Communication is one of the primary concerns in every business. This includes verbal communication as well as non-verbal communication. The process of globalization creates a more international workforce in businesses. This means that studying cultural development becomes a necessity (Matusitz & Musambira, 2013). Research in the field of intercultural communication becomes more needful. In every culture the communication-style is somewhat different because cultural values influence individual communication behaviours (Richardson & Smit, 2007). This can mean that there will occur cross-cultural or intercultural communication problems between different cultural groups. A study that focused on different cultural groups in New Zealand explained this as follows: ‘ the parties interpret each other’s words and action in terms of their own understandings, assuming that these are shared when in fact they are not'(Kinloch & Metge, 2014, p.8). This means that everyone takes his own culture as the standard and this can cause communication problems. Intercultural communication requires that a manager is aware of cultural differences because what may be considered acceptable and common in one culture is offending or confusing in another country. The differences are really important to know as a manager so he can adapt to that. This paper will have a closer look at cross-cultural communication in businesses. The research question the paper will address is:
How do the cultural dimensions affect the communication in an international business?
To answer this question, the Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory will be used. It is a widely used theory in fields like cross-cultural communication. With the theory you can explain differences between countries and you can distinguish one culture from another. The theory also predicts how management processes differ across cultures along with the dimensions (Early & Mosakowski,1996 in Eylon & Au, 1999). The original theory contains four cultural dimensions. Power Distance Index, Individualism, Masculinity and Uncertainty Avoidance Index. Professor Hofstede said once ‘in global economic integration of the world, the strategies of all companies in the world are focused on how to meet the largest market to most customers by products and services; while the study of different cultures and values, is the key to success of such strategies’ (Gannon & Newman, 2002 as cited in Pu, 2010, p.23).
To answer the research question, there are first a few steps to take. First, what exactly communication and cross-cultural communication is will be explained briefly. After that, all the aforementioned dimensions will be evaluated. In this approach each dimension will be explained. What will become clear is how the particular dimension will affect cross-cultural communication. On the basis of communication characteristics, which are for each dimension different, this will be explained. After that there will be drawn a conclusion including the answer of the research question.
1 What is (cross-cultural) communication?
This paper has as aim to look how different cultural dimensions affect communication. But what is communication exactly? Communication is something that everyone uses, but only a few can define it in a comprehensive way (Fiske, 2002).
Stevens (1950) defines communication as ‘communication is the discriminatory response of an organism to a stimulus’ (p.689). The stimulus is some environmental disturbance that disputes with an organism. The discriminatory response is when the organism does something about the stimulus. Thus, when the stimulus is ignored there is no communication. This definition is very broad and for this paper, a more specific definition is needed.
Fiske (2002) distinguishes two different schools in the study of communication ‘the first sees communication as the transmission of messages. It is concerned with how senders and receivers code and decode (..). The second school sees communication as the production and exchange of meanings. It is concerned with how messages, or texts, interact with the role of texts in our culture’ (p. 2) The second school considers misunderstandings or miscommunication not as the cause of communication failure but may result from the cultural differences between the sender and the receiver. This last definition suits this paper the best, and therefore this definition will be used as the norm.
Cross-cultural communication is that if a person from one culture communicates with, to get through to, persons of another culture (Gardner, 1962). Everything in culture is related to communication. Tannen (1983) sees different levels of differences in communication across cultures. The first level is when to talk. Cultures view silence differently. In some cultures it is more appropriate to be silence than to be not. The second level is what to say. To tell stories, to ask questions and to give compliments is not in every culture the same. The third level is pacing and pausing. This concerns about how fast a person must speak, how long to wait to speak. The fourth level is listenership, different cultures differ in how they listen to one another. The last level is indirectness. Some cultures are more direct in their speaking than others.
