Think of times when you have found yourself in another country or with people from a different culture. Communication is limited, everyday activities seem to be a bit off, your normal rhythm is out of sync, and everything takes more effort. Dr. Kelm’s analysis of intercultural communication and his accompanying video interviews of business people from around the world will help you identify what is going on and why people from distinct cultures seem to do things so differently. This is no stereotypical list of French versus American characteristics, but you will come away with a better understanding of what these cultural issues are, why they are happening, and what you can do to improve communication.
Nationality plays a major role in shaping international business. However, individual companies each build their own images, missions and philosophies, establishing corporate cultures that may not align with their larger national cultures. So which type of culture carries more weight in shaping a company’s identity?
One of the stereotypes about Americans is that we are weak in knowledge of other countries, cultures, and languages. But by taking a personal interest in the people you work with and their culture, you will be the kind of person that others will want to continue to do business with.
When We Are the Foreigners: What Chinese Think About Working With Americans is a collection of eight short case scenarios from mainland China that were designed to help readers assess the cultural factors that come into play when North American business professionals work with Chinese.
One of the stereotypes about Americans is that we are very litigious in nature. When contracts stipulate our responsibilities, boundaries, and limitations, everyone has a better sense of their obligations and protections. In other cultures, contracts are equally important — but much simpler and more flexible.
Americans rely on spoken and written words to provide context in most situations, because these help form the foundation for our behavior. But other cultures require less verbal feedback because they store information over time, which then becomes the context for their communication in the future.
American culture places a lot of value on information. If someone asks us a question and we know the answer, we give it. If we don’t have the information, we say, “Sorry, I don’t know.” Many other cultures, however, don’t focus on the information as much as they focus on the person who needs it.
Language barriers and time zone differences are not the only factors that make international business negotiation a complex undertaking. The University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Business Education and Research reports that every culture has its own style of negotiation, from Germans’ reputation for rigid planning, Spaniards’ affinity for delay tactics, and Americans’ tendency to lay their cards on the table.
International professionals prepare for negotiating with North Americans differently. They do a lot of advance preparation, using the Internet for their research, so they will be as well-prepared as North Americans generally are.
Ask international professionals to describe North Americans and inevitably one of the most common words that they use is “demanding." In Spanish they usually use the word exigente, which also means "demanding." Funny thing though, when people use this term to describe North Americans, it seems to have a positive connotation.