Cultural Influence in Business Communication Situations

by Gail Sessoms; Updated September 26, 2017
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Communication between people with different cultural backgrounds can present challenges. Culture determines the ways in which people experience and interpret the world and all the ways in which people think and communicate. The influence of culture in business communication is often subtle and sometimes benign, but the potential for problems exists. Understanding how culture influences business communication can help you prevent negative outcomes.

Business Communication

Business communication occurs in the workplace and outside of the workplace. Employees communicate with each other and with clients, customers and others. The human resources manager communicates with employees about work and personal issues. An employee meets with contractors to negotiate fees. The company president travels to a foreign country to make a deal. Business owners want employees with good communication skills, including the ability to write and speak well, listen and understand. Whether through face-to-face contact, telephone calls, email or written correspondence, effective communication keeps the wheels of business turning.

Culture and Communication

While communication challenges are expected when people speak different languages, sometimes words and actions have different meanings among people who speak the same language. Cultures have rules about appropriate behavior in certain situations, including verbal and nonverbal communication. For instance, people from different cultures react differently to eye-to-eye contact and physical closeness. Some cultures put a premium on emotional control and privacy, while others express feelings more openly. Holding back information is the norm for some cultures. The importance of manners or politeness in the business environment can differ greatly among cultures.

Preparing for Diversity

Culture influences business communications by increasing the relevance of cultural knowledge and understanding. Workplaces are increasingly more diverse. Business communication is more likely to include contact with people from different cultures and with companies in different countries. A lack of cultural understanding can cost a business a contract or create stress in the workplace. Because poor communication can affect the bottom line, businesses institute training to prepare employees for cross-cultural communication. Businesses that succeed in the global economy are willing to learn about foreign cultures and prepared to view cross-cultural communication as a necessary skill.

Nonverbal Communication

Cultural influence on business communication can come from nonverbal communication. Extra effort is often needed to understand the importance of nonverbal communication in multi-cultural situations. Nonverbal communication includes gestures, body positioning and facial expressions. Gestures and behaviors that you commonly use might have different meanings to people from other cultures. For instance, in the United States it is appropriate to beckon someone with the palm of your hand facing up, but that gesture is considered rude in Korea and in other countries. The simple act of placing your feet on your desk could lose your company an important contract with a Saudi Arabian business.

About the Author

Gail Sessoms, a grant writer and nonprofit consultant, writes about nonprofit, small business and personal finance issues. She volunteers as a court-appointed child advocate, has a background in social services and writes about issues important to families. Sessoms holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies.

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