International Business Communications Challenges: Challenges and Sensitivities from a British Perspective of Doing Business with Germany
Globalization has brought people from other cultures closer together. Their encounters with many beliefs, attitudes, and mindsets inspire, intrigue, and enrich everyone who participates on the world stage. The diversity, which cannot always be recognized let alone comprehended and interpreted (Antunes & Thomas, 2007; Moran, Harris, & Moran, 2007), contributes to an individual’s capacity for adaptation and survival. It is unsurprising that people seek to simplify their lives in an increasingly perplexing environment by forming simple stereotypes to interpret what is unfamiliar to them. Cultural variations can enhance the effectiveness of teamwork (Bond, Harhoff, & Van Reenen, 2005). However, if these cultural variances are overlooked or undervalued, they can create friction and conflict in cross-cultural commercial contacts (Sperandio, Grudzinski-Hall, & Stewart-Gambino, 2010; Mohsin, 2014). In this report, the focus is on highlighting and discussing the challenges and sensitivities from a British perspective of doing business with Germany. To analyze the different perspectives, the barriers/challenges from a British perspective on Germany will be discussed following Hall’s high and low context culture, Hofstede’s culture dimensions, and Trompenaar culture dimensions. The report will provide strategies to overcome these barriers and suggest ways forward in relation to international business communication. Ultimately, international business is largely supported by effective communication and the understanding of the same from the perspective of participants.
When it comes to doing business, every country has its own set of rules. A direct result of this is that when business and its employees learn to recognize areas of potential communication breakdowns and cultural friction, then it is likely that business relations will improve. In a similar vein, international communication improves when businesses are able to predict areas of common ground. Matoba (2003) and Lee (2012) contend that when people from other cultures come up with fresh solutions to old problems by integrating cultural concepts and acquiring a capacity to comprehend things from another person’s perspective, business relations flourish. As defined by Pless and Maak (2004), transcultural communication is the interaction that happens across and beyond cultural and language borders rather than inside them. Because of this, assumptions about languages and cultures are no longer possible; as a consequence, borders are blurred, crossed, and transcended.
Cross-cultural business is a growing field. Communication can be difficult if people from one culture are unable to perceive the variations in communication tactics, social conventions, and cognitive processes that are governed by their own culture. It is possible for problems to arise when one or more of the parties involved hold an ethnocentric vision of how business should be handled (Ibrahim & Reid, 2010). Eccentricity is described by Elenkov and Manev (2009) as the conviction that one’s own culture is superior than other cultures. International business scenarios are characterized by the filtering of communication by a slew of circumstances (Matoba, 2003), all of which have the ability to distort one’s point of view. Among the numerous elements that influence human contact are notions of authority, technology, nonverbal communication, language, social structure, culture, and historical norms (Pless & Maak, 2004). As communication expands with globalization, international business is required to also adapt to factor in the differences between nations.
Challenges Brought by the Transcultural Communication in Business Environment
In today’s world, communication is at the heart of most international commercial transactions. Studying the connection between communication (or lack thereof) and culture has yielded a slew of important studies that have implications for international business operations (Littrell & Valentin, 2005). A business enterprise is established, managed, led, and disintegrated via various levels of communication that are required for information exchange, relationship growth and maintenance, contract negotiation, and the construction and maintenance of partnerships, among other things. Effective communication at the interpersonal, group, and organizational levels is increasingly recognized as a crucial component of the operations of multinational organizations on a variety of levels (Hofstede & Usunier, 2003). Expatriate adjustment, global leadership effectiveness, multicultural innovation, and multicultural team results have all been linked to effective communication in international business research (Gierusz et al., 2022). Effective communication has also been linked to firm-level decisions and activities including the entry mode choice that a firm takes.
When individuals from variant cultures get to a certain level of understanding of their differences, this is known as cross-cultural conversation. Both parties must have some knowledge or awareness of the norms and conventions that exist in the culture of the other if they are to be able to communicate effectively. When it comes to both oral and nonverbal communication, implied meanings and varying degrees of symbolism are widespread. A fundamental understanding of values, customs, and perceptions is required for clear and successful communication. The capacity to effectively communicate across cultural divides is essential (Zhennan, Sentosa, & Sheikh, 2019). It is critical for individuals to recognize the possibility of cross-cultural communication difficulties and to make a deliberate effort to fix these difficulties as soon as possible. Furthermore, it is critical to acknowledge that one’s efforts will not always be fruitful and to alter one’s behavior as a result. One should always assume that cultural differences are at the root of communication challenges and be prepared to respond with patience and forgiveness rather than confrontation and aggression when communication difficulties arise (Liu et al., 2021). When participating in cross-cultural discussions, one should answer slowly and systematically rather than jumping to the conclusion that they comprehend what is being said and spoken.
