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Intercultural business communication


    As David Glass is well aware, effective communicators have  many  tools
at their disposal when they want to get across a  message.  Whether  writing
or speaking, they know how to put together the words that will convey  their
meaning. They reinforce their words with gestures  and  actions.  They  look
you in the eye, listen to what  you  have  to  say,  and  think  about  your
feelings and needs. At the same time, they study your reactions, picking  up
the nuances of your response by watching your face and  body,  listening  to
your tone of voice, and evaluating your words. They absorb information  just
as efficiently as they transmit it, relying on both  non-verbal  and  verbal

                          NON-VERBAL COMMUNICATION
    The most basic form of  communication  is  non-verbal.  Anthropologists
theorize that long before human beings used words to talk things  over,  our
ancestors communicated with one another by using their bodies. They  gritted
their teeth to show anger; they smiled and touched one another  to  indicate
affection. Although we have come a long way since those primitive times,  we
still use non-verbal  cues  to  express  superiority,  dependence,  dislike,
respect, love, and other feelings.
    Non-verbal  communication  differs   from   verbal   communication   in
fundamental ways. For one thing, it is less structured, which makes it  more
difficult to study. A person cannot pick up a book  on  non-verbal  language
and master the vocabulary of gestures,  expressions,  and  inflections  that
are common in our culture. We don't really know how people learn  non-verbal
behaviour. No one teaches a baby to cry or smile, yet these forms  of  self-
expression are almost universal. Other types  of  non-verbal  communication,
such as the meaning of colors and certain gestures,  vary  from  culture  to
    Non-verbal communication also  differs  from  verbal  communication  in
terms of intent and spontaneity. We generally plan our words.  When  we  say
"please open the door," we have a conscious  purpose.  We  think  about  the
message, if only for a moment. But  when  we  communicate  non-verbally,  we
sometimes do so unconsciously. We don't mean to raise an eyebrow  or  blush.
Those actions come naturally. Without our consent, our emotions are  written
all over our faces.

                  Why non-verbal communication is important
    Although non-verbal communication  is  often  unplanned,  it  has  more
impact than verbal communication. Non-verbal cues are  especially  important
in conveying feelings; accounting for 93 percent of  the  emotional  meaning
that is exchanged in any interaction.

    One advantage of non-verbal  communication  is  its  reliability.  Most
people can deceive us much more easily with their words than they  can  with
their bodies. Words are relatively easy to control;  body  language,  facial
expressions, and vocal characteristics  are  not.  By  paying  attention  to
these non-verbal cues,  we  can  detect  deception  or  affirm  a  speaker's
honesty. Not surprisingly, we have more faith in non-verbal cues than we  do
in verbal messages. If a person says one thing but transmits  a  conflicting
message non-verbally, we almost invariably believe  the  non-verbal  signal.
To a great degree, then,  an  individual's  credibility  as  a  communicator
depends on non-verbal messages.
Non-verbal communication is important for another reason as well: It can  be
efficient from both the sender's and  the  receiver's  standpoint.  You  can
transmit a non-verbal message without  even  thinking  about  it,  and  your
audience can register the meaning unconsciously. By  the  same  token,  when
you have a conscious purpose, you can often  achieve  it  more  economically
with a gesture than you can with words. A wave of the hand,  a  pat  on  the
back, a winkall are streamlined expressions of thought.

                  The functions of non-verbal communication
  Although non-verbal communication can stand alone,  it  frequently  works
with speech. Our words carry part of the  message,  and  non-verbal  signals
carry the rest. Together, the two modes of expression make a powerful  team,
augmenting, reinforcing, and clarifying each other.
Experts in non-verbal  communication  suggest  that  it  have  six  specific
 To provide information, either consciously or unconsciously
 To regulate the flow of conversation
 To express emotion
 To qualify, complement, contradict, or expand verbal messages
 To control or influence others
 To facilitate specific tasks, such as teaching a person to  swing  a  golf

  Non-verbal communication plays a role in business too. For one thing,  it
helps establish credibility and leadership potential. If you  can  learn  to
manage  the  impression  you  create  with  your   body   language,   facial
characteristics,  voice,  and  appearance,  you  can  do  a  great  deal  to
communicate that you are competent, trustworthy, and dynamic.  For  example,
Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton has developed a homespun style that puts  people
at ease, thereby helping them to be more receptive, perhaps even more open.
  Furthermore, if you can learn to read other people's non-verbal messages,
you will be able to interpret  their  underlying  attitudes  and  intentions
more accurately. When  dealing  with  co-workers,  customers,  and  clients,
watch carefully for small signs that reveal how the conversation  is  going.
If you aren't having the effect you want, check your words;  then,  if  your
words are all right, try to be aware of  the  non-verbal  meanings  you  are
transmitting. At the same time, stay tuned to the  non-verbal  signals  that
the other person is sending.

                            VERBAL COMMUNICATION
  Although you can express many things non-verbally, there are limits to
what you can communicate without the help of language. If you want to
discuss past events, ideas, or abstractions, you need wordssymbols that
stand for thoughts  arranged in meaningful patterns. In the English
language, we have a 750,000, although most of us recognize only about
20,000 of them. To create a thought with these words, we arrange them
according to the rules of grammar, putting the various parts of speech in
the proper sequence.

  We then transmit the message in  spoken  or  written  form,  hoping  that
someone will hear or read what we have to say. Figure  1.1  shows  how  much
time business people devote to the various types  of  verbal  communication.
They use speaking and writing to  send  messages;  they  use  listening  and
reading to receive them.