2 Hofstede’s cultural dimensions theory
Geert Hofstede is a Dutch social psychologist. His research is about how values are influenced by culture. The research is mainly based on the workplace (The Hofstede Centre, 2014). He worked for the company IBM in Europe, here he founded the Human Resource Department and Hofstede managed this department as well. For this particular job he travelled a lot and saw how different personnel worked in other countries. With all this knowledge and his research he developed the cultural dimensions theory (Hoppe, 2004). The original theory contains four cultural dimensions. Power Distance Index, Individualism, Masculinity and Uncertainty Avoidance Index. After more additional research Geert Hofstede developed a fifth dimension, Long-Term Orientation but this dimension will be excluded in the paper.
The cultures that Hofstede are compared to each other. A score of 1 means that the culture is very low in that particular dimension. 120 is the highest score a culture can get, and means it is scores very high in that dimension. But the culture scores on the dimension are only relative. They only exists by comparison The cultures are very stable but when a cultures becomes more masculine for example this is mostly a global or continent-wide phenomenon. Thus, all the cultures will be affected at the same time and will be shift in the same way (The Hofstede Centre,2014).
3 Power Distance Index
Power distance, abbreviated: PD, is one of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. What it includes will become clear in this chapter. Next to that, there will be explained what different components of communication are affected by PD. These communication characteristics are egalitarianism, different forms of power and response styles. A study of Johnson, Kulesa & Shavitt (2005) distinguished two response styles: the extreme response style and the response style of the acquiescence bias, also known as the agreement bias. These response style will be explained more clearly during this chapter. After the explanations of these there will be an example of the teacher-student-relationship in which all the components will be described and applied.
According to Hofstede, Hofstede and Minkov (2010) PD refers to ‘the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally (p.61)’ In cultures with a high PD, persons are more used to have centralized leadership. While individuals in cultures with a low PD prefer autonomous leadership and want to have more equal power distribution (Eylon & Au, 1999). In cultures with a high PD, inequality of power is more expected and is relatively more acceptable than in cultures with a low PD (Richardson & Smit, 2007). In cultures which are low in PD index, high egalitarianism is an important concept. It means that a person treats others as equals. A high PD means low levels of egalitarianism. Egalitarianism influences communication in situations where individuals differ in PD orientation (Gudykunst, 1997). In all cultures high and low PD is present, but one is always more dominate than the other. Countries in which the low PD is more dominant are for example Canada, Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand. Countries where the high PD is more dominant include Egypt, India, Malaysia and Nigeria (Hofstede, 1991 in Gudykunst, 1997)
The kind of power used in a country affects the communication in a company. Coercive power is mostly used in high PD cultures (Gudykunst et al., 1996). Coercive power refers to punishment (Daft, Kendrick & Verhinina, 2010). Employees within a high PD organization. have the perception that they are uninvolved, inattentive and not engaged communication partners in communication dialogues with their supervisor (Madlock, 2012). This can be an explanation of the power that is used in such cultures. These employees are being pushed if they do something wrong. It is not accepted to have a dialogue with their supervisors. The employees will just accept the punishment. Because of the downward communication structure that exist within such organizations or societies. Thus, PD may influence communication behaviours. In this case employees might avoid communicating with their supervisors (Madlock, 2012). According to Gudykunst et al. (1996) ‘Members of low PD cultures stress expert power’ (p.520). Expert power refers is power that is the result of special knowledge (Daft et al., 2010). Because expert power is a result of someone’s capabilities and knowledge, the person often has experience in the production process. This means that these kind of supervisors are more likely to listen to their subordinates because they used to be one of them. The communication structure is both downward and upward.
Response styles are an important part of communication. When a person has an extreme response style, he is likely to choose the endpoints of a response scale when he answers a question, so the most extreme points. When a person uses the agreement bias, he is likely to agree with every question regardless of the content of that particular question (Johnson et al., 2005).According to Hofstede (2001) ‘cultures high in PD tend to be more authoritarian societies where conformity is stressed and submissiveness is common’ (As cited in Johnson et al., 2005, p. 266). This conformity is expressed via acquiescent behaviour. According to Smith (2011) consensus cultures are characterized PD. Thus, we can expect that persons in cultures with a high PD demonstrate acquiescent behaviour in their response style. Persons within a lower PD culture do contradict with their supervisor or teacher. They will show acquiescent response behaviour to a lesser extent.
