Affiliation and Social Acceptance

In some countries acceptance by neighbors and fellow workers appears to be a predominant goal within business. The Asian outlook is reflected in the group decision making so important in Japan, and the Japanese place high importance of fitting in with their group. Group identification is strong in Japan that when a worker is asked what he does for a living, he generally answers by telling you he works for Sumitomo or Mitsubishi or Matsushita, rather than that he is a chauffeur, an engineer, or a chemist.

Power and Achievement: Although there is some power seeking by business managers throughout the world, power seems to be a more important motivating force in South American countries. In these countries, many business leaders are not only profit oriented but also use their business positions to become social and political leaders. Related but different is the motivation for achievement also identified by McClelland. One way to measure achievement is by money in the bank; another is high rank – both aspirations particularly relevant to the United States.

Communications Styles:

Edward T Hall, professor of anthropology and for decades consultant to business and government on intercultural relations, tells us that communication involves much more than just words. His article ‘The Silent Language of Overseas Business’ which appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 1960, remains a not worthwhile read. In it he describes symbolic meanings of time space, things, friendships and agreements and how they vary across cultures. In 1960 Hall could not have anticipated the innovations brought on by the Internet. However, all of his ideas about cross cultural communication apply tot at medium as well. We begin here with a discussion of communication in the face to face setting and then move to the electronic media.

Face to face communication:

No language readily translates into another because the meanings of words differ widely among languages. For example, the word marriage even when accurately translated can connote very different things in different languages in one it may mean love, in another restrictions. Though it is the basic communication tool of marketers trading in foreign lands, managers particularly from the United States often fail to develop even a basic understanding of just one other language much less master the linguistic nuances that reveal unspoken attitudes and information.

Verbal communication no matter how imprecise is at least explicit. But much business communication depends on implicit messages that are not verbalized. In some cultures messages are explicit the words carry most of the information. In other cultures less information is contained in the verbal part of the message since more is in the context.

Base on decades of anthropological fieldwork. Hall places 11 cultures along a high context / low context continuum. Communication in high context culture depends heavily on the contextual (who says it, when it is said, how it is said) or nonverbal aspects of communications, whereas the low context culture depends more on explicit verbally expressed communications.

A brief exemplar of high / low context dimensions of communication style regards an international marketing executive’s description of a Los Angeles business entertainment event. A German client up at his hotel near LAX and asked what kind of food he wanted for dinner. He said something local. Now in LA local food is Mexican food. We went to a great Mexican place in Santa Monica and had it all, guacamole, salsa, enchiladas, burritos, real Alka Seltzer kind of night. When we were done he was asked how he liked the food. He responded rather blandly. It wasn’t very good.

The American might have been taken aback by his client’s honest and perhaps too direct answer. However, the American knew well about German frankness and just rolled with the blow. Germans being very low context oriented just deliver the information without any social padding. Most Americans would often blow some with an answer more like. It was pretty good but maybe bit too spicy. And a high context oriented Japanese would really pad the response with something like. It was very good Thanks. But then the Japanese would never order Mexican food again.

While an American or German might view the Japanese response as less than truthful from the Japanese perspective he was just preserving a harmonious relationship Indeed the Japanese have two words for truth honne (true mind) and tatemae (official stance). The former delivers the information and the later preserves the reaktionship. And in high context Japan the latter is often more important.