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Importance of communication



The purpose of this paper is to discuss some of the various communication barriers that face our ever-growing and complicated business environment. Learning a country’s customs and languages can be the deciding factor in a successful business relationship. Issues between men and women can be less complicated if each gender can attempt to understand the way in which we each communicate and also how the other perceives that communication. Even generational communication, the communication between people of different generations, can cause major problems. Devices such as Synchronous Automated Translation System (SATS) allow us to shorten the gap in communication between languages by translating for us.


Differences in perceptions and preferences lie at the source of many conflicts and communication failures between individuals or groups. Such differences also open the door for creation of agreements that make both parties happy. Differences could occur in the way we conduct business, non-verbal communication, age differences and communication between men and women. Understanding cultural attitudes, motivations, and behaviors of individuals from foreign countries can be daunting and possible for misunderstandings. In attempt to overcome this we must become more aware, sensitive and be sincere when interacting with foreigners. We must have patience, willingness to learn, respect for other cultures, and generations, a sense of humor can go a long way. We also must be prepared for the future of technology as it relates to communicating with other countries.

Cross Cultural Communication

It is very important to study a host country culture if you are planning to do business in their country. The language is probably one of the most difficult to manage. All cultures have verbal and non-verbal communication systems, and each country’s vocabulary reflects its primary value and composition. (Cultural Awareness: An essential Element of Doing Business Abroad) Therefore, words may not have the same meaning when translated into another language. There are numerous gestures, facial expressions that may send different signals. There are even cultural differences between men and women. Men tend to be more direct, whereas, women will seek support and discuss issues.

Most of the mistakes Americans make is assuming that business all over is done the American way and the misunderstanding of non-verbal communication. We have got to learn how to handle ourselves and that will entirely depend on where we are going. We need to do our homework as we expect visitors who come to our country. We may need to learn how to develop a relationship before doing business. We should never take for granted that the person speaking English will always understand us. Awareness, sensitivity and real sincerity can go a long way to avoid embarrassing situations when interacting with foreigners. Patience willingness to listen, respect for other cultures, behaving on local knowledge and sense of humor should always be observed. (Leaper, Norm, 1996)

Most of our international dealings are handled in our native English. In preparing for a presentation or a report consider cutting out the technical jargon, buzzwords and acronyms. The challenge faced by our international counterparts when dealing with us causes confusion for them.

We must be aware of business customs before an embarrassing moment occurs. For example; a British company met with a newly acquired Finnish subsidiary, the Finns suggested moving the discussion to the sauna. The British arrived to the unisex sauna with a towel wrapped around only to find the Finnish managers - male and female - relaxed and totally naked.

Many of international business like to do face to face communication. Many countries do not follow schedules. Italians continue to practice the traditional ritual of a three-to-four course (with wine) lunch each day, followed by a rest period of a couple of hours. (Richard Dalton 1995) In Korea, both hands should be used when passing, objects to one another, and it would be considered impolite to discuss politics, communism, or Japan. (Gary Bonvillian & William A. Nowlin, 1989)

Effective managers must recognize and adapt to different work styles and cultures. There have been many managers who have been frustrated by the employee who nods in an apparent understanding of a direction, then does just the opposite. (Lee Gardenswarts, and Anita Rowe, 1998) One of the most important behaviors is that of hierarchy and status. An employee who has been taught deference to age, gender, or title, might out of respect shy away from being honest or offering ideas because offering suggestions to an elder or a boss might appear to be challenging authority.

In Mexico puckering your lips and making a smacking sound is an acceptable way to get a waiter’s attention in a Mexico City restaurant, try it elsewhere and you could end up with a friend or a black eye. Personal touching and space of the culture in which you are visiting must be researched, personal touching in some countries may be viewed as an extreme act, and it may be viewed as a criminal offense.

Diversity and social inequality are closely related. For example, in the United States we attach a lot of significance to age. We distinguish between old and young people, and unlike many other countries, we value youth. (Richard D. Bucher, 2000) Unfortunately many corporations fail to see the value that an older employee may offer. They may think that the older employee will be sicker, skills are deteriorating, or they are unable to learn new skills. Many times however, an older employee may be more loyal that a younger employee, and are able to share their life experiences with them.

Communication styles between men and women are different; this could be due to our childhood experiences. Boys tend to play outside and with large groups. Girls on the other hand, play in small groups or in pairs. An example is the reluctance for men to ask for directions when traveling, they would rather drive around and will only ask for directions as a last resort. Women on the other hand, will ask for directions right away. Men think of communication as independence, women communication emphasizes intimacy. A man will interpret Many times communication from a woman incorrectly. This could be because men do not take women seriously, this is an explanation as to why you may find women conducting business in a masculine manner, and they throw away their feminism.

Americans know that a degree of formality is essential to business correspondence, especially in initial or introductory exchanges, but they may begin addressing their contacts by first name after three or four exchanges. Americans would not think twice to conduct business through telephone, correspondence or e-mail without ever meeting the client. Other countries, however, would find this practice very rude. Other countries believe that getting to know each other first is priority, before even thinking of conducting business.

