Whether people are involved in negotiating a contract, working together to remedy
product quality issues, or resolving contract interpretations, the need for tact and skill is
particularly important in the foreign setting. Many of the seminar topics have implications in the
area of conflict resolution. While every effort should be made to prevent conflict, there is a need
for guidance in resolving disagreements in foreign cultures.
Intimacy in Relationships.
The degree of physical contact that is acceptable varies considerably. Hugs and kisses are
the standard, even in the business office, in some countries. By contrast, the act of touching a
person is considered an extreme invasion of privacy in other places. The use of first names may
or may not be acceptable. To ask a personal question is extremely offensive in some cultures.
While socializing with business clients is to be expected in some countries, it would be highly
inappropriate in others. These are only a few of the relationship concerns that will be explored.
It is obvious that language differences play a major part in business miscommunication.
Whenever there is an interpreter or a written translation involved, the chances for error are
increased. There are over 3,000 languages used on the earth. Just as with English, there are not
only grammar rules but also varied meanings as words are both spoken and written. Even with
the English language, there are differences in usage between the English used in the United
States and that used in England.
Although English is the language usually used in international communication, the topics
identified in Table 1 illustrate the complexity of communicating accurately; and the problem
continues to grow. For example, literal translations of American advertising and labeling have
sometimes resulted in negative feelings toward products. As world trade increases, so does the
need for American businesses to understand the complexities of cultural differences. Gregorian
offers this example:
A businessperson must change his or her expectations and assumptions away from what
is customary and acceptable in the United States in terms of personal and social conduct to what
is customary and acceptable within the culture of the country where they are conducting
business. Any other assumption can have serious consequences and undesirable results. In the
other person's mind, you are the foreigner and therefore you will be the one who might look out
of place or act in a way that is considered socially unacceptable.
A good sense of humor is an asset not only in our personal lives but also in the business
environment. However, it probably should be avoided in multicultural settings because the
possibilities for misinterpretation are compounded. Do not use humor that makes fun of a
particular individual, group, or culture. Remember that what may appear to be humorous to you
may have a negative connotation in another culture.
Male and Female Roles.
There are major contrasts in the ways male and female roles are perceived in different
cultures. The right to vote is still withheld from women in countries all over the world.
Opportunities for female employment in the business environment vary considerably. Pay
differentials for men and women continue to exist even when they are performing the same tasks.
Opportunities for advancement for men and women often are not the same.
Space and Time.
The distance one stands from someone when engaged in conversation is very important.
If a person stands farther away than usual, this may signal a feeling of indifference or even a
negative feeling. Standing too close is a sign of inappropriate familiarity. However, it should be
recognized that different cultures require a variety of space for business exchanges to take place.
In the United States, that space is typically from three to five feet, but in the Middle East and in
Latin American countries, this distance is considered too far.
There is also the element of time--a meeting that is scheduled for 9 a.m. likely will start
on time in the United States, but in some other cultures the meeting may not start until 9:30 or
even 10 o’clock. Punctuality and time concepts vary with the customs and practices of each
country. Patience really can be a virtue.
Religion, Values, and Ethics.
While we can recognize the difficult challenge presented by language differences, this
category (religion, values, and ethics) is in some ways the area that can bring about the most
serious breakdowns in relations with those from other cultures.
• The very nature of religious beliefs suggests that this is a delicate area for those involved
in business transactions in foreign countries. Also, religious beliefs affect the consumption of
certain products throughout the world. Examples are tobacco, liquor, pork, and coffee.
• Values are a reflection of religious beliefs for most people. We often hear references to
right and wrong as applied to the ideals and customs of a society. Values relate to a range of
topics, and they may pertain to areas such as cleanliness, education, health care, and criminal
justice. Such values are often very personal and as such can have a variety of interpretations. The
more interpretations there are, the more likely it is that miscommunication will occur.
• Ethics can be considered as standards of conduct that reflect moral beliefs as applied to
both one’s personal life and one’s business life.
Huntington suggests that now more than ever, a code of ethics is essential within the
business environment. When this code of ethics is missing or if it is not enforced, chaos and
financial ruin for everyone associated is often the result.
A code of ethics is increasingly being recognized as an intrinsic and critical component in any
business environment. Newspapers are filled with reports of scandalous, unconscionable,
nonethical behavior that has led to the downfall of otherwise successful businesses. The lack of
ethics in business conduct has led to disastrous effects for both the businesses in question and the
consumers and their investments in these companies.
Tentative Seminar Schedule
As indicated earlier, it is our intent that all employees who have direct contact with people in
other cultures will participate in these seminars. For that reason there will be two identical three-
day seminars scheduled at each foreign site. Only selected employees in our regional sites in the
United States will participate. These people have been tentatively identified on the basis of the
extent of their involvement with persons from other countries.
As all employees in our foreign offices will participate, a decision has been made to
schedule these seminars through the summer. A tentative schedule for these seminars is shown in
City First Seminar Second Seminar
Melbourne May 2-4 July 5-7
Rio de Janeiro May 9-11 July 11-13
Beijing May 16-18 July 18-20
Hamburg May 23-25 July 25-27
Tokyo June 6-8 August 1-3
Warsaw June 13-15 August 8-10
Oslo June 20-22 August 15-17
Madrid June 27-29 August 22-24
The Marketing Department is to be commended for calling our attention to the seriousness of our
international communication problem. Angela Demirchyan, William Hamilton, and Chang Ho
Han also deserve our sincere thanks for their planning efforts for our intercultural
communication seminars. As can be seen, special attention is being given to the seminar topics
for these in-service programs. Efforts are also being made to identify instructors and resource
persons who will develop instructional strategies that will be effective, interesting, and well
received by the participants. These seminars will help significantly in increasing our market
share in the international market.