Communication (from the Latin “communicationem”= to make common, to share) is the exchange of meaning. Communication is the bedrock of any culture; since without communication no culture would be known or transmitted neither would emotions. They are many sorts of communication: non-verbal, verbal and written. Communication is significant as it can destroy or create relations. Communication is like an artist using a brush to paint a landscape, or a portrait. (Aswathappa, K.) Effective communication is important in an organization for very basic functions such as giving out tasks. According to Aswathappa’s book (Organizational Behavior) managers spend on average 37.5 hours on communication. The communication training is essential for the people working and living abroad to learn how to behave in particular circumstances.
In today’s business environment, where employees work together from different cultures and religions, I would like to explain cross-cultural communication. The phrase cross-cultural communication describes the ability to successfully form, foster, and improve relationships with members of a culture different from one’s own. This type of communication involves an understanding of how people from different cultures speak, communicate, and perceive the world around them.
Communication is imperative for companies that have a diverse workforce and participate in the global economy. It is important for employees to understand the factors that are part of an effective, diverse workforce. Communication in an organization deals with understanding different business customs, beliefs and communication strategies. The issues affecting communication are numerous, however I am going to talk about power distance, non-verbal communication, verbal communication, gestures and eye, these are some of the many concepts, which affect communication. Furthermore, I will also mention the advantage and disadvantages of these communication style.
Power Distance is part of the 6 cultural dimensions developed by Professor Hofstede of the University of Maastricht. Hofstede defines power distance as how the power is distributed and how the less powerful accept and expect that power is distributed unequally.
Hofstede wrote many books on the matter such as Culture’s Consequence (1980) and Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind (1991). He began his study of cultural dimension on IBM employees around the world. Hofstede was one of the first professors who introduced the whole concept of cultural differences in a work environment. Nowadays, the understanding of these differences between cultures is more important since our world has never been this globalized. Like McMahon said in 1963 “the world is becoming a village”.
Depending on what culture you come from, the way each person perceives power differs between “high or low power distances”. This is why it is important to acknowledge these differences when approaching someone in business negotiations. For example, if one uses a high power distance during a meeting with a client accustomed to a low power distance management is like swimming in a river against the stream; it leads you nowhere, it is counter-productive. The other way round is also very true.
How to determine if a country belongs to a high or low power distance? Business employees are given a questionnaire to fill. The score of power distance is 1 to 100. If a country gets below 40, they are considered of low power distance. However, a country, which scores more than 70, would be considered as being high on power distance. For example, the United States scored at forty, which is considered a low score for power distance, while Guatemala scored an amazing ninety-five, indicating a very high score for power distance.
In high power distance societies and organizations, citizens or employees do not question the decisions made by the leader. The employees are strongly supervised; their jobs are dictated and dedicated to their upper managers. These societies or organizations are characterized by: centralized authority, a paternalistic management, a great number of hierarchy levels, power differences and inequality, autocracy in leadership. Such countries would be: Russia, China, India and France.
On the other hand, in low power distance societies and organizations, the power is mostly decentralized and the decision making process is democratic. These low power distance cultures are considered equal or at nearly equal. The employees are trusted and are less supervised. They are given responsibilities and are keener to innovate.
Moreover, non-verbal communication is a process of communicating through wordless messages. The difference with verbal communication is that we basically use body language, body signs. Nevertheless, this form of communication is the most important; you can express your feelings, emotions that are hard to say with words. It can help one create an image in other people’s mind with the help of body language.
“Psychologists Paul Ekman and Wallace Friesen (1969), in discussing the interdependence that exists between nonverbal and verbal messages, identified six important ways that nonverbal communication directly affects our verbal discourse.
“First, we can use nonverbal signals to emphasize our words. All good speakers know how to do this with forceful gestures, changes in vocal volume or speech rate, deliberate pauses, and so forth.
“Second, our nonverbal behavior can repeat what we say. We can say yes to someone while nodding our head.
