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Intercultural communication in the workplace

Introduction Today’s companies are doing business more in a global context; that means, many businesses firms today, often transact businesses with their foreign counterparts, from buyer to seller or distributor to suppliers. Communication then plays a very significant role in regards with this. Therefore, intercultural communication skills are highly significant to get across different barriers along the way. The wikipedia had defined intercultural communication as the process of exchanging meaningful and unambiguous information across cultural boundaries in a way that preserves mutual respect and minimizes antagonism.

1 The principle behind this concept is that, people who are engaged in intercultural communication most of the time face many barriers that cause misunderstanding among them. Common of these barriers are due to beliefs, attitudes, values, expectations, symbols and norms of behavior exercise in a given community or place. And so, the main goal of intercultural communication is to achieve or establish effective communication within a group of diverse culture in order to meet the demand of globalization in the work context.

According to wikipedia, due to the “phenomenon of globalization, cultural diversity has reduced” which contribute a lot to the sales performance of a group. ”2 According to a source, “intercultural communication today means

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getting a competitive edge…it impacts our ability to communicate effectively within a culture. ”3 Take the case given by Elaine Winster as an example of intercultural communication issue that resulted to a bigger problem, that she tackled in the cultural issue in communication. (Winster)4.

She narrated a business environment with several team members from around the world gathered together to attend a corporate meeting.. Participants were representatives from different countries: Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Germany, Denmark and Canada. In this meeting, everyone is expected to make key decisions that will affect corporate goals and objectives; the meeting was held in Seoul office, this is the first full face-to-face meeting of the entire team. Before the conference, they had a chance for a formal introduction while having breakfast.

After that, they all moved into the conference room. Inside the room, tables and chairs are arranged in traditional classroom style. Western counterparts looked unhappy; some of them made few disapproving words about this, they began rearranging the furniture. The host Korean looked confused but made no comments. The meeting began, the discussion continued, issues are raised, and decisions were made. German commented at the end of the morning session that Asians did not share any idea during the meeting.

After lunch, the Korean and Malay colleague take the Canadian team leader aside and express very strong reservation about one of the decision made that made the former angry. For him, the morning session had been wasted so another decision has to be made again. He said, “Why didn’t you say so during the meeting? He fairly shouts. This case is an example of intercultural miscommunication which usually happens in many circumstances, simply because each communicator fails to recognize some problems.

This issue resulted to disappointment by every member of the team, dissatisfaction, unsuccessful meeting, unmet expectations, and mutual misunderstanding. Common nonverbal communication that had been observed during the meeting are facial expression and gestures: Canadian, Danes and German looked unhappy as they entered the room, they rearranged the tables and chairs, the host Koreans looked confused because of the action, and, he did not say anything. What went wrong The question is, what seemed to be the problem? The issue lies on cultural differences that reflected in the way they communicate.

For Koreans and Malays, the issues, circumstances and relationship are as important as the work. Based on their understanding of the issue, interpersonal relationships were not established and developed. The very reason why they did not react during the meeting is that, they do not want to offend anybody, they believe that comments and objections should be made privately. Another reason why they arranged the furniture in a typical classroom style is that, it is an opportunity for socialization. Relationship has to be developed first before accomplishing the task.

On the other hand, the German, Danes and German were totally disgusted for what happened; they did not understand the moves made by these Asian people. The most important thing in this meeting for them is to accomplish the task; they want to get the job done. This is the reason why they rearranged the furniture, to create a encouraging place for discussion. This gesture also amplified when this Canadian team leader shout at the Korean for disappointment. For them, they have to start again the meeting with no intention to establish deeper relationship with their business partner.

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