Internal Communication

Featured Guest Blog | Sudipa Chakraborty | Why Culture Matters For Cross-Cultural Communication

The 27th edition of Intraskope’s Spotlight on Internal Communication Series features Sudipa Chakraborty of Apeland (Oslo, Norway). In this edition she builds a case for diversity and collaboration while passionately advocating for culture as an enabler of cross-cultural communication.

Sudipa Chakraborty is a Communications Adviser at Apeland, a leading PR & Communications agency in Oslo, Norway. She has 10 years of experience in media and communications and holds a Master of Arts in English literature and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Journalism from India. Before she moved to Norway, Sudipa worked as a Communications Specialist with some of the largest IT companies in India, such as Microsoft and CGI. Previously, she has been a journalist with some of the prominent newspapers in India and an anchor with All India Radio. Passionate about writing, she continues to freelance as a writer and storyteller for BBC India and others. She has the cultural intelligence to advise on issues pertaining to diversity and inclusion.

Guest Blog

(Views expressed are personal)

Why I regard culture as one of the critical Cs of Communication and my three key recommendations for effective cross-cultural communication

During discourses on the Cs of communication, we speak at length about the importance of clarity, conciseness, coherence, correctness, completeness, courtesy etc. However, with globalization and advances in technology, it is not enough for communicators to be clear, concise and concrete; or correct, courteous and coherent, it is pivotal for us to be culture-sensitive as well. In my opinion, it is time we consider ‘culture’ as one of the unavoidable Cs of communication.

Why is culture critical to communication?

Modern workplaces are no longer confined to one specific geographical location. Business environments have broadened to include diverse geographical locations and cultures. Gone are the days when large multinational companies alone had business interests overseas. Today, it is no surprise that mid-sized to even smaller companies have clients and partners worldwide. On any given day, there are numerous incidents of interaction between people, companies, clients, governments and agencies. And, every incident of interaction and integration, be it emails, messages, Skype calls or social media posts, is after all, communication. And, each of these has a bearing on your business. These are the real components which create and shape the perceptions that decide the success of your business. After all, a lot depends on the way you, your people and your business are perceived! Besides, it is important to understand that the task of communication no longer rests on the shoulders of PR and communication specialists alone; leaders, project managers, client executives or anybody who interacts with clients and partners, are communicators on behalf of your business. And, it is critical for each of these groups to collaborate and understand the importance of cross-cultural communication.

Three key recommendations for effective cross-cultural communication

Over the last 10 years of my career in media and communications, I have had the opportunity to engage and work with people belonging to diverse cultures across the globe. While I appreciate and admire a lot of companies for the time and efforts they invest to understand and respond to foreign cultures, I am amused and alarmed at how many leaders and companies invest very little on `culture’ in the entire framework of their businesses. From my personal experience and understanding, let me share three key recommendations for effective cross-cultural communication and successful collaboration between diverse cultures.

Research: I would strongly recommend putting in a considerable amount of research about a certain culture and business environment before you decide to explore opportunities in that part of the world. For example, if you wish to consider investigating business opportunities in Scandinavia or interact regularly with Scandinavian partners or customers, it is valuable to know that Scandinavians usually prefer communication to be explicit, specific and direct (like most of the low-context cultures of the Germanic countries). There is hardly any space for between-the-lines communication. What is often perceived as cold and rude behavior to Asians or Latin Americans, is nothing but crisp and to-the-point conversation to them. Besides, if you do enough research on Scandinavian lifestyle, it will save you tons of time and efforts to accept that they do not usually prefer to work long hours and July is a vacation time in Scandinavia, especially in Norway and Sweden. Don’t be amused and restless if you get ‘out-of-office’ replies for close to a month in July.

Respect: While interacting with a colleague, partner or a client from a different culture, make efforts to show respect for their culture. If there is a religious festival, national day or any other cultural practice that are integral to their culture, a little bit of respect and courtesy can go a long way. For example, it is advisable to address your customers or partners in Japan with honorific suffix san (Akasaka san, for instance) or wish your Indian partners on their Independence Day or Diwali. While it could be regarded strange in your culture to take a bow when you meet a colleague, it is polite to do that in Japan.  Body language and gestures have seamlessly permeated into business language in many high-context cultures in Asia, Arab etc. While for some cultures in Europe and America, a peck on the cheek is perfectly business as usual, it could be derogatory for high-context cultures of Indians and Japanese, for example.

View every culture objectively and refrain from judging them as right or wrong using the norms of your own culture. Different does not mean wrong. As Carol Kinsey Goman in her book, The Silent Language of Leaders, says, “culture is, basically, a set of shared values that a group of people holds. Cultural meanings render some behaviors as normal and right and others strange and wrong.”

Accept and adapt: When we engage in inter-cultural and inter-continental business relationships, things get both challenging and exciting. Different cultural contexts often bring new challenges to communications. But, do not let these differences overwhelm you. Rather, use cultural diversity to your advantage and do not let it overshadow the common goal of the business. Sometimes, it is difficult to approve the method of your colleague or client from a different culture, but, if it does not impact the effectiveness of your team, it is beneficial to accept and adapt.

Often meetings between two teams in two different countries/cultures lead to both the parties being exasperated. Some cultures like Germans, Norwegians, North Americans, for example, follow the items on the agenda in a linear way while Asians (some countries) or South Americans, for example, may not give full attention to the sequence of the items and view those in a circular way. This attitude also spills out to how these teams approach deadlines, plan and accomplish a project. To iron out the differences, both the teams need to accept each other’s methods and adapt to suit each other. There is no single success recipe to successful cross-cultural business communication, but a little bit of goodwill peppered with clear communication can always pave the way for success.

 

When cross-cultural communication is the norm and collaboration is a necessity in today’s global business environment, it is vital for communicators and business leaders to understand culture and how differences in culture influences communication. However, though our cultural values largely influence the way we think and act, we should not allow stereotypes or preconceived notions to influence our judgement all the time. For someone who is navigating through the nuanced layers of inter-cultural communication every day, it is imperative that I regard ‘culture’ as one of the critical Cs of communication. We need not delve deep into the theories of Sociology to find the best approach to address cross-cultural communication, or, perhaps, there is no single approach as such. But, understanding, mutual acceptance and respect for cultural differences, is perhaps, key to effective cross-cultural communication.

 

Missed previous stories from organizations featured on the Intraskope’s Spotlight on Internal Communication Series? Look them up here –  M.H. Alshaya Co, Proctor & Gamble, InfosysSOBHA Ltd.ICICI SecuritiesFirst AdvantageCK Birla GroupTVS MotorsGE,  SuzlonTata SonsPerceptKnight FrankTCS EuropeVedantaOxfamDanske BankDiageoPandoraSymantecISS Global Services, Telia, Thomson Reuters, IBM, General Motors and Philips.

Intraskope (www.aniisu.com) is the first blog on internal communications in India and among the earliest around the globe. Begun in 2006, the blog has over 550 posts on topics such as employee engagement, leadership communication and employee branding and receives thousands of visits from across the world. The blog, receives over 50,000 visits every month from over 50 countries globally, offers learning resources for practitioners, academicians, and students including industry workshops, research reports, and checklists. Intraskope has been featured on leading global internal communication forums like Simply-CommunicateIC Kollectif and International Association of Business Communicators. It is hosted by Aniisu K Verghese, author of Internal Communications – Insights, Practices & Models (Sage, 2012).

If you are an internal communication leader working in a firm or a not-for-profit anywhere in the world and have an internal communication case study, campaign, research insight or a guest blog post to share please contact me on intraskope@yahoo.com

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