Communicate More Effectively With People Across Cultures


Communication with people across cultures is particularly important in the globalized environment in which companies are destined to function in the new era. Most of the organizations have international ties and their employees need to know all of the characteristic features of their partners in order to maintain successful relationships during a long period of time.

There is no possibility for the company to sign contracts with foreign partners without the knowledge of the psychology and values of their culture. “Joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, licensing and distribution agreements, and sales of products and services- crucial aspects of all such interorganizational relationships, are face-to-face negotiations.” (Adler 1989, p. 515).

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The success of these negotiations is in many ways determined by the understanding of cultural differences of partners with whom the company is seeking to sign the agreement. While European and American nations have many similar features, completely different approaches have to be applied towards companies located in Africa or Middle East.

The ability of the company’s personnel to communicate with people across cultures enables the organization to maintain the large share of the market. It also creates opportunities to increase the number of partners overseas. The paper discusses the major theories dealing with training of employees to communicate across cultures.

The most important theories described in the research include theories of Hall (1960), Hofstede (1994), Trompenaar and Hampden-Turner (1998), and others. The paper argues that it is particularly important for the companies in the modern world to pay attention to the communication with foreign partners because the development of their organizations greatly depends on the establishment of ties in the global market.

Training programs overview

Training staff in the organization to communicate effectively with people across cultures is a very challenging task. In order to build an efficient strategy, the company first needs to determine at what foreign countries it is particularly oriented and what partners it is going to obtain in the future. Depending on the countries of companies with which the organization currently has ties or is planning to build a relationship, the strategy of training needs to be established. The most important aspects of training employees for interactions with French partners have been described by Dupont (1982); Plantey (1980).

The peculiarities of Russians have been discussed by Beliaev, Muller and Prunett (1985), while the communication with Mexicans has been described by Fisher (1980). The organization needs to determine what country is of a particular interest for it, and design the training program on the basis of research provide for this very culture.

One of the reasons why communicating with partners from other cultures is particularly difficult is that “the cross-cultural communication and psychology literature suggests that people behave differently with members of their own culture than with members of foreign cultures” (Adler 1989, p.515). During the communication with people from other countries, many mistakes can occur, employees are going to be more careful and in many cases unable to realize their potential to the fullest. In order to enable them to apply all of their skills, training needs to take place. An important part of the training is acting under pressure, in the situations characterized by stress.

Multinational staff is required to follow cross-border corporate strategies (Bartlett & Ghoshal 1989; Melin 1992). Harrison (1994) mentions that the most important strategies of the companies in this regard include “multinational; international; global; and transnational. Each of these strategies suggests different CCT needs for corporate managers.” (Harrison 1994, p.21).

According to the objectives of the mentioned strategies, the training programs need to include seven major steps. First, the companies need to identify the major threats and benefits of the communication across cultural borders. Second, the coordination of employees’ actions needs to be established for the cross-cultural communication. Third, the organization has to determine what aspects of communication need to be further emphasized in order to bring more profits for the company and what aspects need to be minimized due to their negative impact on the activities of the company.

Fourth, the flow of information between the organization and its cross-cultural partners needs to get managed. Fifth, the employees of the company need to receive sufficient learning of the cultural differences and methods of influencing their foreign partners. Sixth, new teams need to be established in the company in order to provide efficient communication across the borders. Even some kind of organizational restructure can take place for maximum efficiency of this step.

Seventh, the communication with partners from other cultures needs to get established on the same level as with domestic partners. For maximum efficiency, the company needs to achieve such a high level of communication with foreign partners, on which it does not have to devote any additional efforts to the communication.

The information needs to flow as easily as within the home country and agreement signed without any problems. The last step can be fulfilled only if all of the previous steps were successful. All of the companies have to ensure that their training programs are organized in such a way that eventually they reach their strategic goal- to make communication across cultural borders as easy as communication within the country. The skills of the company’s employees need to get developed greatly in order to achieve this high level. “To develop these skills, CCT must be planned and delivered by multinational teams as well as offered to multinational participants” (Adler & Bartholomew 1992).

Training programs are particularly important for those employees who temporarily need to work in other countries, for example, do consulting of foreign partners. “In order for expatriates and their families to function successfully in another culture they must learn the differences in behavior that exist across cultures” (Harris & Moran 1991). The differences can be very large, starting with different values and finishing with different attitude to work.

Theories of cross-cultural communication

Many authors have focused their research on the differences of cultures in the business environment. “There is a growing body of research that focuses on how cultures vary. This research ranges from the pioneering efforts of Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961) to the widely referenced approach of Hofstede (1980), to the recent work of Hampden-Turner and Trompenaar (1993)” (Adler 1989, p.515).

According to Hall (1960), the communication across cultures can be very challenging because different nationalities have different ideas about the duration. For example, for Asians three years spend on the preparations of the contract is a short term while Americans would already be going crazy of impatience to sign the contract within such an incredibly long time. Hall has stated that the expression “time is money” is typically American while in the East time seems to flow much slower and representatives of this region do not try to make fast decisions.

As Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck (1961) stated, cultural differences between nations can be characterized through the prism of different characteristics. They “identified six dimensions that describe the cultural orientations of societies: how people view humanity; how people see nature; how people approach interpersonal relationships; how people view activity and achievement; how people view time; and how people view space” (Adler 1989, p.515).

