures with high levels of uncertainty avoidance exhibit words that indicate confidence in judgments regarding various outcomes. More disparaging language focuses on risky situations.

Short-/long-term orientation affects the types of communication messages sent as well as the content of those messages. A company in a longer-term orientation culture is most inclined to develop strategic plans with a farther-reaching time horizon. Inspirational language reflects the desire to build the long-term future of the organization. Short-term orientation results in more immediate planning processes, greater levels of contingency thinking and planning, and language focused on the here and now.

Hofstede’s dimensions remain widely used in a number of contexts, including business communication, although increasing criticisms have emerged. Hofstede collected the data in the late 1960s and, while culture is normally slow to change, the numbers predate the introduction of the personal computer, the Internet, the fall of communism, and many other significant global events (Rapp, Bernardi, & Bosco, 2011). At the same time, the dimensions do provide important considerations when examining the challenges associated with communicating with people from other cultures.

For Review Name and define Hofstede’s five main dimensions of culture.

Power distance is the distance between leaders and followers and authoritarian versus collaborative relationships. Individualism or collectivism is the value of personal status versus loyalty to the group. Masculinity/femininity reflects whether a male-dominated society exists or if there is more equal status between genders. Uncertainty avoidance explains risk-taking versus risk-avoidance societies. Short- or long-term orientation identifies differences in immediate versus long-term, strategic outcomes.

Cultural Differences and Nuances That Affect Communication

Several key areas require consideration and adaptation when communicating in international settings as well as for interactions between people from different cultures in the same country (de Mooji, 2010). Hofstede’s dimensions do not clearly spell out all of these. For example, older persons may be highly respected in one culture and disrespected in another. Even asking questions about a person’s age can make the receiver uncomfortable in Western cultures.

Further, cultural gender equality and inequality strongly affects patterns of communication between males and females internationally. Percentages of a population that are well-educated vary widely across countries, thereby affecting status levels. Personalities are influenced by cultural surroundings as well. The most common areas in which communication in international and intercultural settings requires examination include:

· language and slang

· greetings

· directness of address

· speaking versus silence

· eye contact

· ethnocentrism

· stereotyping

· differences in the meanings of nonverbal cues

· personal space issues

· use of symbols and cultural icons

· cultural context

For Review What communication issues are present in international and intercultural settings?

Issues include language and slang, greetings, directness of address, speaking versus silence, eye contact, ethnocentrism, stereotyping, differences in the meanings of nonver­bal cues, personal space issues, use of symbols and cultural icons, and cultural context.

Language and Slang

Language and slang differ among cultures. In the United States, the most prominent language is, of course, English; however, residents speak a variety of additional languages. In terms of business communication, many employers now list job openings in both English and Spanish, and training programs have been adapted to accommodate those whose primary language is Spanish. Company advertisements and other communication messages have been similarly modified.

The same holds true for international communication. An individual who only speaks Spanish is likely to experience difficulties when a business partner speaks only Russian, even when a translator is present. Some languages, such as Mandarin, are written using characters rather than letters, which add additional complications. Also, some printed languages are read from right to left; whereas English and others are read from left to right.

Slang within both languages can further complicate communication. The phrase “our business is red hot” serves as an example. Although it may seem strange, international buyers could misunderstand the meaning of this phrase and think that it literally means that the business is on fire. Always choose words carefully. In the Philippines, referring to a woman as a “hostess” translates into calling her a prostitute. A Filipino immigrant would likely feel insulted in a similar manner when engaged in a conversation in his or her new country.

In many business conversations, the person speaking has only partial knowledge of a language. This can lead to misspoken ideas or words or poor grammar, especially in areas such as singular/plural or noun-verb agreement. The person may appreciate a friendly correction, although normally at least some familiarity with the person is advisable before doing so.

The attempt to speak in a foreign language, even if only for the purposes of greeting a potential business partner, often builds rapport with that person.