                            Speaking and writing
  When it comes to sending business messages, speaking is more common  than
writing.  Giving  instructions,  conducting  interviews,  working  in  small
groups,  attending  meetings,  and  making  speeches   are   all   important
activities. Even though writing may be less common,  it  is  important  too.
When you want to send a complex message of lasting  significance,  you  will
probably want to put it in writing.

                            Listening and reading
  It's important to remember that  effective  communication  is  a  two-way
street. People in  business  spend  more  time  obtaining  information  than
transmitting it, so to do their jobs effectively, they need  good  listening
and reading skills. Unfortunately, most of us are not very  good  listeners.
Immediately after hearing a ten-minute speech, we  typically  remember  only
half of what was said. A few days later, we've forgotten  three-quarters  of
the  message.  To  some  extent,  our  listening  problems  stem  from   our
education, or lack of it. We spend years learning to express our ideas,  but
few of us ever take a course in listening.
  FIGURE 1.1
  Forms of Business Communication
  Similarly, our reading skills often leave a  good  deal  to  be  desired.
Recent studies indicate that approximately 38 percent of the adults  in  the
United States have
  trouble reading the help-wanted ads in the newspaper, 14  percent  cannot
fill out a check properly,  26  percent  can't  figure  out  the  deductions
listed on their paycheques, and  20  percent  are  functionally  illiterate.
Even those who do read may not know  how  to  read  effectively.  They  have
trouble extracting the important points from  a  document,  so  they  cannot
make the most of the information presented.
  College student are probably better at listening  and  reading  than  are
many other people, partly because they get so much practice.  On  the  basis
of our own experience, no doubt  realise  that  our  listening  and  reading
efficiency varies tremendously, depending  on  how  we  approach  the  task.
Obtaining and remembering information takes a special effort.
  Although listening and reading obviously differ, both require  a  similar
approach. The first step is to register the information,  which  means  that
you must tune out distractions and  focus  your  attention.  You  must  then
interpret and evaluate the information, respond in some  fashion,  and  file
away the data for future reference.
  The most important part of this process is interpretation and evaluation,
which is no easy matter. While absorbing the material, we must  decide  what
is important and what isn't. One approach is to look for the main ideas  and
the most important  supporting  details,  rather  than  trying  to  remember
everything we read  or  hear.  If  we  can  discern  the  structure  of  the
material, we can also understand the relationships among the ideas.


  As Bill Davila knows, the first step  in  learning  to  communicate  with
people from other cultures is to become aware of  what  culture  means.  Our
awareness of intercultural differences  is  both  useful  and  necessary  in
today's world of business.

                            UNDERSTANDING CULTURE
  Person may not realise it, but he belongs to several cultures.  The  most
obvious is the culture he shares with all other people who live in the  same
country. But this person also belongs to other cultural groups, such  as  an
ethnic group, a religious group, a fraternity  or  sorority,  or  perhaps  a
profession that has its own special language and customs.
  So what exactly is culture? It is useful to define culture as a system of
shared symbols, beliefs, attitudes,  values,  expectations,  and  norms  for
behaviour. Thus all members of a culture have, and tend to act  on,  similar
assumptions about how people should think, behave, and communicate.
  Distinct groups that exist within  a  major  culture  are  more  properly
referred  to  as  subcultures.  Among  groups  that  might   be   considered
subcultures are Mexican Americans in East Los Angeles, Mormons in Salt  Lake
City,  and  longshoremen  in  Montreal.   Subcultures   without   geographic
boundaries  can  be  found  as  well,  such  as  wrestling   fans,   Russian
immigrants, and Harvard M.B.A.s .
  Cultures and subcultures vary in several ways that  affect  intercultural

   Stability. Conditions in the culture may be stable or may  be  changing
slowly or rapidly.
   Complexity. Cultures vary in the accessibility of information. In North
America  information  is  contained  in  explicit  codes,  including  words,
whereas in Japan  a  great  deal  of  information  is  conveyed  implicitly,
through body language, physical context, and the like.
   Composition. Some cultures are made up of many  diverse  and  disparate
subcultures; others tend to be more homogeneous.
   Acceptance. Cultures vary in their attitudes toward outsiders. Some are
openly hostile or maintain a detached aloofness. Others are friendly and co-
operative toward strangers.

  As you can see, cultures vary widely. It's no wonder that most of us need
special training before we can become comfortable with a culture other  than
our own.


  When faced with the need (or desire) to learn about another  culture,  we
have two main approaches to choose from. The first is to learn  as  much  as
possiblethe language, cultural background and history,  social  rules,  and
so onabout the specific culture that you expect to deal with. The other  is
to develop general skills that will help to adapt in any culture.
  The first approach, in-depth knowledge of a particular culture, certainly
works. But there are two drawbacks. One is that you will never  be  able  to
understand another culture completely. No matter how much you  study  German
culture, for example, you will never be a German or  share  the  experiences
of having grown up in Germany. Even  if  we  could  understand  the  culture
completely, Germans might resent our  assumption  that  we  know  everything
there is to know about them. The other drawback to immersing yourself  in  a
specific culture is the trap of overgeneralization, looking at  people  from
a culture not as individuals with their own unique characteristics,  but  as
instances of Germans or Japanese or black Americans. The trick is  to  learn
useful general information but to  be  open  to  variations  and  individual
  The  second  approach  to  cultural  learning,  general  development   of
intercultural skills, is especially useful if we interact with  people  from
a variety of cultures or subcultures. Among the skills  you  need  to  learn
are the following:

   Taking responsibility for communication. Don't assume that  it  is  the
other person's job to communicate with you.
   Withholding judgment. Learn to listen to the whole story and to  accept
differences in others.
   Showing respect. Learn the  ways  in  which  respect  is  communicated
through gestures, eye contact, and so on  in various cultures.
   Empathizing. Try to put yourself in the other  person's  shoes.  Listen
carefully to what the other person is trying  to  communicate;  imagine  the
person's feelings and point of view.
   Tolerating ambiguity. Learn to control your frustration when placed  in
an unfamiliar or confusing situation.
   Looking beyond the superficial. Don't be distracted by such  things  as
dress, appearance, or environmental discomforts.
   Being patient and persistent. If you want to accomplish a  task,  don't
give up easily.
   Recognizing your own cultural  biases.  Learn  to  identify  when  your
assumptions are different from the other person's.
   Being flexible. Be prepared to change  your  habits,  preferences,  and
   Emphasizing common ground. Look for similarities to work from.
   Sending clear  messages.  Make  your  verbal  and  non-verbal  messages
   Taking risks. Try things that will help you gain a better understanding
of the other person or culture.
   Increasing your cultural sensitivity. Learn about variations in customs
and practices so that  you  will  be  more  aware  of  potential  areas  for
miscommunication or misunderstanding.

   Dealing with the individual. Avoid stereotyping and overgeneralization.


  The more differences there are between the people who are  communicating,
the more difficult it is to communicate effectively. The major  problems  in
inter-cultural  business  communication  are  language  barriers,   cultural
differences, and ethnocentric reactions.

                              LANGUAGE BARRIERS
  If we're doing business in London, we obviously  won't  have  much  of  a
language problem. We may encounter a few unusual terms or accents in the  29
countries in which English is an official language, but  our  problems  will
be relatively minor. Language barriers will also be  relatively  minor  when
we are dealing with people who use English as a second  language  (and  some
650 million people fall into this category).  Some  of  these  millions  are
extremely fluent;  others  have  only  an  elementary  command  of  English.
Although you may miss a few subtleties in dealing with those  who  are  less
fluent in English, well still be able to communicate. The pitfall to  watch
for is assuming that the other person understands everything  we  say,  even
slang, local idioms, and accents. One  group  of  English-speaking  Japanese
who moved to the United States as employees of Toyota had  to  enroll  in  a
special course to learn that "Jeat yet?" means "Did you eat yet?"  and  that
"Cannahepya?" means "Can I help you?"
  The real problem with language arises when we are dealing with people who
speak virtually no English. In  situations  like  this,  we  have  very  few
options: We can learn their language,  we  can  use  an  intermediary  or  a
translator, or we can teach them our language.  Becoming  fluent  in  a  new
language (which we must do to conduct business in  that  language)  is  time
consuming. The  U.S.  State  Department,  for  example,  gives  its  Foreign
Service officers a six-month language training program and expects  them  to
continue their language education at their foreign posts. Even  the  Berlitz
method, which is famous for the speed of its results, requires  a  month  of
intensive effort  13 hours a day, 5 days  a  week.  It  is  estimated  that
minimum proficiency in another language  requires  at  least  240  hours  of
study over 8 weeks; more complex languages,  such  as  Arabic  and  Chinese,
require more than 480 hours. Language courses  can  be  quite  expensive  as
well. Unless we are planning to  spend  several  years  abroad  or  to  make
frequent trips over an extended period, learning another language  may  take
more time, effort, and money than we're able to spend.

  A more practical approach may be to use an intermediary or a  translator.
For example, if our company has a foreign subsidiary, we  can  delegate  the
communication job to local nationals who  are  bilingual.  Or  we  can  hire
bilingual  advertising  consultants,   distributors,   lobbyists,   lawyers,
translators, and other professionals to help us. Even though  Vons  operates
within the United States, management hires bilingual personnel to  help  its
Hispanic customers feel more comfortable.
  The option of teaching other people to speak our language doesn't  appear
to be very practical at first glance; however, many multinational  companies
do, in fact, have language training programs for  their  foreign  employees.
Tenneco, for example, instituted an English-language  training  program  for
its  Spanish-speaking  employees  in  a  New  Jersey  plant.   The   classes
concentrated on practical English for use  on  the  job.  According  to  the
company, these classes were a success: Accidents  and  grievances  declined,
and productivity improved.
  In general, the magnitude of the language barrier depends on whether  you
are writing or  speaking.  Written  communication  is  generally  easier  to

                      Barriers to written communication
   One survey of 100 companies engaged in international  business  revealed
that between 95 and 99 percent of their business letters to other  countries
are written in English. Moreover, 59 percent  of  the  respondents  reported
that the foreign letters  they  receive  are  usually  written  in  English,
although they also receive letters written  in  Spanish  and  French.  Other
languages are rare in international business correspondence.
   Because many international business  letters  are  written  in  English,
North American firms do not always have to  worry  about  translating  their
correspondence. However, even when both  parties  write  in  English,  minor
interpretation problems do exist because of  different  usage  of  technical
terms. These problems do not usually pose a major barrier to  communication,
especially if correspondence between the  two  parties  continues  and  each
gradually learns the terminology of the other.
   More significant problems arise in other forms of written  communication
that require translation. Advertisements, for  example,  are  almost  always
translated into the language of the country in which the products are  being
sold. Documents such as warranties,  repair  and  maintenance  manuals,  and
product labels also require translation.  In  addition,  some  multinational
companies must translate policy and procedure manuals and benefit plans  for
use in overseas offices. Reports  from  foreign  subsidiaries  to  the  home
office may also  be  written  in  one  language  and  then  translated  into
  Sometimes the translations aren't very good. For example, the  well-known
slogan "Come alive with Pepsi" was translated literally  for  Asian  markets
as "Pepsi brings your ancestors  back  from  the  grave,"  with  unfortunate
results.  Part  of  the  message  is  almost  inevitably  lost  during   any
translation process, sometimes with major consequences.