In a low PD culture the value modesty is more likely to be emphasized (Nelson & Shavitt in Johnson et al., 2005). This means that in those cultures a middling response style, instead of an extreme response style, is more common. While in high PD cultures decisiveness and definitiveness in communication is appreciated. This will led to a more extreme response style (Johnson et al., 2005).
An example which shows how PD affects communication is the student-teacher relationship. This relationship is quite similar to the relationship of subordinate-supervisor. In a large PD culture, students treat their teacher with respect and sometimes they fear the teacher. The teacher in the classroom is always starting with the communication. Students do never contradict with what the teachers claims (Hofstede et al., 2010, p.69). This is because of the low levels of egalitarianism like Gudykunst et al. (1996) claimed. This also results in a more acquiescent response behaviour, the students will agree with everything the teachers says.
Individualism is one of Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, which will be explained in this chapter. The different communication characteristics that are influenced by this dimensions are values and self-construals (Gudykunst et al., 1996). Also the level of indirectness and the response styles are communication characteristics that are influenced by individualism. The response styles are the same as in the previous chapter which include the extreme response style and the acquiescent response style. At the end, there will be an example of a Chinese and American employee working together to sketch and summarize all the communication problems affected by this dimension.
Hofstede et al. (2010, p.92) describe individualism as ‘societies in which the ties between individuals are loose: everyone is expected to look after him or herself and his or her immediate family.’ Collectivism is seen as its opposite in the cultural dimensions theory. This is described by Hofstede et al. (2010, p.92) as ‘societies in which people from birth onward are integrated into strong, cohesive in-groups, which throughout people’s lifetime continue to protect them in exchange for unquestioning loyalty.’ Individualists are likely to emphasize the importance of themselves in a social group. They overestimate their ability and importance. On the contrary, collectivistic persons ignore their ability to take a great role in a group. They will rely on other members in the group. They will undervalue their ability and importance (Brooks, 2008 in Pu, 2010). Individualism vs. collectivism is the major dimension of cultural variability that can be used to explain differences in behaviour across cultures. Like power distance index, individualism and collectivism are present in every cultures but one tends to be more dominant than the other (Gudykunst et al., 1996). Countries where the individualistic dimension is more dominate are The Netherlands, The United States and Australia. Collectivistic countries include Indonesia, Chile, China and Angola (The Hofstede Centre).
Different cultures have different theories to guide behaviour. Thus, members of collectivistic cultures learn different values, like harmony and solidarity, and obtain different ways to conceive themselves, like interconnected persons, than members of individualistic cultures who learn values, like independence and achievement, and obtain ways to see themselves, like as unique persons (Gudykunst et al., 1996). Rockeach (1973) has done a lot of research in the nature of human values. In this research was found that values can influence the readiness for contact with outgroup members. Members of individualistic cultures talk easier with outgroup members than members of collectivistic cultures.
Like values, self-construals influence the communication in individualistic and collectivistic cultures. Self-construal can be defined as ‘the tendency to think of oneself in terms of relationships with close others’ (Cross, Bacon & Morris, 2000, p. 791). Westerns, mostly individualistic cultures, are thought to have an independent self-construal while Asians, mostly collectivistic cultures, are thought to have an interdependent self-construal. Being independent involves being unique, strive for one’s own goals, express themselves and be directly (Markues & Kitayama, 1991). Having an interdependent self-construal will lead to a more soft speaking style because they are concerned for others. While if someone has an independent self-construal, the person wants to have clarity in communication (Gudykunst, 1997).
