The success of any business depends on many factors; among them is effectiveness in communication. In the modern competitive market, a businessman must posses the most effective communication strategies if he is to stand any chance against the competitors. One might have very good products or services but without good communication fail to realize his goals in relation to attracting clients and making huge sales (Guang & Trotter 2012). Actually, the profitability of an organization is partly determined by the effectiveness of communication within the organization and between the organization and the outside world. Unfortunately, many organizations, including those transacting business internationally have neglected this so important aspect, thus ruining their chances of progressing or realizing more profits.
Successful cross-cultural communication and negotiations greatly depends on the understanding or local as well as regional cultural practices (Hendon, Hendon & Herbig 1996, p. 189). Thus, the Universalist perspective is inappropriate while conducting business internationally. Actually, for international businesses to be successful in business, they must follow the notion, “When in Rome do as the Romans do”. The goal of this essay is to critically evaluate this statement in the context of international business. The paper shall explore the concept of cross-cultural communication in an endeavor to determine its role and how organizations use it to realize their goals within the international market.
Cross-Cultural Communication in Business
According to Guang and Trotter (2012, p. 6456), cultural factors play vital role in business whether locally or internationally. Often, they can serve as invisible barriers to business if not properly addressed. As the world becomes more globalized and organizations increase their international transactions, many countries and regions have continued to voice their ‘right to culture’ claim. Several stakeholders in business have predicted that national and regional cultures will continue serving as critical factors in influencing economic development, business policies, and demographic behaviors globally (Lillis and Tian 2010). Guang and Trotter (2012, p. 6456) felt that at micro level, such claims are likely to act as invisible barriers for organizations desiring to enter into international markets.
Footer and Graber (2000) indicated that right to culture claims are likely to affect public policy in relation to international trade rules, thus leading to global cultural protectionism for transnational transaction of business. As the cultural rights voices continue to increase, firms transacting business internationally will continue facing immense challenges and will have to comply with the cultural orientations of their respective targets. Doing like Romans do within Rome means that they will have to comply with the cultural traits of their target population. Managers have to realize that markets have become cross-cultural even as globalization continues to reach more and more regions and nations (Emery & Tian 2002). If multinational organizations do not embrace market strategies that accommodate the cross-cultural element of modern business, their business relationships are bound to backfire and lead to the failure of the organization in realizing its goals (Tian 2000).
In their 2010 works, De Mooij and Hofstede (p. 85-86) observed that business communication within the international context majorly involves advertisement and promotion of organization products and services. They argued that the type of branding and advertisement employed is a determinant of whether the product or service will sell within a certain cultural context or not. If an organization fails to put the cultural factors into consideration while preparing an advert or during the branding of a product, chances are that the communication style or language may clash with the cultural attributes of the target population, thus discouraging the potential customers from buying it. Therefore, the pair advised businessmen to always study the culture of the target population if they hope to appeal to their needs and attract them to buy one’s products or services. The sentiments were shared by Lowe et al. (2002) who argued that cross-cultural relationships are among the fundamental features affecting multinational organizations.
One may simply argue that if globalization is inevitable (which has become a fact), then cross-cultural communication must be made inevitable within business context. As globalization gradually causes the evaporation certain product’s local markets, cultural differences between and among ethnic groups, regions and nations are far from extinguishing. On the contrary, such differences are becoming stronger, which means that anybody who desires to transact business in the international context must be willing to work within such differences (Guang & Trotter 2012). Global business communication requires managers and other stakeholders to be well informed about the differences in terms of culture and adopt cross-cultural approach to communication, which embraces the culture of others and seeks to meet their needs within their cultural contexts (Ferraro 2002).