                       Barriers to oral communication

  Oral  communication  usually  presents   more   problems   than   written
communication. If you have ever studied a foreign language,  you  know  from
personal experience that it's easier to write in a foreign language than  to
conduct a conversation. Even  if  the  other  person  is  speaking  English,
you're likely to have a hard time understanding  the  pronunciation  if  the
person is not proficient in English. For example, many foreigners notice  no
difference between the English sounds v and w, they say wery  for  very.  At
the same time, many people from North America cannot pronounce some  of  the
sounds that are frequently used in other parts of the world.
  In addition to pronouncing sounds differently, people use their voices in
different ways, a fact that often leads to misunderstanding.  The  Russians,
for example, speak in flat level tones in their  native  tongue.  When  they
speak English, they maintain this pattern, and Westerners  may  assume  that
they are bored or rude. Middle Easterners tend to  speak  more  loudly  than
Westerners and may therefore mistakenly be  considered  more  emotional.  On
the other hand, the Japanese are soft-spoken, a characteristic that  implies
politeness or humility to Westerners.
  Idiomatic expressions are another source of  confusion.  If  you  tell  a
foreigner that a certain product "doesn't  cut  the  mustard,"  chances  are
that you will fail to communicate. Even when the  words  make  sense,  their
meanings may differ according to the situation. For  example,  suppose  that
you are dining with a German  woman  who  speaks  English  quite  well.  You
inquire, "More bread?" She says, "Thank you," so you  pass  the  bread.  She
looks confused, then takes the breadbasket and sets it down  without  taking
any. In German, thank you (danke) can also be used as a polite  refusal.  If
the woman had wanted more bread, she would have used the word please  (bitte
in German).
  When speaking in English to those for whom English is a second  language,
follow these simple guidelines:

   Try to eliminate "noise." Pronounce words clearly, and stop at distinct
punctuation points. Make one point at a time.
   Look for feedback. Be alert to glazed eyes or  signs  of  confusion  in
your listener.  Realise  that  nods  and  smiles  do  not  necessarily  mean
understanding. Don't be afraid to ask, "Is  that  clear?"  and  be  sure  to
check the listener's comprehension  through  specific  questions.  Encourage
the listener to ask questions.
   Rephrase your sentence when  necessary.  If  someone  doesn't  seem  to
understand what you have said, choose simpler words; don't just  repeat  the
sentence in a louder voice.
   Don't talk down to the other person. Americans  tend  to  overenunciate
and to "blame" the listener for lack of comprehension. It is  preferable  to
use phrases such as "Am  I  going  too  fast?"  rather  than  "Is  this  too
difficult for you?"
   Use objective,  accurate  language.  Americans  tend  to  throw  around
adjectives such as fantastic and fabulous, which foreigners consider  unreal
and overly dramatic. Calling  something  a  "disaster"  will  give  rise  to
images of war and death; calling someone an "idiot" or  a  "prince"  may  be
taken literally.
   Let other people finish what they have to say. If  you  interrupt,  you
may miss something important. And you'll show a lack of respect.

                            CULTURAL DIFFERENCES
  As we know, misunderstandings are especially likely  to  occur  when  the
people who are communicating have different backgrounds. Party A  encodes  a
message in one context, using assumptions common to people  in  his  or  her
culture; Party B decodes the message using a different set  of  assumptions.
The result is confusion and, often, hard feelings.  For  example,  take  the
case of the computer sales representative who was calling  on  a  client  in
China. Hoping to make a good impression, the  salesperson  brought  along  a
gift to break the ice, an expensive grandfather  clock.  Unfortunately,  the
Chinese client was deeply offended  because,  in  China,  giving  clocks  as
gifts is considered bad luck for the recipient.
  Such problems arise because of our unconscious assumptions and non-verbal
communication patterns. We ignore the fact that people from  other  cultures
differ from us in many ways: in their religion and values,  their  ideas  of
status, their decision-making habits, their attitude toward time, their  use
of space, their body language, and their manners. We assume,  wrongly,  that
other people are like us. At Vons, management has  spent  a  great  deal  of
time learning  about  the  cultural  preferences  of  the  store's  Hispanic

                             Religion and values
  Although North  America  is  a  melting  pot  of  people  with  different
religions and values, the predominant  influence  in  this  culture  is  the
Puritan ethic: If you work hard and achieve success, you  will  find  favour
in the eyes of God. They tend to assume that material comfort is a  sign  of
superiority, that the rich are a little  bit  better  than  the  poor,  that
people who work hard are better than those  who  don't.  They  believe  that
money solves many problems. They assume  that  people  from  other  cultures
share their view, that they dislike poverty and value hard  work.  In  fact,
many societies condemn materialism and prize a carefree life-style.
  As a culture, they are goal-oriented. They want to get the work  done  in
the most efficient manner, and they assume  that  everyone  else  does  too.
They think they are improving things if they can figure out a  way  for  two
people using modern methods to do the same work as  four  people  using  the
"old way." But in countries like India and Pakistan, where  unemployment  is
extremely high, creating jobs is more important than getting the  work  done
efficiently. Executives in these countries would rather employ four  workers
than two.