Having an independent self-construal is associated with low-context communication and having an interdependent self-construal is connected with high-context communication. Edward Hall (1976) states that in a high context culture people intensely elaborate with each other, intimate relationships and a social hierarchy exists in those cultures. Information is widely shared through messages with a deep meaning. While in a low context culture members are highly individualized, more alienated and there is less involvement in other persons. As a result communication is more impersonal in comparison with communication in high context cultures (in Kim, Pan & Park, 1998). A low context culture is associated with an individualistic culture and a high context culture is therefore associated with a collectivistic culture. A study that focused on East-West communication styles found that the higher the level of collectivism, the higher the level of indirectness. Indirectness occurs when there is a discrepancy between the sentence meaning, the literal meaning of the message, and the speaker meaning, what the speakers intends to accomplish with the message (Sanchez-Burks, Choi, Nisbett, Zhao & Koo, 2003).
In a low context culture there is a greater emphasis on the verbal, which is mostly direct and involves expressions. Whereas in a high context culture verbal communication often is not trusted and communication is more indirect. In these cultures members experience silence in communication as positive. In a low context culture this is not the case (Gudykunst & Ting-Toomey, 1988).
The individualistic dimension influences also the response styles that were discussed in the previous chapter. Extreme response styles are more common in an individualistic culture. Because members of an individualistic culture want to achieve as much clarity as possible in their verbal messages. Besides, they are less concerned with the consequences of expressing a tough opinion (Hall, 1967, in Johnson et al., 2005). Contrary, in collectivistic cultures there is a greater emphasis on the harmony with one another and less emphasis on the individual needs and opinions (Chen et al., 2001 in Johnson et al., 2005). Thus, a more middling response style is associated with collectivistic cultures. The acquiescence or agreement bias is more common in collectivistic cultures because the members may be ‘more sensitive to the social pressures emanating from the questionnaire’ (Hofstede, 2001, p.218 as cited in Johnson et al., p.267). An acquiescence response style is less common in individualistic cultures because maintaining harmony is less important in those cultures.
If in an international business, a Chinese who is a member of a highly collectivistic culture, will works together with an American who is a member of a highly individualistic culture, this can lead to problems. They both have different values and have different self-construals. The Chinese will value harmony and solidarity and the American will value independence. The American will be more willing to talk to the Chinese employee because of these values. The Chinese employee has an interdependent self-construal and the American employee has an independent self-construal. The Chinese will therefore have a more soft speaking style but the American wants to have clarity in communication. These differences can conflict because they both have another focus. The Chinese employee will be more indirect and will not contradict with the American. The American is straight-to-the-point and will say it when he does not agree with the Chinese. The Chinese wants to keep the harmony and has an acquiescence bias but the American will have an extreme response style because he wants to have clarity in the communication. All these differences can lead to problems in the communication.
Masculinity is together with its opposite femininity the third dimension. What this dimension means will be explained in this chapter. This dimension affects communication as well, but in a lesser extent than the previously mentioned dimensions. The characteristics that affect the communication by masculinity are values, language and the response styles. At the end of this chapter will be an example about a Dutch woman and an Italian man.
The division of roles between the genders in a society is the issue in the masculinity and femininity dimension (Hofstede, 1983). The dimension shows what different roles the sexes play in a particular society. But masculinity and femininity are not complete opposites. Both genders exhibit masculine and feminine traits. Besides, in a culture exist both the masculine and feminine tendency, one tends to be dominate.
In a high masculine culture, men should be assertive, tough and they have to focus on material success. Woman therefore should be modest, tender and they have to focus on the quality of life. In high feminine culture, both the man and woman should focus on the quality of life (Hofstede, 1998 in Pu, 2010). Countries were the masculine tendency is more dominant include Italy, Japan, Mexico and Venezuela. Countries who are more feminine are The Netherlands, Norway and Chile (The Hofstede Centre, 2014).
Masculine and feminine differ in the values that are emphasized in that particular culture. The most dominant values in masculine cultures are ‘success and money’ and in feminine cultures these are ‘taking care of others and appreciate the quality of life’ (Hofstede and Bond, 1984). In masculine cultures the sex roles are clear while that is not the case in feminine cultures. Members of highly masculine cultures have little contact with the opposite sex when they are growing up. It is also expected that in masculine cultures there is less attraction and less presence of nonverbal affiliate expressions (Gudykunst, Nishida & Schmidt, 1989). Next to that, in masculine cultures there is greater attention to clarity in communication. It is expected that in feminine cultures there is more use of the nonverbal communication. Also members of these cultures will have a more soft-speaking because they appreciate the value taking care of others.