“Third, nonverbal signals can substitute for words. Often, there isn’t much need to put things in words. A simple gesture can suffice (e.g., shaking your head to say no, using the thumbs-up sign to say ‘Nice job,’ etc.)
“Fourth, we can use nonverbal signals to regulate speech. Called turn-taking signals, these gestures and vocalizations make it possible for us to alternate the conversational roles of speaking and listening.
“Fifth, nonverbal messages sometimes contradict what we say. A friend tells us she had a great time at the beach, but we’re not sure because her voice is flat and her face lacks emotion.
“Finally, we can use nonverbal signals to complement the verbal content of our message. Being upset could mean we feel angry, depressed, disappointed, or just a bit on edge. Nonverbal signals can help to clarify the words we use and reveal the true nature of our feelings.”
(Martin S. Remland, Nonverbal Communication in Everyday Life, 2nd ed. Houghton Mifflin, 2004)
They are different kinds of non-verbal communication: glance, eye contact, volume of the voice, proximity, gestures, facial expression, intonation, dress, posture, smell, syntax, sounds (paralanguage).
• Eye contact: eye contact can be a key element in establishing the key of a relationship. In the US, maintaining eye contact is a sign of respect and shows interest. Whereas, in some countries, such as Japan, having an eye-contact with an elder person is considered rude.
• Posture: how you walk, sit, stand or hold your head indicates your personality in general but also your mood. For example, if you are walking with your head help up high you show confidence. Whereas, walking with your head down and avoiding eye contact may be a sign of shyness. Nonetheless, if you cross your arms on your body, you may be “closed off” and defensive.
Here are a few cultural differences on the posture:
? Bowing in the United States signifies something not done, criticized, or affected. Whereas, in Japan, it shows a person’s rank.
? Slouching is considered rude in most Northern European region
? Hands in pocket is considered disrespectful in Turkey
? Sitting with legs crossed is deliberated offensive in Ghana, Turkey
? Showing soles of feet is considered offensive in Thailand, Saudi Arabia
With such different contemplations, one’s posture should be open, with their body turned to face the other person whenever possible. Leaning forward slightly can convey apparent interest in what they are saying, and that you are actively listening to them.
• Gestures: Simple gestures such as nodding your head and opening your palms can have a positive effect on a conversation. You can move your hands during conversation to convey a sense of animation about a subject, though be careful not to overdo it.
? vocal characterizers (laugh, cry, yell, moan, whine, belch, yawn). These send different messages in different cultures (Japan — giggling indicates embarrassment; India – belch indicates satisfaction)
? vocal qualifiers (volume, pitch, rhythm, tempo, and tone). Loudness indicates strength in Arabic cultures and softness indicates weakness; indicates confidence and authority to the Germans, indicates impoliteness to the Thais; indicates loss of control to the Japanese.
Gender based as well: women tend to speak higher and more softly than men.
? vocal segregates (un-huh, shh, uh, ooh, mmmh, humm, eh, mah, lah). Segregates indicate formality, acceptance, assent, and uncertainty.
On the other side, Verbal communication is communicating through speech, rather than using different types of communication. Most of the world till date has communicated through verbal communication. From my perspective, verbal communication is not as simple as it seems. Verbal communication comes with a lot of unconscious behavior. For instance, when a sender is communicating with a receiver, there will be moments when the receiver will unconsciously start framing a response for the sender, even before the sender has completed his message. We as humans don’t listen to understand what the other person is saying, rather, we listen to respond. We spend more energy in preparing our response, rather than listening to what the other person is saying.
Thus, when we talk about verbal communication, there lays a set of skills to make verbal communication the most efficient form of communication. Some basics in order for one to deliver his message without interruptions are that the sender needs to be very clear and precise in his speech, be calm and be able to understand by the other person’s expressions if he is understanding or not. It is not only the sender’s responsibility as a whole, but also the receivers. If not understood correctly, the receiver is supposed to reflect on what he has been told. As people say, all problems start with communication. We as humans interpret things based on our experiences, feelings and thought processes. Sometimes we even think about things which were not at all mentioned or said. To avoid such situations, one needs to reconfirm what the other person meant and then react accordingly.
