Managing the pitfalls and challenges of intercultural communication

Here are a few avenues that managers who want to promote international spirit within their troops may wish to explore:

*Improve and Internationalize Communication in the Early Stages

Media communication also needs to be adapted. "We were about to make an alliance with a Japanese engineering firm and decided to exchange our presentation brochures by fax. We were totally astonished to discover that they presented their mission as '...committing to contribute to the well-being and development of humanity.' Convincing our president that such ideas could be expressed in Japan without being members of a sect was quite a feat!"

*Only by building a truly multicultural communication team will such pitfalls be avoided.

Companies now have to answer calls for tender everywhere on the planet. Presenting a project on the other side of the world, before an audience of local leaders, international sponsors and international consulting firms, is a complete communication exercise where price, and the elegance of the technical solution, are not sufficient. Different people need to be convinced differently. It is not a matter of using the arguments we think are good, but rather of using the ones they are prepared to listen to. And this cannot be improvised. Many groups now substantially prepare their presentation teams with the help of intercultural communication specialists and natives of the countries concerned.

*Coach International Project Teams

An almost systematic consequence of complex international organizations is the appearance of transverse projects, gathering people from various cultures around one mission. International project management integrates nearly all management dimensions: Goal setting, resource allocation, time management, role clarification, leadership, defining procedures (or operating modes), result assessment - all are affected by cultural differences.

"We launched into transverse projects with great enthusiasm," remembers the head of a chemical group, "but we were totally unprepared, and cultural issues literally killed these projects in the egg."

*Increase Negotiation Skills at all Levels

Whether commercial, political, internal or external, negotiation has become the key word of international business. However, negotiation is a notion that seldom holds the same meaning within different cultural groups. Is negotiating defending a position and sticking to it (a traditional French view); is it looking for an agreement, even if sometimes detrimental to content (a more British attitude); or is it getting to know one another and aiming for harmony in execution (Japan)? In any case, it is certain that two groups who negotiate without agreeing on the finality of what is bringing them together have very little chance of reaching a satisfactory agreement.

*Intercultural Management Training - A Start

Many international organizations are already including specific intercultural modules in their training plans. Business schools also have come to understand the importance of cultural issues and include specific courses on the subject.

This approach remains insufficient. Many of these courses are too general and do not meet the needs of managers who want answers to their particular expectations. Therefore, courses must be tailored, their designs based on audits that reveal the true situation and the real problems faced by management.

*Maintaining Balance

The manager of a multinational computer firm told us recently: "I'm Italian. But when I go with my Swedish colleague to sell systems to the Italian administration, I feel much closer to him than to the civil servants of my own country. That being said, back in our company, I do feel better with Italians!" A balance to be maintained.

Acceptance of methods and practices at a worldwide level, and the progressive development of truly international company cultures are the challenges for groups if they want to survive and win globally. Specific corporate culture still remains the best communication platform for these new multinational towers of Babel.


COPYRIGHT 1997 International Association of Business Communicators
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group