The relation between gender and language can also indicate what communication differences are between cultures. Masculine conversation characteristics are mostly taken as the norm and feminine conversation characteristics are assessed in relation to this. The female speech contains more adjectives, verbs, interjections and. Whereas masculine conversation characteristics are referred to as direct and assertive. Feminine communication styles are cooperative and masculine styles are competitive (Claes, 1999). In a feminine culture, people are requested instead of commanded to perform a task, directness is considered rude and discussion is mostly avoided (Giles & Coupland, 1991 in Claes, 1999).
The same study of response styles, discussed before, found a relationship of masculinity and response styles. Members of masculine cultures are likely to have an extreme response style. Values of the masculine culture are ‘assertiveness, decisive and daring behaviour’ (Hofstede, 1998 in Johnson et al., 2005). Those values can have as a result that members of a masculine culture are more likely to choose the strongest opinions. Hofstede (2001) has found that assertiveness is associated with a masculine culture. This is a suggestion for the fact that acquiescence is less common in masculine cultures. Members of feminine cultures emphasize modesty as a value which will lead to a more middling response style (Hofstede, 1998 in Johnson et al., 2005).
To explain this dimension in practice, a Dutch woman and supervisor and an Italian man and subordinate work together. The Italian culture is a masculine culture and the Dutch culture is feminine. The woman will request the orders to the Italian man and not command them. The Italian is not used to do this because in his culture tasks are commanded. While the woman has soft speaking style and uses more nonverbal communication the man wants to have clarity in communication and this can lead to confusion. While the woman uses a more middling response style in her speaking and will not express her feelings so much. The man has an extreme response style and has a tendency to use more extreme opinions and feelings.
6 Uncertainty Avoidance Index
Uncertainty Avoidance Index, UA, is the fourth dimension. This dimension will be explained in this chapter. The communication components that are affected by this dimension are communication with outgroup members, information gathering, use of electronic communication devices and the previously mentioned response styles. At the end will be an example.
According to Matusitz and Musambira (2013) it refers to ‘the degree to which a culture feels jeopardized by equivocal situations. As a result, it tries to avoid them’ (p.45). In cultures with high UA index ambiguity in everyday life is seen as a threat. Although extreme ambiguity is seen as a threat in most cultures, UA index focuses on how a culture deals with this ambiguity. All societies deal different with this anxiety (Hofstede et al., 2010, p. 189). In low UA cultures, people are taking more risk, see new ideas as opportunities instead of threats and are more positive about the future. While persons in a high UA culture have preference for rules and are mostly negative about the future (Gudykunst & Ting-Toomey). Just like the other dimensions low and high UA exist in all cultures but one is more present than the other. Countries which tend to be low in UA are Canada, India and Sweden. Countries which are high in UA include Belgium, Egypt and Japan (Hofstede, 1991 in Gudykunst, 1997).
In high UA cultures individuals prefer to hold aggression by avoiding conflict and competition. These cultures also tent to show more emotions in their communication than low UA cultures. In high UA cultures communication with outgroup members is very polite and can be avoided (Gudykunst, 1997). Because it is communication that members are not used to, so it is experienced as uncertainty. Members of high UA cultures have a lot of rules about what to say and how they have to act (Hofstede, 1983). Thus, in low UA cultures it is easier to communicate with outgroup members than in high UA cultures.
UA index influences in what way members try to gather information of others. This is based on the tendency to have an open or closed mind. An open minded attitude is associated with low UA. Individuals try to gather as much information possible about the strangers when they are communicating with them. They often question their own behaviour and are insecure about the fact if something is appropriate or not. Individuals in those cultures are much more open for the future and new ideas (Hofstede et al., 2010). Whereas a closed minded is associated with high UA. Individuals try to avoid the idea of uncertainty or ambiguity. They tend to reject ideas that are different than they are used to. They do not examine their behaviour like members of low UA (Gudykunst, 1997). They are more afraid for the future and only trust what is present. The avoidance can provide an escape by maintaining the uncertainty. This is because people will avoid direct information, pay selectively attention and ignore selectively (Brashers, 2001).