                              Roles and status
  Culture dictates the roles people play, including who  communicates  with
whom, what they communicate,  and  in  what  way.  In  many  countries,  for
example, women still do not play a very prominent role  in  business.  As  a
result, female executives from American firms may find themselves  sent  off
to eat in a separate room with the wives of Arab businessmen, while the  men
all eat dinner together.
  Concepts of status also differ, and as a  consequence,  people  establish
their credibility in different ways.  North  Americans,  for  example,  send
status signals that reflect materialistic  values.  The  big  boss  has  the
corner office on the  top  floor,  deep  carpets,  an  expensive  desk,  and
handsome accessories. The most successful companies are located in the  most
prestigious buildings. In other countries, status is communicated  in  other
ways. For example, the highest-ranking  executives  in  France  sit  in  the
middle of an open area, surrounded by lower-level employees. In  the  Middle
East, fine possessions are reserved for the home, and business is  conducted
in cramped and modest quarters.  An  American  executive  who  assumes  that
these office arrangements  indicate  a  lack  of  status  is  making  a  big

                           Decision-making customs

  In North America, they try to reach decisions as quickly and  efficiently
as possible. The top people focus on reaching agreement on the  main  points
and leave the details to be worked out later  by  others.  In  Greece,  this
approach would backfire. A Greek executive assumes that anyone  who  ignores
the details is being evasive  and  untrustworthy.  Spending  time  on  every
little point is considered a mark of good faith. Similarly, Latin  Americans
prefer to make their deals slowly, after a  lengthy  period  of  discussion.
They resist an  authoritarian  "Here's  the  deal,  take  it  or  leave  it"
approach, preferring the more sociable method of an extended discussion.
  Cultures also differ in terms of who makes  the  decisions.  In  american
culture, many organisations are dominated by a single figure  who  says  yes
or no to every deal. It is the  same  in  Pakistan,  where  you  can  get  a
decision quickly if  you  reach  the  highest-ranking  executive.  In  other
cultures,  notably  China  and  Japan,   decision   making   is   a   shared
responsibility. No individual has the authority to commit  the  organisation
without first consulting others. In  Japan,  for  example,  the  negotiating
team arrives at a consensus through  an  elaborate,  time-consuming  process
(agreement must be complete  there is no majority rule). If the process  is
not laborious enough, the Japanese feel uncomfortable.

                              Concepts of time

  Differing perceptions of  time  are  another  factor  that  can  lead  to
misunderstandings. An executive from North America or Germany  attaches  one
meaning to time;  an  executive  from  Latin  America,  Ethiopia,  or  Japan
attaches another. Let's say that a  salesperson  from  Chicago  calls  on  a
client in Mexico City. After spending 30 minutes in the  outer  office,  the
person from Chicago feels angry and insulted, assuming,  "This  client  must
attach a very low priority to my visit to keep me waiting half an hour."  In
fact, the Mexican client does not mean to imply  anything  at  all  by  this
delay. To the Mexican, a wait of 30 minutes is a matter of course.
  Or let's say that a New Yorker is trying to negotiate a deal in Ethiopia.
This is an important deal, and the New Yorker assumes  that  the  Ethiopians
will give the matter top priority and reach a decision quickly. Not  so.  In
Ethiopia, important deals take a long, long time. After all, if  a  deal  is
important, it should be given much careful thought, shouldn't it?
  The Japanese, knowing that North Americans are  impatient,  use  time  to
their advantage when negotiating with us. One  of  them  expressed  it  this
  "You Americans have one terrible weakness.  If  we  make  you  wait  long
enough, you will agree to anything."

                         Concepts of personal space

  The classic story of a conversation between a North American and a  Latin
American is that the interaction may begin at one end of a hallway  but  end
up at the other, with neither  party  aware  of  having  moved.  During  the
interaction, the Latin American instinctively  moves  closer  to  the  North
American,  who  in  turn  instinctively  steps   back,   resulting   in   an
intercultural dance across the  floor.  Like  time,  space  means  different
things in different cultures. North Americans stand about  five  feet  apart
when conducting a business conversation. To an Arab  or  a  Latin  American,
this distance is uncomfortable. In meetings with North Americans, they  move
a little closer. We assume they are pushy and react negatively, although  we
don't know exactly why.

                                Body language
  Gestures help us clarify  confusing  messages,  so  differences  in  body
language are a major source  of  misunderstanding.  We  may  also  make  the
mistake of assuming that a non-American who speaks English has mastered  the
body language of our culture as well. It therefore pays to learn some  basic
differences in the ways people supplement their words  with  body  movement.
Take the signal for no. North Americans shake their heads  back  and  forth;
the Japanese move their right hands; Sicilians raise their  chins.  Or  take
eye contact. North Americans read each other through eye contact.  They  may
assume that a person who won't meet our gaze is evasive and  dishonest.  But
in many parts of Latin America, keeping your  eyes  lowered  is  a  sign  of
respect. It's also a sign of respect among many black Americans, which  some
schoolteachers have failed to learn. When they scold their  black  students,
saying "Look at me when I'm talking to you," they only create confusion  for
the children.
  Sometimes people from different cultures misread an  intentional  signal,
and  sometimes  they  overlook  the  signal  entirely  or  assume   that   a
meaningless gesture is significant. For example, an  Arab  man  indicates  a
romantic interest in a woman by running a hand  backward  across  his  hair;
most Americans would dismiss this  gesture  as  meaningless.  On  the  other
hand, an Egyptian might mistakenly assume that a Westerner sitting with  the
sole of his or her shoe showing is offering a grave insult.