This paragraph will state some of the advantages and disadvantages of verbal communication. The advantages are that it saves time. You don’t need to prepare things you can respond immediately. It also helps in getting feedback instantly. As the conversation is over, you can ask for feedback on the spot without any delay and can and even should reconfirm immediately if the message is not understood well. Verbal communication, as I mentioned above, has been the most convenient method, and thus is used way more than other communication styles. Moreover, unlike written communication, it maintains a form of secrecy, unless recorded, between the sender and the receiver. Throughout history, verbal communication has been used as a tool for persuasion and control and is off course the cheapest way of communication amongst all forms. Whereas, some disadvantages are that in verbal communication, if a person is in front of you, you can get feedback by his or her expressions, and sometimes their expression don’t really express what the person is feeling. Additionally, the intended meaning of the message may also change with time and experiences, which may cause unnecessary uneasiness. Also, this form of communication has no base as a storage and cannot be recorded, unless intentionally done so. Furthermore, sometimes it causes difficulty with people who have different speaking tones and accents and may also waste time by having an irrelevant information.
Anthropologist Edward T. Hall coined the term proxemics to denote the different kinds of distance that occur between people. These distances vary between cultures. The figure below outlines the basic proxemics of everyday life and their meaning (Hall, 1966):
Furthermore, I would like to talk about Proxemics. The term coined by anthropologist Edward T. Hall, which denotes the different kinds of distances which occur between people when they have a conversation. The distance varies between culture to culture, the image below will give a better understanding; standing too close or too far may vary from personal relationships to the environment you are in.
On the above, I have explained some advantages and disadvantages about personal communication and its aspects. One of the most important means of communication in today’s world is technological communication. Some refer to this as electronic communication. There is no doubt that technology has changed the changed the world, it helps you communicate globally without meeting them physically. Now days, we can easily text, email, call and feel connected at any time. Though, technological advancement in communication has many advantages, it has some disadvantages as well. The first and the foremost advantage would be speed and time. It helps you connect globally in a matter of seconds and comes at cheap price. Thanks to the internet, we have video calls which help you in various aspects of life, such as online interviews, video conferencing and the ability to see your family from a different continent. Also, it has been the driver of globalization. It has helped people economically and socially by disregarding boundaries. Simultaneously, with all this advancement, it creates a lot more jobs in the Information and Communication Technology (ICTs) sector. Moreover, it has innovated the education and the health sectors to name a few. Important information can easily be transferred globally, and gives more opportunities to learn, be it computer programs or learning mathematics online. In addition, it has condensed the cultural gap. People can share ideas and opinions to a much larger audience, which at the same time even gives more business opportunities.
On the other hand, technological communication has some disadvantages as well. Technical problem would be the most basic, if there is a problem with the software or the hardware, it will act as a barrier in communication. At the same time, cyber security in today’s world is escalating to another level. We have a clear example of Russian involvement in the U.S presidential election. In what so ever electronic form we communicate, the date we generate, is always at risk. On the other hand, it is cheap to use sometimes, but it is expensive when it comes to infrastructure development and to purchase an item. One another problem is job security. In this rapid changing world, technology also keeps changing. IT professionals have to keep themselves up to date and always keep learning in order to retain their jobs. Last but not the least, is that technological communication is over-ruled some cultures. For instance, the millennials in the western world have influenced other millennials’ behavior and dressing sense.
Finally, in our globalized world, to make business today we do not only have to count on the knowledge one could have in business but also on the different cultures one works with, that is when one understands various traits and pieces of communication. There is hardly an organization in the world which does not deal with different cultures and religions. Therefore, this is why awareness on communication is important. If you talk a certain way that is not conforming to the culture of your client, you may lose the opportunity you are waiting for. It is important to understand each other’s behaviors and communication styles and prosper together in this globalized world