Knowing how to greet someone can be a valuable business asset. Cultures such as the United States often exhibit informal methods of greeting, including phrases such as “Hey,” “Hi,” or “Howdy.” Many

immigrants within U.S. borders quickly adapt to such differences; however, others may not. In business communication, a wise course of action is to be aware of potential differences in greetings when dealing with someone from a different culture but the same country. For example, many Muslim groups forbid handshakes between a man and a woman.

More dramatic differences appear in international business communication. For example, while it is common knowledge that, in Asia people bow and in Western cultures individuals shake hands as a form of greeting, other key differences remain. In Korea, a person touches his elbow while shaking hands as a sign of respect. In Japan, a 90-degree bow often accompanies a handshake for the same reason. Women do not shake hands with each other in Pakistan. Greeting a business contact with a kiss on the cheek is a common gesture in certain European countries.

Care must be given to an initial contact. For example, in Germany if someone greets you as, “Good morning, Mr. Jones,” it will probably be a bad idea to say, “Oh please, call me Jack.” Germans prefer more formal relationships with business partners.

Further, following an initial introduction, in some countries, the partners immediately move on to the purpose of the meeting. In Finland, for example, a popular saying is suoraan liiketoimintaa, which means “straight to business.” In other countries, doing so is considered rude. First, take time to establish a relationship with the new business partner. Businesspeople in China greatly value the concept of trust, and any Western businessperson seeking to conduct business in China must first work to establish relationships, not only between companies, but also between people. Company representatives must understand that the relationships begin before business deals are made and continue well after any specific transaction takes place (Baack, Harris, & Baack, 2012).

Even so, asking a personal question may be considered impolite. Asking about someone’s family or children may be inappropriate in certain, more reserved cultures with higher levels of power distance.

Directness of Address

Directness of address is culturally based. Language and conversation can vary drastically from culture to culture. Such differences appear in the United States. Language and conversations are often more direct in the East and more conversational in the Deep South.

In Asia, someone’s persona likely includes the concept of “face,” which essentially refers to one’s sense of honor, self-respect, respect from others, and standing in a social setting. In that context, language that avoids directly challenging a person or making that individual look bad, or seem disrespected (e.g., lose face) is common. Disagreement is expressed in the most modest terms possible. Instead of saying, “We can’t meet your price,” the vendor uses terminology such as “I am afraid that trying to meet your price will be very difficult for our company.”

In nations such as Holland, the opposite is true. Unless the person uses strong, direct language, he or she may be viewed as weak or not reliable.

Speaking Versus Silence

In the United States, most view silence as uncomfortable. At the same time, some U.S. subcultures embrace greater degrees of silence. When asked a question, an employee might encourage a degree of silence when told, “Take your time,” before answering.

Similar differences take place internationally. In Japan, executives take time to consider a proposal, believing it signals sincerity. Buyers in Sweden tend to be comfortable with pauses and silence during negotiations. Impatience at this time potentially displays a lack of respect or impoliteness. Many cultures have varying perspectives on the meaning of silence during a conversation or negotiation. At the opposite extreme, a noisy house in Taiwan indicates a happy, healthy environment.

Eye Contact

Eye contact may be closely related to directness of address. In some cultures, such as in the United States and Canada, the failure to make eye contact makes a person seem suspicious and untrustworthy. These patterns tend to run nationwide. In other countries, such as Japan, looking away displays deference and respect.

Gender plays a significant role in eye contact as well. In many Middle Eastern cultures, a male does not make eye contact with or comment on the color of a woman’s eyes, unless she is a family member. This holds true whether the individual lives in Saudi Arabia or immigrates to San Francisco. While men make direct eye-to-eye contact, a man does not do so when conversing with a woman.


Ethnocentrism, the belief that one’s culture is inherently superior, may cause either the sender or receiver to convey a sense of feeling superior. It would not be surprising that misunderstandings, conflicts, and confrontations may emerge when someone expresses such a view.

Ethnocentrism often affects management communication. When a multinational company has a home-base country, it is not unusual for managers to believe their country’s style of leadership is “best.” Transmitting such an attitude to persons in other nations frequently meets with some resistance or resentment.