                        Social behaviour and manners

  What is polite in one country may be considered rude in another. In  Arab
countries, for example, it is impolite to take gifts to  a  man's  wife  but
acceptable to take gifts to his children. In Germany, giving a woman  a  red
rose is considered a romantic invitation, inappropriate if  you  are  trying
to establish a business relationship  with  her.  In  India,  you  might  be
invited to visit someone's home "any  time."  Being  reluctant  to  make  an
unexpected visit, you might wait to get  a  more  definite  invitation.  But
your failure to take the Indian literally is an insult, a sign that  you  do
not care to develop the friendship.
                                  *   *   *

                       Behind The Scenes At Parker Pen

                            Do as the Natives Do,

                  But Should You Eat the Roast Gorilla Hand

If offered, you should eat the roast gorilla handso says Roger  E.  Axtel,
vice president of The Parker Pen Company. Axtel spent 18 years  living  and
travelling in the 154 countries where Parker sells pens.  He  learned  that
communicating with foreign nationals  demands  more  than  merely  learning
their language. The gorilla hand  (served  rising  from  mashed  yams)  was
prepared for a meal in honor of an American family-planning expert who  was
visiting a newly emerged  African  nation,  and  the  guest  of  honor  was
expected to eat it, so he did. Learning the behaviour expected  of  you  as
you do business internationally can be daunting if not intimidating.  Axtel
recommends the following rules to help you get off to a good start  without

Basic Rule #1: What's in a Name?
The first transaction between even ordinary citizens and the  first  chance
to make an impression for better  or  worseis  an  exchange  of  names.  In
America, there is not very much to get wrong. And even if you do,  so  what?
Not so elsewhere. In the Eastern Hemisphere, where name  frequently  denotes
social rank or family status, a mistake can be an outright  insult,  and  so
can using someone's given name without permission. "What would you  like  me
to call you?" is always the opening line of  one  overseas  deputy  director
for an international telecommunications corporation. "Better to ask  several
times," he advises, "than to get it       wrong." Even then, "I err  on  the
side of formality." Another frequent traveler insists  his  company  provide
him with a list of key people he  will  meetcountry  by  country,  surnames
underlinedto be memorized on the flight over.
Basic Rule #2: Eat, Drink, and Be Wary.
Away from home, eating is a language all its own. No words can match it  for
saying "glad to meet you ... glad to be doing business with you . .  .  glad
to have-you here." Mealtime is no time for a thanks-but-no-thanks  response.
Accepting what is on your plate is tantamount to  accepting  host,  country,
and company. So no matter how tough  things  may  be  to  swallow,  swallow.
Often what is offered constitutes your host jj country's  proudest  culinary
achievements. Squeamishness comes not so  much  from  the  thing  itself  as
from, your unfamiliarity with it. After all, an oyster has     |  remarkably
the same look and  consistency  as  a  sheeps  eye  (a  delicacy  in  Saudi
   Is there any  polite  way  out  besides  the  back  door?  Most  business
travelers say no, at least not before taking a few bites. It helps to  slice
unfamiliar food very thin. This  way,  you  minimize  the  texture  and  the
reminder of where it came from. Another useful dodge  is  not  knowing  what
you are eating. What's for dinner? Don't ask.

Basic Rule #3: Clothes Can Make You or Break You
Wherever you are, you should not look out of place. Wear something you  look
natural in, something you know how to wear, and something that fits in  with
your surroundings. For example, a woman dressed in  a  tailored  suit,  even
with high heels  and  flowery  blouse,  looks  startlingly  masculine  in  a
country full of diaphanous saris. More appropriate attire might be a  silky,
loose-fitting dress in a bright color.  With  few  exceptions,  the  general
rule everywhere, whether for business, for eating out, or even for  visiting
people at home, is that you should be very buttoned  up:  conservative  suit
and tie for men, dress or skirt-suit for women.

Basic Rule #4: American Spoken Here You Hope.

We should be grateful that so many people outside the  United  States  speak
English. Even where Americans aren't understood, their  language  often  is.
It's when we try to speak someone else's language  that  the  most  dramatic
failures of communication seem to occur. At times, the way we  speak  is  as
misinterpreted  as  what  we  are  trying  to  say;   some   languages   are
incomprehensible as pronounced by outsiders. But no  matter  how  you  twist
most native tongues, some meaning gets throughor at least you get an A  for
effort even if it doesn't. Memorizing a  toast  or  greeting  nearly  always
serves to break the ice, if not the communication barrier.
                                 *    *    *

  Rules of etiquette may be  formal  or  informal.  Formal  rules  are  the
specifically taught "rights"  and  "wrongs"  of  how  to  behave  in  common
situations, such as table manners at meals. Members of  a  culture  can  put
into words the formal rule being violated. Informal social  rules  are  much
more difficult to identify and are usually learned by  watching  how  people
behave and then imitating that behaviour. Informal rules govern how men  and
women are supposed to behave, how and when  people  may  touch  each  other,
when it is appropriate to use a person's first name, and so  on.  Violations
of these rules cause a great deal  of  discomfort  to  the  members  of  the
culture, but they usually cannot verbalize what it is that bothers them.

                           ETHNOCENTRIC REACTIONS
  Although language and cultural differences are  significant  barriers  to
communication, these problems can be resolved if  people  maintain  an  open
mind. Unfortunately, however, many of us have an  ethnocentric  reaction  to
people from other culturesthat is, we judge all other groups  according  to
our own standards.
  When we react ethnocentrically, we ignore the  distinctions  between  our
own culture and the other person's  culture.  We  assume  that  others  will
react the same way we do, that they will operate from the same  assumptions,
and that they will use language  and  symbols  in  the  "American"  way.  An
ethnocentric reaction makes us lose sight of the possibility that our  words
and  actions  will  be  misunderstood,  and  it  makes  us  more  likely  to
misunderstand the behaviour of foreigners.
  Generally, ethnocentric people are prone to stereotyping and prejudice:
  They generalize about an entire group of people on the basis  of  sketchy
evidence  and  then  develop  biased  attitudes  toward  the  group.  As   a
consequence, they fail to see people as they really are. Instead of  talking
with Abdul Kar-hum, unique human being, they talk to an Arab. Although  they
have never met an Arab before, they may already believe that all Arabs  are,
say, hagglers. The personal qualities of Abdul Kar-hum become  insignificant
in the face of such preconceptions. Everything he  says  and  does  will  be
forced to fit the preconceived image.
  Bear in mind that Americans are not the only people in the world who  are
prone to ethnocentrism. Often, both parties are guilty of  stereotyping  and
prejudice. Neither is open-minded about  the  other.  Little  wonder,  then,
that misunderstandings arise. Fortunately, a healthy dose of  tolerance  can
prevent a lot of problems.