The theory of Hofstede (1980) is radically different from the theories of training for communication across cultures which were described above. In order to prove his point, Hofstede carried out a research based on 160,000 managers and employees of IBM Company working in various 60 countries. “He found four dimensions of cultural differences that formed the basis for work-related attitudes: individualism vs. collectivism, power distance, uncertainty avoidance, and masculinity vs. femininity.” (Harrison 1994, p.18).

However, due to the analysis of some more companies in five continents, Hofstede arrived at the conclusion that there was also the fifth dimension. “This new dimension refers to whether the culture’s values are oriented toward the future (long-term orientation) or toward the past and present (short-term orientation)” (Harrison 1994, p.18).

The understanding of culture by Hofstede is very unique in many ways. He “offers a broader definition of culture- one that includes all the patterns of thinking, feeling and acting, which one learns from early childhood.” (Williams 2002, p.23). Hofstede “calls culture “software of the mind.” This analogy suggests that culture shapes the way humans behave, think and feel just as programming determines how computers behave.” (Williams 2002, p.23). As the author himself mentions, “I treated values as part of culture, the latter defined as the collective programming of the mind which distinguishes the members of one group or category of people from another.” (Hofstede 1998, p.16).

The approach used by Hofstede in the determination of cultural differences is very radical, according to the opinions of some specialists. Culture is a part of creative activity, too, not only the software in the human mind. “Hofstede’s analogy may seem inappropriate, especially for artists who strive for individuality and creativity in expression. How can human feelings be programmed or automated like a computer?” (Williams 2002, p.23).

However, Hofstede’s approach can be successfully applied in business. Many foreign businessmen act according to the paradigm which is typical for their country. They are not robots but they still have some values and traditions which have been programmed in their minds by their culture. It is very important for the training manager to ensure that all of the employees in the company realize what features have been programmed in the minds of their foreign partners.

Hofstede also argues for the importance of language peculiarities in the communication with people overseas. He “identifies language as the most superficial manifestation of culture. Like visual icons, flags and modes of dress, language is an outward symbol that conveys meaning.” (Williams 2002, p.23).

Hampden-Turner and Trompenaar (1993) have also suggested their theory of communication across cultures. In order to achieve their goal, they “administered questionnaires to 15,000 international managers around the world and identified a set of value differences that distinguish practitioners of capitalism in numerous countries” (Harrison 1994, p.18).

They values which the authors considered crucial for the questionnaire were very different, including “universalism vs. particularism, analyzing vs. integrating, individualism vs. communitarianism, inner-directed vs. outer-directed orientation, time as sequence vs. time as synchronization, achieved status vs. ascribed status, and equality vs. hierarchy” (Harrison 1994, p.18). The training programs established on the basis of these theory need to take into consideration all of the values marked by the authors.

Building cultural awareness

It is also necessary to mention the major steps of building cultural awareness among employees working for the multinational organization and seeking to improve their communication skills with partners overseas. Harrison (1994) suggests that “the first step in cultural awareness is recognizing and accepting differences in other cultures as indicated by the aforementioned studies.” (Harrison 1994, p.18). One of the most important tasks which training managers need to achieve is to make employees understand their own cultural characteristics in the first place and then gradually shift to the cultural differences of their partners.  “By educating individuals to recognize their own values, they can better identify contrasts with other cultures and then apply these insights gained to improving cross-cultural interactions” (Bennett 1986).

On the second step, it is important to “assist trainees in recognizing particular national values” (Harrison 1994, p.19). There are many features of the national culture which need to be analyzed. For example, it has been observed that “outstanding differences that separate Americans from the rest of the world concern problems of: …work attitudes (“If there’s a will, there’s a way.”), relationships (individualism versus group), use of space (My space or yours?), and power (Who’s in charge here?)” (Copeland & Griggs 1985).

On the following steps of the training program, the managers need to make the trainees realize that there are differences in the workplace in different countries which need to be taken into consideration. “The physical appearance of the workplace is very often similar regardless of its location. Because of these familiar aspects, expatriates sometimes feel that the behaviors that take place in their host culture locations will also be similar” (Brislin et. al. 1986). On the last step, the managers need to prepare the trainees for the efficient work on the new workplace and communication with their new colleagues in other countries.


Most of the organizations realized a long time ago that without efficient training programs created to prepare their employees to communicate with foreign partners very few international agreements can be signed. The task of creating a successful training program in the company is very complicated but basic principles can be applied to any program. For example, every company needs to determine its ties with foreign countries, set priorities for certain cultures and train its workforce in such a way that efficient communication can be provided with partners from this country.

The major points which need to be emphasized here include the characteristic features of the national culture of the organization and its differences from the culture of partners. The employees need to realize what features distinguish them from their foreign partners and seek for ways to eliminate these differences and make communication as easy as possible.

Application of relevant theories of communication across cultures can be very helpful for all of the organizations. Theories of Hall, Hofstede, Hampden-Turner and Trompenaar, Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck and other authors can be very useful for the companies which provide training programs for their employees. The managers of the company need to ensure that the choice of the theory for the development of the training program is made according to the position of the company in the international market and its possible needs in communication with foreign partners.


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