Hall High and Low Context Culture
Communication concepts are frequently transmitted by using contextual elements (for example tonal voice, body language, or an individual’s social standing) instead of direct means as seen in high-context societies. By contrast, low-context societies have rules that are openly articulated and knowledge is primarily delivered through language (Oliver, 2016). The fact that no culture is either high-context or completely low context is an important consideration in international business since all civilizations have elements of both high-context and low-context (Jeong & Crompton, 2018). For example, while some cultures are low-context, components such as family reunions are regularly found in cultures that are high-context. Members in high-context societies will most likely form long-term partnerships than other societies (Hall, De Jong, & Steehouder, 2004). The rules, how to think about them, and how to act on them are already known to members since they have spent so many years interacting with one another; thus, the rules do not need to be explained exactly. Persons unfamiliar with high-context cultures may find it difficult to traverse them if they do not grasp the unwritten laws of the culture.
It is customary for the British to communicate in a non-directive manner. Communicative styles have a tendency to remove direct communication techniques. When it comes to business, it is critical to read between the lines in order to comprehend what is being said in the British culture. The fact that this is happening may be unsettling to persons who have grown up in a culture where direct communication is the norm (Croucher et al., 2012; Wurtz, 2005). British culture has a long and illustrious history. Understanding the context and background of the speaker is essential in order to comprehend what he or she is attempting to express (Gallion, 2013). Because of this, business and school links continue to be tenuous, despite the fact that the United Kingdom is still known for its social class structure. One’s dressing style is affected more by one’s own tastes than it is by one’s position or standing in society. When criticism is conveyed softly, it might elicit animosity and defensiveness on the side of the person who is receiving it.
Germany, compared to the British culture, is a significantly low-contextualized society. Very little attention is provided to body language and on verbal cues in communication. Emotions are viewed as inappropriate in the workplace (Robertson et al., 2019). When it comes to business, emotions must be managed in order to develop trust and credibility. In addition, there is a propensity to be more emotionally expressive while spending time with family and close friends. In terms of formality, the German culture shows comfort in understanding and following a specific order. Rules and protocols are important. Additionally, there is sensitivity to age and position. Overall, Germans have a distinct divide between social and work life. Direct communication styles also translate to criticism and work relations (Jain & Jain, 2018). The German culture is detail-oriented and questions are often asked to reduce the chances of a mix-up. The directiveness of the German culture may appear as assertive to the British people. The German culture is also mentioned to be overly critical and confrontational. Praise is not necessary especially in a business setting where a person is expected to do their best (Awan, Kraslawski, & Huiskonen, 2018). Superlative forms such as best, and highly descriptive words such as great and fantastic are not common. In summary, the German low-context culture is direct, self-sufficient, principled, fact-based, and unconcerned with harmony or saving face.
Hofstede Culture Dimensions
A framework for analyzing cultural variations across nations and identifying how companies run in different cultures, Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory is a useful tool for understanding cultural variations among nations (Pîrlog, 2021). For example, the framework/model is used to discern between diverse national cultures, their characteristics and the influence on business. The following chart summarizes the main elements of culture dimensions according to Hofstede.
Image 1: High and Low elements of culture (Adapted from: Hofstede,1996)
Hofstede Insights is an excellent resource for discovering how culture influences work and life. The power distance index quantifies a the tolerance of a culture on matters relating to power and inequality. The dimension looks at power and inequality through the eyes of those at the bottom of the hierarchy, the followers (Trompenaars & Woolliams, 2002). Individualism vs. collectivism is a scale that measures the organization of societies, including their perception of dependence and obligations. The uncertainty avoidance dimension is used to quantify the overall acceptance of uncertainty and ambiguity. This dimension evaluates the way individuals react to novel settings and unanticipated occurrences (Morris et al., 1998). Social expectations of achievement, sexual equality ideas, and behavior all contribute to the “tough vs. delicate” aspect of masculinity vs. femininity. Long-term vs. short-term orientation is a component that indicates how a culture understands its temporal horizon (Dheer, 2017). The indulgence vs. restraint component quantifies a group’s potential and proclivity to fulfill its desires. In other words, civilizations’ capacity to control their desires and needs is critical for this dimension.