  We may never completely overcome  linguistic  and  cultural  barriers  or
totally erase ethnocentric tendencies, but we  can  communicate  effectively
with people from other cultures if we work at it.
                          LEARNING ABOUT A CULTURE
  The best way to prepare yourself to do business with people from  another
culture is to study their culture  in  advance.  If  you  plan  to  live  in
another country or to do business there repeatedly, learn the language.  The
same holds true if you must work closely with a subculture that has its  own
language, such as Vietnamese Americans or the Hispanic Americans  that  Vons
is trying to reach. Even if you end up transacting business in English,  you
show respect by making the effort to learn the language.  In  addition,  you
will learn something about the culture and its customs in  the  process.  If
you do not have the time or opportunity to  learn  the  language,  at  least
learn a few words.
  Also reading books and articles about the culture and talking  to  people
who have dealt with its members, preferably people who  have  done  business
with them very helpful. Concentrating  on  learning  something  about  their
history, religion, politics, and customs,  without  ignoring  the  practical
details either. In that regard, you  should  know  something  about  another
country's    weather    conditions,    health-care    facilities,     money,
transportation, communications, and customs regulations.
  Also find out about a  country's  subcultures,  especially  its  business
subculture. Does the business world have its own  rules  and  protocol?  Who
makes decisions? How are negotiations  usually  conducted?  Is  gift  giving
expected? What is the etiquette for exchanging business cards? What  is  the
appropriate attire for  attending  a  business  meeting?  Seasoned  business
travellers suggest the following:

   In Spain, let a handshake last five to seven strokes; pulling away  too
soon may be interpreted as a sign of  rejection.  In  France,  however,  the
preferred handshake is a single stroke.
   Never give a gift of liquor in Arab countries.
   In England, never stick pens  or  other  objects  in  your  front  suit
  doing so is considered gauche.
   In Pakistan, don't be surprised when businesspeople  excuse  themselves
in the midst of a meeting to conduct prayers.  Moslems  pray  five  times  a
   Allow plenty of time to get to know the people you're dealing  with  in
Africa. They're suspicious of people who are in a hurry. If you  concentrate
solely on the task at hand, Africans  will  distrust  you  and  avoid  doing
business with you.
   In Arab countries, never turn down food or drink;  it's  an  insult  to
refuse hospitality of any kind. But don't be too quick to accept, either.  A
ritual refusal ("I don't want to put you to any trouble" or  "I  don't  want
to be a bother") is expected before you finally accept.
   Stress the longevity of your company when  dealing  with  the  Germans,
Dutch, and Swiss. If your company has been around for a while, the  founding
date should be printed on your business cards.

  These are just a few examples of the  variations  in  customs  that  make
intercultural business so interesting.

  Intercultural business writing falls into the same general categories  as
other forms of business writing. How you handle these categories depends  on
the subject and purpose of your message, the relationship  between  you  and
the reader, and the customs of the person to whom the message is addressed.

  Letters  are   the   most   common   form   of   intercultural   business
correspondence. They serve the same  purposes  and  follow  the  same  basic
organizational plans (direct and indirect) as letters you would send  within
your own country. Unless you are personally fluent in the  language  of  the
intended readers, you should ordinarily write your  letters  in  English  or
have them translated by a professional translator. If  you  and  the  reader
speak different languages, be especially concerned with achieving clarity:

   Use short, precise words that say exactly what you mean.
   Rely on specific terms  to  explain  your  points.  Avoid  abstractions
altogether, or illustrate them with concrete examples.
   Stay away from  slang,  jargon,  and  buzz  words.  Such  words  rarely
translate well. Nor do idioms  and  figurative  expressions.  Abbreviations,
tscfo-nyms (such as NOKAI) and CAD/CAM), and North  American  product  names
may also lead to confusion.
   Construct sentences that are shorter and simpler than those  you  might
use when writing to someone fluent in English.
   Use short paragraphs. Each paragraph should stick to one topic  and  be
no more than eight to ten lines.
   Help readers  follow  your  train  of  thought  by  using  transitional
devices. Precede related  points  with  expressions  like  in  addition  and
first, second, third.
   Use numbers,  visual  aids,  and  pre-printed  forms  to  clarify  your
message. These devices are generally understood in most cultures.