International business communication is characterized by crossing of national boundaries for purposes of business. Studies (Ferraro 2002) indicate that communication between people from the same cultural background is often characterized by challenges, which implies that communication between persons who do not share in culture, language, norms, values, and ways of thinking is likely to be more challenging. In such a context, a certain degree of miscommunication is almost unavoidable. In their 2003 works, Emery and Tian (2003, p. 224) argued that a businessman operating in a different cultural setting than his must be prepared to adapt the new cultural requirements in order to appeal to the people from such a context. Several studies have observed that advertising contents tend to differ from one country to another, which means adjusting the content to fit the novel environment is paramount for business (McLeod & Kunita 1994, p. 151; Mueller 1992, p. 15-16).
Hofstede Cultural Model
In an endeavor to explain how people’s culture can affect their behaviors, norms, communication and business, Hofstede developed a 4-dimensional national culture model that is used in determining people’s culture and how it affects their various aspects of life, including communication. The 4 dimensions of his model included “Power distance (PDI), Individualism versus Collectivism (IDV), Masculinity versus Femininity (MAS), and Uncertainty avoidance (UAI)” (Obeng- Darko 2010, p. 11).
Power distance is about the extent to which equality in distribution of power within a society is witnessed and consented. Power distance index measures the degree to which members of an organization, especially the less powerful, accepts the unequal distribution of power (Cotta, 1976, p. 178). Inequalities in workplace result from members’ skills, abilities and power inequalities. The business language employed in a certain context must rhyme with the people’s power distance, otherwise, the people will feel betrayed and their rights violated, thus withdrawal from the business. In a country where power distance is low, a businessman must be careful not to use a language that shows the differences in statuses and power while in countries where power distance is high, the language employed by businessmen should not encourage the equality feature between and among people.
Hofstede (1991, p. 73) posited that individualism goes hand-in-hand with collectivism. He noted that while individualistic culture advocates for independence and people looking after their own interests, a collectivist culture encourages people to work in togetherness for common goals. If a person doing business within a collectivist culture uses advertisement language that shows independence and selfish pursuance of goals, he is likely to repel potential clients within the region. Understanding the collectivist culture of the people will guide an organization or a businessman in designing adverts and making statements that do not infringe on people’s values, but on the contrary seeks to promote them or use them to realize the overall objective (Obeng- Darko 2010). This same principle applies in individualistic culture where people value their personal pursuits, thus any language used in the business should put that into consideration. Both ads and branding must not overemphasize collectivity but on the contrary should seek to promote personal ambitions and goals, thus attracting clients within such a cultural setting.
Need for Cross-Cultural Communication
Foster (1992, p. 82) argued that when people from different cultural backgrounds come together to conduct business or to wok together, they often face immense challenges that hinder their working together in unity. One of the most pronounced barrier of such interaction and relationship is communication differences emanating from cultural clash. While seeking to expound on the issue of cultural clash, Seelye and Seelye-James (1995) argued that:
Cultural clash happens when people from two different cultures come into contact. Sometimes, the clash begins before anyone has a chance to introduce you properly, before you even open your mouth (p. 1).
A culture shock situation can cause depression and stress as people disagree on basic issues either because they contradict with their culture or because they do not understand each other. An attempt to force people to comply with one’s beliefs and cultural orientation can be met with extensive protest, thus affecting interactions and business. This implies that a businessman must be willing and committed to understanding the culture of a people and complying with their laid-down beliefs and way of doing thing, failure to which his business is not likely to bear the desired fruits (Lin 2001; Ting-Toomey 2012).
Cross-cultural communication is important in creation and maintenance of business relationships. Understanding what the people of a particular culture embrace and uphold as their unique and desirers approach to communication can play a very significant role in enhancing business communication. The probability of offending persons whose culture one does not understand is higher than of persons whose culture one shares (Booysen 2000). Taking time to understand the culture of a certain country where one plans to establish business can be highly rewarding in winning clients and workforce. For example, Zhu, Nel and Bhat (2006, p. 331) observed that South Africans uphold direct and low-content communication approaches, which are similar to European and New Zealand cultures. This implies that a person willing to invest in South Africa and other places with such cultural backgrounds should endeavor to cultivate such communication approach among the managers, business promoters, and other stakeholders. This is because indirect and high-content communication can affect interactions and business within such a cultural setting.
