How Important Is Cultural Awareness In Business?

Shaking Hands with People from other Cultures

Cultural awareness is a hugely important aspect of business interaction. Failing to understand how these elements play out in a negotiation can very easily leave you on the back foot.

Effective negotiating is hard enough as it is. You have to understand and be able to effectively read and react to a range of body language, negotiating strategies and understand exactly how far you are prepared to go to achieve your objective. This is made all the harder when international factors are thrown into the mix. Body language, interpersonal behaviours and interpretation of language are all affected differently by different cultures and a number of business thinkers and academics have devoted their energies to identifying and attempting to explore these differences and how they can be understood for greater negotiation success.

Examples of differences in international business negotiations: To ask an Asian business person to make a yes or no decision during negotiation will be highly damaging. Their cultural norm is to avoid displeasing others with negative responses, and they will go to great lengths to avoid ‘losing face’ by admitting that they lack the ability to do something. This is shown particularly in the Thai culture where there isn’t a word meaning ‘no’ in the Thai language! In a similar way French business people will tend to say no outright when they are actually considering options and meaning ‘maybe’.

In other countries, the norm is to give people the answer that they want to hear when they ask a question – which can be highly confusing in business negotiations! This is commonplace in Japan, Mexico or Lebanon.

Maintaining eye contact is viewed as being important in America and those who don’t do it arouse suspicion for being shifty. However in other countries, an attempt to keep eye contact is viewed as being aggressive, and it’s particularly offensive in countries such as Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. However, if you’re negotiating in Saudi Arabia, make sure you do keep open and consistent eye contact, as it’s viewed as being highly important to facilitating communication. There are other more specific cultural differences too, which if not followed, can cause great offence. For example in Saudi Arabia once again, it’s considered to be insulting to ask after the health of the host’s spouse, pass items using the left hand or show the soles of your shoes.

Similarly in Korea, make sure you pass with both hands, and avoid discussing politics or anything related to Japan. Formal greetings and introductions are also very important here and use rank and title when addressing guests.

Relationships are highly valued in many cultures, particularly in Asian and European cultures where the longer-term benefits of a relationship are valued more highly than short term transactions and quick wins. This is often opposite to the views of American business people who value speed and will often negotiate aggressively to achieve short term objectives.

The important thing to note is that whilst it may not be practical to learn a foreign language to carry out a particular negotiation, it can be possible to rapidly learn enough about non-verbal communication for international parties to the procedure, thus avoiding potentially costly errors.


Article by Linguarama:

Linguarama is the right partner for Business Language Training and Cross Cultural Training, whether for individual tuition or corporate language training.

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Understanding the Process of Interpersonal Communication


Through the interpersonal communication process, people maintain and adjust this self-image. The paradigm of human communication is dyadic: two people have a conversation. However, humans have always sought means of extending and enhancing face-to-face communication.

New technology as extended the reach of communication as well as altered the way human relate information to each other.

First, media have had a powerful impact on people’s initial perceptions of other interpersonal transactions. Second, they have influenced the manner in which information about other transactions is processed and interpreted. Third, media distracts persons from the gathering the kind of information they need for effective interpersonal communication.

Models of the interpersonal communication process provide the basis for understanding the complexities of organisation communication.

In the Workplace

Performance appraisal is an interpersonal communication process. Even between two people, it is often not done well. Automating the process is a waste of money and time, and HR departments that go that route are doing charitable work for the vendors of the software. Perception is a vital aspect in the interpersonal communication process. How we perceive ourselves and others affects the way we interpret messages and how we handle ourselves in a given situation.

Beliefs, expectations, hopes, and the other thoughts of both parties affect the interpersonal communication process. People often assume they have successfully delivered or understood a message when in reality they have not. Communication involves more than just talking. It also takes deciding what to say and how, listening, “decoding” signals—words and body language—and checking back on the accuracy of interpretation.

Final Thought

The Ultimate objective of an organization can be attained by maintaining an effective interpersonal communication process, which is an essential part of the organizational behavior study.


How to Use Tone of Voice to Your Advantage


‘It is not what you say that matters but the manner in which you say it; there lies the secret of the ages.’
-William Carlos Williams

The name Albert Mehrabian probably isn’t very familiar to many of us. It should be though, because he is responsible for one of the most quoted findings in the field of human communication.

Mehrabian was responsible for his discovery that the words used in face-to-face communications account for only 7% of messages received, while body language and vocal tone account for 55% and, 38% respectively.

This is called the rule of 7/38/55%. Professor Mehrabian’s findings are frequently trotted out at personal development seminars, emphasizing the importance of body language and vocal tone over the words which we use.

The implication is clear: good communication goes beyond the words you use to convey a message. Speech writers spend hours crafting their speeches to perfection. How many of these dedicated people invest as much time in their presentation skills as they do in their vocabularies? It is clear that top communicators rely far more heavily upon appropriate body language and vocal tone to get their message across more effectively than reciting from a dictionary.

The Science of Speech 

Plenty of research has gone in to determining which vocal tones are more pleasing to the human ear. First, a little biology: the tones of the voice originate from the triangular chamber at the upper end of the trachea, or windpipe. The front part of this chamber forms the ‘Adam’s Apple’ visible in men (women have one too, just smaller). The vocal chords are comprised of two strips of tissue that, which, when air is passed through, vibrate to produce a vocal tone (a fascinating YouTube video stroboscopy, or camera view, of the living vocal chords can be found here.)

Power of the Pitch

While preferences for particular vocal tones can vary from person to person, there are a few rules that have been revealed through research. For example, lower vocal tones have been shown to generally possess more authority than higher ones.

According to a study recently published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Biological Sciences, vocal pitch (highness and lowness) is perceived to have an effect upon the perception of the leadership capabilities of the speakers. This is shown to be heavily influenced by their gender.

Women with higher pitched voices were perceived as more attractive, while those with lower pitches were more socially dominant. Men, on the other hand, who possess lower voices, were perceived as ‘more attractive, physically stronger, and socially dominant.’

Research conducted in 2011 linked deep male voices to improved memory in females, while a further study conducted at McMaster University in Ontario discovered voters were more likely to favour candidates with lower voices.

Use your Vocal Tone to become a Better Communicator 

The use of body language is one thing, but how can we work on how we use vocal tones to become better communicators? Salespeople are adept at this. Whether it’s a telemarketer calling to compare credit cards, a charity collector on the street, a shop assistant or salesperson, many people involved in sales implement these skills instinctively.

Used in both your personal and professional life, there’s no escaping the fact that developing an excellent use of vocal tone will pay dividends. Judith Filek of Impact Communications suggests some ingenious techniques for improving the tone of your voice:

1. Ensure you are breathing from the diaphragm, which is the muscle beneath your rib cage. Shallow breathing will make your voice sound strained.
2. Make sure you drink plenty of water all day to keep your vocal chords properly lubricated.
3. Ensure you limit your intake of caffeine as it is a diuretic.
4. Sit up straight: posture not only influences your voice, but also your confidence.
5. Use gestures to energize your voice. This will help give your voice added power when you are tired. Smiling also helps ‘warm’ your voice.
6. Record your voice. This is a particularly illuminating technique for some!
7. Try speaking at a slightly lower octave, as research has shown that those who speak at a lower octave are often presumed to have more credibility.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback on your vocal tone.

If you are interested in this post, you might consider the following posts
1) First Impressions
2) How to Make a Great First Impression
3) Advantages and Disadvantages of Written and Spoken Communication

Better Interpersonal Communication

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