  Your word choice should also reflect the relationship between you and the
reader. In general, be somewhat more formal than you would be in writing  to
people in your own culture. In  many  other  cultures,  people  use  a  more
elaborate, old-fashioned style, and you should gear your  letters  to  their
expectations. However, do not carry  formality  to  extremes,  or  you  will
sound unnatural.
  In terms of format, the two  most  common  approaches  for  intercultural
business letters are the block  style  (with  blocked  paragraphs)  and  the
modified block style (with indented paragraphs).  You  may  use  either  the
American format for dates (with the month, day, and year, in that order)  or
the European style (with the  day  before  the  month  and  year).  For  the
salutation, use Dear (Title/Last Name). Close the letter with  Sincerely  or
Sincerely yours, and sign it personally.
  If you correspond frequently  with  people  in  foreign  countries,  your
letterhead should include the name  of  your  country  and  cable  or  telex
information. Send your letters by air mail, and ask that responses  be  sent
that way as well.
  Check the postage too; rates for sending mail to most other countries are
not the same as rates for sending it within your own.
  In the letters  you  receive,  you  will  notice  that  people  in  other
countries use different techniques for their  correspondence.  If  you  are
aware of some of these practices, you will be able to  concentrate  on  the
message without passing judgement on the writers. Their approaches are  not
good or bad, just different.
  The Japanese, for example, are slow to come to the point.  Their  letters
typically begin with a remark about the season or weather. This is followed
by an inquiry about your health or congratulations on  your  prosperity.  A
note  of  thanks  for  your  patronage  might  come   next.   After   these
preliminaries, the main idea is introduced.  If  the  letter  contains  bad
news, the Japanese  begin  not  with  a  buffer,  but  with  apologies  for
disappointing you.
  Letters  from  Latin  America  look  different  too.  Instead  of   using
letterhead stationery, Latin American companies use a cover page with their
printed seal in the centre. Their letters appear to be longer, because they
use much wider margins.

                              Memos and reports
  Memos and reports sent overseas fall into two general  categories:  those
written to and from subsidiaries, branches, or joint venture  partners  and
those written to clients or other outsiders. When the memo or report has an
internal audience, the style may differ only slightly from that of  a  memo
or report written for internal use in North  America.  Because  sender  and
recipient  have  a  working  relationship  and  share  a  common  frame  of
reference, many  of  the  language  and  cultural  barriers  that  lead  to
misunderstandings have already been  overcome.  However,  if  the  reader's
native language is not English,  you  should  take  extra  care  to  ensure
clarity: Use concrete and explicit  words,  simple  and  direct  sentences,
short paragraphs, headings, and many transitional devices.
  If the memo or report is written for an external audience, the  style  of
the document should be relatively formal and impersonal. If  possible,  the
format should be like that of reports typically prepared or received by the
audience. In the case of long, formal reports, it is also useful to discuss
reporting requirements and expectations with the recipient  beforehand  and
to submit a preliminary draft for  comments  before  delivering  the  final

                               Other documents
  Many international transactions involve shipping and receiving  goods.  A
number  of  special-purpose  documents  are  required   to   handle   these
  price quotations, invoices, bills of  lading,  time  drafts,  letters  of
credit,  correspondence  with  international  freight  forwarders,  packing
lists,  shipping  documents,  and  collection  documents.  Many  of   these
documents are standard forms; you simply fill in the data  as  clearly  and
accurately as possible in  the  spaces  provided.  Samples  are  ordinarily
available in a company's files if it frequently does  business  abroad.  If
not, you may obtain descriptions of the necessary  documentation  from  the
United States Department of Commerce, International  Trade  Administration,
Washington, D.C., 20230. (For Canadian information, contact the  Department
of External Affairs, Trade Division, Ottawa, Ontario, K1A OG2.)

  When preparing forms, pay particular attention to the method you use  for
stating weights and measures and money values. The preferred method  is  to
use the other country's system of measurement and its currency  values  for
documenting the transaction; however, if your company uses U.S. or Canadian
weights, measures, and dollars, you should follow that  policy.  Check  any
conversion calculations carefully.

                         HANDLING ORAL COMMUNICATION
  Oral communication with people from other cultures is more  difficult  to
handle than written communication, but it can also be more rewarding,  from
both a business and a personal standpoint. Some transactions simply  cannot
be handled without face-to-face contact.
  When engaging in oral communication, be alert to  the  possibilities  for
misunderstanding. Recognize that you may be sending signals you are unaware
of and that you may be  misreading  cues  sent  by  the  other  person.  To
overcome language and cultural barriers, follow these suggestions:

   Keep an open mind. Don't stereotype the  other  person  or  react  with
preconceived ideas. Regard the person as an  individual  first,  not  as  a
representative of another culture.
   Be alert to the other person's customs.  Expect  him  or  her  to  have
different values, beliefs, expectations, and mannerisms.
   Try to be aware of unintentional meanings that may be  read  into  your
message. Clarify your true intent by repetition and examples.
   Listen carefully and patiently. If you do not understand a comment, ask
the person to repeat it.
   Be aware that  the  other  person's  body  language  may  mislead  you.
Gestures and expressions mean different things in different cultures.  Rely
more on words than on non-verbal communication to interpret the message.
   Adapt your style to the other person's. If the other person appears  to
be direct and straightforward, follow suit. If not, adjust  your  behaviour
to match.
   At the end of a conversation, be sure that you  and  the  other  person
both agree on what has been said and  decided.  Clarify  what  will  happen
   If appropriate, follow up by writing a letter or memo  summarizing  the
conversation and thanking the person for meeting with you.

  In short, take advantage of the other person's presence to make sure that
your message is getting across and that you understand his or  her  message
  Speeches  are  both  harder  and  simpler  to  deal  with  than  personal
conversations.  On  the  one  hand,  speeches  don't  provide  much  of  an
opportunity for exchanging feedback; on the other, you  may  either  use  a
translator or prepare your remarks in  advance  and  have  someone  who  is
familiar with the culture  check  them  over.  If  you  use  a  translator,
however, be sure to  use  someone  who  is  familiar  not  only  with  both
languages but also with the terminology of your field of business.  Experts
recommend that the translator be given a copy of the speech at least a  day
in advance. Furthermore, a written translation  given  to  members  of  the
audience to accompany the English  speech  can  help  reduce  communication
barriers. The extra effort will be appreciated and will help you  get  your
point across.