A variation of ethnocentrism takes place when a person from a culture within a country implies that his or her culture is superior to other cultural backgrounds from the same country. Some of the racial tension between African Americans and Caucasians in the United States indicates this type of belief in a culture’s superiority (e.g., “acting white” as an insult or racially charged references by Caucasians), even though these ideas are not tied to international business.

For Review Define ethnocentrism and explain how it creates a barrier to interpersonal communication.

Ethnocentrism, the belief that one’s culture is inherently superior, may cause either the sender or receiver to convey a sense of feeling superior. The misunderstanding that results and the conflict or confrontation that might emerge would not be surprising.


Stereotyping exists when a person assumes things about another based on that person’s race, gender, or national heritage. Stereotyping occurs within national boundaries based on many cultural values and elements. In the United States, stereotyping of religions, political affiliations, and regional heritage affects communication as well. For example, assuming someone who looks Hispanic actually speaks Spanish is stereotyping, as is assuming all members of a religion, such as Islam, have common (and negative) characteristics.

In international settings, cultural stereotyping takes place between countries. Believing all Germans are rigid, structured, rational thinkers lumps them into a group that undoubtedly does not truly exist. Corresponding methods of speaking are affected by such an assumption. Many times women are the victims of stereotyping, even though the nature of the stereotyping differs in various cultures. Typically femininity has been associated with nurturing and support, where masculinity reflects aggression and dominance by males, even though these characteristics are not true of many men and women.

Nonverbal cues vary widely by culture. Nodding “yes” in one country means “no” in others. In many Middle Eastern nations, the act of crossing one’s legs is a sign of disrespect and males holding hands as part of a business relationship indicates trust. Gestures also vary widely. What may have a benign meaning in one country may be an obscene gesture in another. Examples include the “V for victory” with two fingers sign and use of the middle finger to point. In Indonesia, pounding your fist into the palm of your hand may be considered an obscene gesture.

Personal Space

Personal space is the distance between two persons in a conversation. Standing two to three feet away from another person may be the norm in one culture such as France, Spain, or the United States where greater personal space exists. That same distance may indicate shiftiness or distrust in Central Africa and the Middle East. As an extension of personal distance, in the culture of Japan a business partner might find a pat on the back to be disconcerting, as the Japanese tend to not make physical contact in business relationships, other than a handshake with a Western partner.

Symbols and Cultural Icons

Not long ago, Pepsi began to lose market share to Coke in Southeast Asia. The management team discovered that changing the outside color of vending machines from a dark regal blue to light blue was the problem. In that region, light blue is associated with death and mourning (Henderson, 2011).

Cultural symbols include religious items, superstitions, colors, objects, animals, and an endless variety of items. A white horse symbolizes death in some cultures; a black horse in others. Various flowers have different meanings, depending on the culture involved. Knowledge of the beliefs and associations of a culture help you avoid doing something that would make a person uncomfortable or that has a different meaning to the other person than it does to you.

The left hand has meaning in many cultures. Malaysians consider the left hand unclean. In India, the left hand is considered less important, and dignitaries perform actions with the right hand for ceremonies such as a ribbon-cutting, even if the person is left-handed.

Higher- and Lower-Context Cultures

Different cultures place varying levels of emphasis on the actual words involved in communication. The terms higher- and lower-context are applied to these cultural differences in language usage.

Lower-context cultures are characterized by explicit verbal messages where members value and have positive attitudes about words. The meaning of a message is mainly contained in the words themselves. Much of the Western world is historically rich with rhetoric. This, in turn, continues to emphasize the importance of verbal messages. Germany, Switzerland, and the United States are examples of lower-context cultures.

Higher-context cultures rely more on symbols and language with less explicit or spelled-out codes. The meanings of these messages are mainly contained in the nonverbal components of the message. This includes facial expressions, body language, the person presenting the message, and the context in which the message is transmitted. Higher-context communication moves quickly and efficiently. Unfortunately, often the verbal messages are less complete, and for those not familiar with the symbols in a given area, the information becomes difficult to accurately decipher. Higher-context societies are less accessible to outsiders. Many Asian cultures are higher-context.