Customers in high UA cultures are hesitant toward new sort of products or information. These cultures are slower in introducing electronic communication devises like mobile phones, e- mail or internet (Hofstede et al., 2010). This can lead to problems because communicating with someone who has no email can be hard.
We see differences in the use of the extreme response style in high or low UA cultures. The extreme response style is more common in high UA cultures. The many rules and anxiety for ambiguity are causes of the extreme response style. This extreme response style is reflected in the intolerance of ambiguity (Hamilton, 1968 in Johnson et al., 2005). The relationship between UA and the acquiescent response style is not as clear as the extreme response style.
To explain this dimension affecting communication an example illustrating a Swedish and a Japanese employee working together. Sweden is a low UA country and Japan a high UA country. When the two colleagues have an argument the Swedish employee wants to discuss this while the Japanese wants to avoid the conflict. The Japanese employee wants to stick with the old while the Swede wants to renew the business or plans once in a while. The Swede is earlier to adapt to new innovations like email and the Japanese not. So it can be hard to communicate with one another if one has no email.
Every dimension of Hofstede’s cultural dimension theory affects the communication across cultures. Individualism has the biggest influence and masculinity or UA index in a somewhat lesser extent. In this final part of the paper the research question: How do the cultural dimensions affect the communication in an international business? will be answered.
PD affects communication in different ways. The kind of power used in a country affects the communication. Coercive power is mostly used in high PD cultures and expert power is mostly used in low PD cultures (Gudykunst et al., 1996). Response styles also affect the communication. In a high PD culture people demonstrate a more acquiscent behaviour than cultures which are low in PD. An extreme response style is more common in cultures which are high in PD. The middling response style is more common in culture low in PD.
The influence of individualism or collectivism on communication is influenced by their values and self-construals (Gudykunst, 1997). Because different cultures learn different values to guide their behaviour. Direct confrontation is in collectivistic cultures considered as rude but in individualistic cultures this is believed to lead to a higher truth (Hofstede et al., 2010). The difference in self-construal can also bring problems. While the individualist is most concerned about the clarity in communication, the collectivist is more concerned with others. While high-context cultures appreciate a more personal communication style and more indirectness, low-context cultures are more impersonal and direct (Kim et al., 1998). The extreme response style is more common in individualistic than in collectivistic cultures. The acquiescence bias is more common in collectivistic cultures.
The dimension masculinity affects the communication as well. The values that in feminine cultures are appreciated are different than those in masculine cultures. This can bring problems (Hofstede and Bond, 1984). The different communication styles of genders are a source of problems. Feminine communication styles are cooperative while masculine communication is more competitive. Directness and discussion are mostly avoided in feminine cultures (Claes, 1999). Masculine cultures will exercise a more extreme response style than feminine cultures (Johnson et al., 2005)
The last dimension UA can bring problems in communication between cultures. High UA cultures use emotion, communication with outgroup members is avoided and have a closed mind. Low UA cultures do not avoid communication with outgroup members and a have a more open mind (Gudykunst, 1997). Someone from a high UA cultures are more hesitant to use electronic communication devises than someone from a low UA culture (Hofstede et al., 2010, p.219). This means communication between the two cultures can be a problem if the member of a high UA culture has no internet or email for example. Cultures high in UA will exhibit a more extreme response style than cultures low in UA.
Communication problems have a lot of different characteristics and forms. There are uncountable different communication problems, these are just a few examples to give an idea. Fact is that when cultures differ in their power distance index, individualism index, masculinity index or uncertainty avoidance index there can encounter communication problems. But when one is willing to adapt by using converging communication style the problems can be avoided or the problems will occur in a much lesser extent (Giles & Coupland, 1991 in Claes, 1999).
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