According to Zhang and Zhou (2008, p. 103), different cultures have unique types of negotiations that tend to differ with those of other cultural backgrounds. The authors posited that anyone who desires to be successful in international business must be committed to study and understand the unique negotiation styles of the target population. Novinger (2001, p. 121) posited that of great importance in the negotiation styles is the way people of a specific country or community communicate with each other. The cultural traditions and history of different political systems and regions tend to influence the people’s negotiation styles, thus a businessman must endeavor to study both the history and political influences in seeking to understand the negotiation styles of a particular region. The authors advised that “If we want to win the negotiation, we should know well businessmen in cultural background: As for different opponents, we should adopt different negotiation style” (Zhang & Zhou 2008, p. 103).
Failure to understand the culture of a nation which can lead to wrong approach to communication can have devastating effects on business. Organizations that launched product and promotions in a novel cultural environment using their own cultural beliefs negatively influenced the target population, thus becoming counter-productive for business. One such case relates to the 2003 Toyota promotion of Land Cruiser SUVs in Beijing. The advert which was publicized in popular media in China such as ‘Qichezhiyo’ received very negative reactions from among the Chinese especially when they were copied in the Chinese internet sites. There were almost 200,000 protests to the advert from the Chinese population because it clashed with their cultural beliefs. According to the explanation of the Wall Street Journal, the advert was a “cultural pitfall” and “offended the national pride” (Geoffrey 2004; Li & Shooshtari 2007, p. 11).
The advert of the Toyota SUV depicted the car towing a huge truck that appears as that of Chinese military using an iron chain. The SUV seemed to pull the track through a very rough terrain of Kekexili region in China. According to the works of Li and Shooshtari (2007, p. 11), the main reason for the protest among the Chinese is because it portrayed Chinese products as inferior to those of the Japanese. The fact that a Japanese SUV could tow a much bigger Chinese truck seemed to imply that the cars from Japan have much more potential than those of the Chinese, which served as an indication of superiority. Thus, failure to understand various aspects of culture in doing business in China made Toyota company from Japan to lose a business mileage.
Goby (2007, p. 425) argued that cross-cultural communication requires that one is sensitive to the beliefs, value systems, and way of life of other people. Communication, whether verbal or non-verbal must not seek to embrace universalist approach because what is good for people from a certain cultural background may not necessarily be good for others in a different cultural settings (Gelfand & Brett 2004). A good example for such a case is the 2004 Nike’s TV commercial that targeted China, U.S., Hong Kong and Singapore. The million-dollar advert was designed in United States and seems to have been highly productive in the country. However, the advert featured LeBron James, an American NBA player defeating a Chinese martial arts master, some legendary Chinese goddesses and some two dragons in a simulated videogame (Asian Media Watch 2004).
The commercial was aired in various television networks across the four regions such as CCTV in China. Immediately, the advert caused a passionate debate among the Chinese. Later, the advert was banned in China by ‘China’s State Administration for Radio, Film and Television’ positing that it violated advertisement mandates of China and did not uphold the country’s national dignity. Nike’s commercial did not show respect to China’s culture although in regions like Singapore and United States it was well received (Xinhua News Agency 2004). This implies that Nike’s move to create a universal advert that sought to address the needs of different culture was a failure. If they had done what is done in Rome (created unique culture-friendly commercials for each region), they would have managed to achieve their objectives without violating Chinese beliefs and values.
Most of businesses today have become international in one way or the other even as globalization continues to expand and to touch all nations. Transacting business at the international platform requires entrepreneurs and organizations to learn how to interact with people of different cultural settings without violating their beliefs, value systems, and ways of life among other aspects of their respective cultures. Actually, successful international business requires one to do as they do in Rome, which means there are no universal approaches to doing things. Businessmen must adopt culturally-sensitive approaches to communication, which involves respecting the culture of others and inclining to their cultural orientations in conducting business. Any attempt to force own culture into other people’s belief systems is met with extensive protest, thus affecting business.
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