Cultural context may be viewed as a continuum. The highest-context cultures exhibit the greatest reliance on symbols and visual elements. Others lean toward a high context, yet words are more frequently used and valued. The same holds true for lower-context cultures; degrees of word valuation may be found. Misunderstanding these differing elements may lead to problematic conversations (Hall, 1994).

Beyond the role nonverbal communication plays in higher-context regions, business partners in these countries tend to be more lenient with issues such as the timeliness of meetings. In India or China, for example, it may not appear to be rude to be a few minutes late to a sales meeting.

In the United States or England, tardiness is frowned upon. A salesperson might lose a sale due to being late for a meeting in a lower-context region, although within some sub-cultures in the United States tardiness is more accepted.

Being unaware of time presents an obvious problem for someone who is not well accustomed to these differences. When a sales lead is late for a meeting, the salesperson might wonder if it means that the lead does not care about the meeting, or whether it is a matter of the home culture. The salesperson needs to know this prior to the meeting (Baack, Harris, & Baack, 2012).

For Review Explain the difference between lower- and higher-context cultures.

Lower-context cultures are characterized by explicit verbal messages and members value and have positive attitudes about words. The meaning of a message is mainly contained in the words themselves. Higher-context cultures rely more on symbols and language with less explicit or spelled-out codes. The meanings of these messages are mainly con­tained in the nonverbal components of the message.

Responding to Intercultural Differences

Effective communicators operate effectively in domestic and international settings, adapting to cultural differences. Within the United States, many firms offer cultural sensitivity training to assist in developing employees and managers with heightened communication skills. Cultural sensitivity programs normally focus on:

· awareness of one’s own cultural world view

· knowledge about cultural practices

· analysis of one’s reaction to cultural differences

· refining and building cross-cultural skills

Many of the same skill sets are useful in international business as well.

When conducting international business, translators and cultural assimilators are key individuals who help you overcome intercultural communication barriers. Translators must speak the native language of the host country. Many times the best choice for a translator is someone who lives in the host country, and uses its language as a first language.

Cultural assimilators are employees who examine messages and prepare individuals for interactions with members of other countries. They can help a person avoid any uncomfortable lapses in manners as well as explain how to show friendliness and respect in a host country.

Selection processes should be designed to identify those who are most adaptable to new situations. Those who exhibit ethnocentrism or stereotyping should quickly be screened out. Employees will often identify themselves as being excited about taking on international assignments. Any international assignment requires cultural training. Company leaders should prepare workers for the possibility of culture shock when entering a new nation. Expatriate employees, or those sent to work in other countries, need time to assimilate to new circumstances.

Interpersonal communication skills are valuable when dealing with diversity issues within a country as well as with business people in other countries. Operating effectively with those from other cultures requires several communication skills. Employees can effectively adapt to cultural nuances through an understanding of the various differences explored in this section.

In domestic settings, cultural awareness and sensitivity help you become a more effective communicator on behalf of a company. Many U.S. companies have discovered the value of a diverse work force and the lucrative nature of reaching market segments based on cultural differences.

In international settings, cultural differences should be carefully understood. Even the simple act of giving a business card can generate an uncomfortable moment when they are not. Someone who takes the card and stuffs it in his pocket insults his Korean host, because the action treats that individual as being insignificant. Eye contact, directness of address, gestures, and other nonverbal cues require attention prior to any business meeting.

Would you know what to do if someone gave you a gift at the beginning of a business meeting in Taiwan? The answer would be to thank the giver and then set the gift aside without opening it. You will embarrass and insult the giver if you take a look and are disappointed by what you find. A cultural assimilator helps employees and managers discover these and other customs. If one is not available, effective business communicators take the time to learn these nuances and differences independently prior to traveling to another country.

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