When commuting around London, we often hear not only English being spoken, but a vast number of different languages, and with different languages, different cultures. This not only happens in the streets, but in many businesses around the world…
Let’s take the case of the German culture for the two upcoming examples. In 2010, when Walmart entered the German market, part of its ‘always smiling’ policy was misinterpreted by Germans as flirting, causing Wal-Mart to withdraw from this market (Bovee and Thill, 2010, cited in Beckers and Bsat, 2014, p.144). In the case of Walmart, their investments to enter this new market were lost due to a lack of understanding about the German culture and the misinterpretation it caused.
Another business example with different cultural characteristics could be between the German and Dutch. Thesing mentions that Germany and the Netherlands may encounter conflicts due to the high amount of time Germans take on planning compared to the improvisational talent the Dutch have (Thesing, 2016, p.55). These ‘irritations’ may be interpreted as counter-productive within an organization. This clearly affects business productivity in various ways, and it’s a challenge that needs to be overcome by companies.
But isn’t English enough? Believe it or not, according to certain academics: English is playing an essential position among most Europeans due to the effect internationalization is having nowadays (Seidlhofer, Breitender and Pitzl, 2006, p.135). As a result of the function that English plays within European organizations, better communication is established between European business cultures. In fact, English is considered the official language of various world’s leading economies, including some members of the G-20, such as Australia, Canada, U.K, etc. (Brannen, Piekkari and Tietze, 2014, p.496).
Due to this increasing popularity of the language in this area, some academics, such as Seidlhofer, consider English to be the Lingua Franca in European organizations (Seidlhofer, Breitender and Pitzl, 2006, p.136), allowing more people from different cultural backgrounds to communicate efficiently within their intercultural organizations. To illustrate this, we could take Denmark as an example. A study from the Danish Council of Trade and Industry showed that approximately 80% of businesses across Denmark used English for their international relations (Firth 1996, cited in Rogerson-Revell, 2007, p. 106).
Consequently, understanding the importance of the role of intercultural business communication in European business cultures has a practical relevance in improving the productivity in organizations, as Hofner affirms: in order for businesses to prosper, there should be an efficient operation between dispersed and culturally mixed companies (Hofner, 1996, p. 250). Moreover, it feels good being able to communicate efficiently with co-workers, especially when you are just starting in a new company, and you are already asking a lot of questions everywhere.
Even though, generally organizational cultures are not equal across Europe, (Verhoeven, 2011, p.105), this is not always the case. There are certain countries in Europe that share some similarities as to business cultures. For example, as recent research by Verhoeven suggests, the U.K and Ireland share the Anglo-Saxon approach regarding their businesses, which helps to form solid relationships with other European countries and even the U.S.
With this in mind, it is vital to learn and implement a proper and efficient intercultural business communication in the workplace. This diversity is expected to increase, as globalization has improved its popularity among the business community (Crane and Matten, 2016, p.18), and with globalization, different cultures and languages will be part of the everyday in a global companies.
Therefore, a few suggestions are recommended to reduce these problems that you could encounter at your workplace:
1. Try to learn your client’s/colleague culture-
It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to learn your colleague’s language, but researching and inquiring online about their culture, what do they like or dislike, customs, etc. could make them feel more comfortable and appreciated, meaning that a better work relationship could be established.
2. Acknowledging differences-
By, establishing rules in which all cultures are respected, the workforce will then feel safer in the workplace. If these rules are violated, there should be a disciplinary action implemented. To acknowledge cultural differences within the workplace, several activities could take place, such as: traditional food sharing, gift exchange, etc.
3. Coach employees to learn how to interact and mediate conflicts related to intercultural misunderstandings-
Providing opportunities to employees through periodic group activities, in which they can interact and respond to situations from perspectives different than their own. Through role-playing in teams, solutions to cultural differences could be achieved, in which each participant mentions what they found offensive or unusual.
Beckers A. and Bsat M., 2014. An Analysis of Intercultural Business Communication, Journal of Business and Behavior Sciences. 26 (3), pp. 143-153.
Brannen M., Piekkari R. and Tietze S., 2014. The multifaceted role of language in international business: Unpacking the forms, functions and features of a critical challenge to MNC theory and performance. Journal of International Business Studies, 45(1), pp. 495-507.
Crane, A., and Matten, D., 2016, Business ethics: Managing corporate citizenship and sustainability in the age of globalization, 4th Edition. Oxford University Press. Oxford, UK. [e-book]. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Available through: <https://books.google.co.uk/books> [Accessed 28 March 2018]
Hofner Saphiere, D., 1996. Productive Behaviors of Global Business Teams. International Journal of intercultural Relations, 20(2), pp. 227-259.
Rogerson-Revell, P., 2007, Using English for International Business: A European Case Study. English for Specific Purposes, 26(1), pp. 103-120.
Seidlhofer B., Breitender A. and Pitzl M., 2006. English as a Lingua Franca in Europe: Challenges for Applied Linguistics. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics. 26, pp. 3-34.
Thesing, C., 2016. Intercultural organizational communication. [pdf]. Münster: Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen. Available at: <http://christopherthesing.de/onewebmedia/Dissertation%20manuscript%20version%20Christopher%20Thesing.pdf> [Accessed 22 March 2018]
Verhoeven ,P., Zerfass, A. and Tench, R., 2011. Strategic Orientation of Communication Professionals in Europe. International Journal of Strategic Communication, 5(2), pp. 95-117.