The United Kingdom has a low power-distance score in terms of culture. This implies that the majority of people in the UK believe that eliminating inequality is important. This has ramifications at all levels of society, but it often presents itself in workplaces with flat team structures and no hierarchy. Individualism, defined as the extent to which a person’s self-image is defined (Rao‐Nicholson, Carr, & Smith, 2020), is one of the United Kingdom’s strong suits. As a highly individualistic culture, Britain encourages individual prioritization with little regard to the rest of the community. Personal relationships are essential in these civilizations and are necessary for commerce to take place (Beňo, 2021). British culture, ranks competitiveness, success, and accomplishment above interpersonal connections and humility. Great value placement on careers and goals is evidenced in the British culture (Pîrlog, 2021). Britain exhibits low scores in avoiding uncertainty, which means that people are at ease with it and can live without knowing what the future contains. The culture has a relatively neutral score for time orientation. This concept relates to how a culture solves present issues while maintaining ties to the past (Dheer, 2017). It means that the British culture is more likely to hold on to traditions and practices and to be resistive to certain elements of social change. Societies that perform well on this criterion take a more pragmatic approach to change in order to meet modern issues. The United Kingdom has demonstrated poor impulse control and an insatiable drive to attain its goals.
With its relatively large middle-class population, Germany exhibits low power distance. Germans trust individuals with extensive expertise and know-how. Despite the fact that several Western nations are more individualistic than Germany, it nevertheless scores high in this category. Unlike those who live in groups, German families tend to prioritize their personal ties. Germany is a man’s nation. Many Germans are motivated by success, accomplishment, competitiveness, and skilled work performance. The ultimate objective is to be the best (Pîrlog, 2021). Germany is a country that values structure, which is reflected in its risk aversion. Some individuals are terrified of what will happen next if they let the future run its course. Germans, on the other hand, attempt to escape the uncertainty of an unknown future by pre-planning reactions and processes. Long-Term Orientation demonstrates how a society adapts to present and future concerns while maintaining historical traditions (Dheer, 2017). The Germans take a practical approach to this and perform admirably. While some German traditions and practices are significant, they may also be adjusted to match the time, circumstance, and scenario at hand. Germany’s conservative, reasoned worldview enables it to respond rapidly to events in its own nation and throughout the world. Germany receives a low score for giving, indicating that the country is inherently timid. While there is still a strong focus on having fun and having a good time, many people’s primary objective is to work for a living.
Trompenaar Culture Dimensions
The Trompenaar cultural dimensions include: universalism versus particularism, individualism versus communitarianism, neutral versus emotional, specific versus diffuse, achievement versus ascription, sequential versus synchronous time, and internal direction versus external direction (Luo, 2008). Ideas are applicable anywhere within universalist cultures, for instance in the UK, and right or wrong have clear definitions. In particularistic cultures the general thought is that circumstances influence how thoughts manifest as reality as seen in the German culture. Individuals are seen as unique in individualism exhibited by the British culture, yet as members of a collective under communitarianism in the German society. Emotions are handled privately in a neutral society (Salacuse, 2010), such as Germany and the UK, while they are freely and spontaneously expressed in emotional cultures. Individuals in specific cultures such as Germany keep a separate work and personal relationship. In diffused cultures, work-life balance is blurry as seen in the UK society. The value of an individual in an achievement-oriented culture is assessed through performance and ability to do duties successfully (Agndal, 2007). This is evident in both UK and Germany. In the sequential time society, projects are completed in stages as seen in both the UK and German cultures. The cultures favor a never-ending race against the clock (Jiang, 2013). Internally directed cultures believe in controlling the environment to attain goals such as the case in the UK. Externally directed cultures see the need to work with the environment to attain goals as evidenced in the German culture.
Strategies to Overcome Barriers
Communication problems may worsen in the present diverse business environment. In terms of face-to-face communication in business, each culture/society has predefined and implicit expectations, conventions, and predispositions, making it challenging to communicate properly. Maintaining civility is an excellent strategy. Before engaging in transcultural communication, conducting research on the target culture and obtaining cross-cultural training are important. Many cultures, for example, need some measure of formality at the outset of interpersonal encounter (Danciu, 2010). The Germans are more formal than the British. Determine if a certain personality characteristic or behavior is required in a business transaction. It is also necessary to identify if the cultural differences may be tolerated in a reasonable way. Finally, before engaging in economic dealings, one should educate oneself about diverse cultures.
The issue of cross-cultural communication is critical in business as shown in this discussion. The more culturally motivated business methods and styles encountered, the more the understanding of one’s own country’s culture and constraints, as well as the desire to overcome them. When it comes to issues such as personnel management, communication styles, and negotiation tactics, declaring the final superiority of one or more traditions over another is difficult without meeting with members of other cultures. The comparative analysis of German versus British cultural positions has provided an insightful description of the above. This broadening of perspectives results in an expanded repertoire of competences, management, and negotiating abilities, resulting in increased success in both domestic and foreign commercial environments.
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