We must not judge intelligence on English fluency. They may not speak perfect English; on the contrary, they are the one who is making the effort to be multilingual. It may be best to use visuals rather that written material. Your international associates may be able to understand you more with visual aid.

Words spoken by an American may not have the same meaning when translated into another language. We must be careful in naming products or what slogans meanings may have in another country. An example; Pepsi’s slogan "Come alive with Pepsi" means in German, "come out of the grave". We must take the time to conduct preliminary research to ensure that it can be successful in its home market and be able to leap into the international market.

Inter-gender Communication

Communication barriers aren't limited to culture, language or age. The oldest barrier that exists is that of the communication between man and woman. Before examining current barriers such as perception or body language, we must first understand the origin of how the sexes began their long journey of misunderstanding.

Perhaps we can understand where we've learned our roles as men and women from looking to our origins. Several million years ago when caveman (we'll call him Ozog) clubbed cavewoman (we'll call her Ozoga) over the head and dragged her back to his cave, social and behavioral patterns were established. Ozog was the hunter-gatherer and Ozoga cleaned the cave and bore Ozog's children and was the caregiver of these children. More importantly Ozoga needed Ozog for protection from animals or other cavemen. The environment was barbaric and chaotic. Only the strong thrived. Cavewomen found it necessary to cohabitate with cavemen for the purposes of food, shelter and protection. Cavemen saw women as property and bearers to their offspring.

Those who believe in divine creation learn that the wife is to be submissive to her husband. Genesis 3:16 of The New King James Version of the Bible says, "Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." Ephesians 5:22-24 says, "Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church. Therefore, just as the Church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything." Verses such as these teach women that they are acquiescent to man and that their purpose on Earth is only for man, as we learned when Eve was created for Adam. Other religions around the world, whether it be Judea Christian, Muslim, Catholic, Mormon, etc. preach the subservience of woman to man.

In either case, there is a period of time where roles and "acceptable behaviors" for the sexes are established. Therefore, intrinsically we've developed these ideas from the beginnings of man and woman. Only in this century have we witnessed the breakthrough of women in terms of equality to man. This equality, especially in the business world, leaves us trying to understand one another and penetrate the barriers that cause our miscommunication.

Men and women seem to be separated by a common language, English. What a woman says is very different from what a man hears and vice versa. Now that women are a tremendous factor in the working force, not only in lower level positions but executive positions, the need to try and understand even the most minuet differences in communication between men and women is vital to succeed for both sexes. For example, a female executive says to a male executive, "Do you think we should invite X to the meeting?" The woman really means, " I think we should invite X to the meeting." The male executive thinks he's been asked a question rather than a suggestion. Most women have learned to speak in tentative or questioning tones to avoid appearing too aggressive (Weaver, 2000). Women also seem to say, "I'm sorry" more than men. Men seem to interpret this to mean that they're accepting blame or responsibility, which is not what women have in mind. In addition, women do not hesit!

ate to ask questions in order to understand something while men will forego any questions about an issue they are unclear about to preserve their image or reputation (Bucher, 2000). These are just a few innocent misinterpretations that both sexes may have of one another.

There are even larger barriers that the two faces as it pertains to communicating; for example sex. Until recently men only communicated with other men when doing business. The incredible surge of women in the workplace has forced men to relate to women as colleagues and not sexual objects. Something that may seem innocent to a man may not be so innocent to a woman, such as a boss calling his secretary "hon" may seem harmless to him but demeaning to his secretary. Even subtler dialogue can be interpreted differently, let's take the following example; a women executive, Anna, tells her subordinate, "Your financial report was excellent John, I've been considering promoting you." What was a simple compliment could be perceived by John as interest in him sexually. This makes it harder for women to engage in normal business functions such as luncheons or business dinners and even breaks with male colleagues without any misconceived notions. Women who initiate any of th!

ese business affairs with a man would more than likely be perceived as a proposition in the man's mind.

Perhaps the tone and body language that is related to any words can further clarify or confuse the message. If Anna gave John the compliment in a moderate voice and without any touching such as a hand shake, Most men would understand this to be only an appreciation of his work. If Anna had smiled and gave him a soft handshake or put her hand on his shoulder, then this may lead way to unintended misinterpretation.

Unfortunately there remains a certain tension between men and women. Perhaps men still hold on to the Neanderthal mentality that a woman's place is in the cave and also maybe bare some animosity for the success they attain. Women just want to be viewed as equals or colleagues and not just women.

Cross-Generational Communication

When attempting to analyze communication in the workplace, one significant factor to recognize is intergenerational communication. Americans are living and working longer. The average life expectancy at birth in the year 1900 was forty-seven. Today it’s closing in on eighty. Suddenly, the conference table has four generations sitting around it instead of just one or two. The Traditionalist, the Boomer, the Gen X’er, and the Millennial all bring forth differences in language, history, work experience, education and even communication styles. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the generations to find common ground.

The traditionalist generation tends to have a very strong work ethic. They judge a person by their work performance and put great emphasis on loyalty. They command respect and tend to have a superiority complex. They tend to resent younger generations who move ahead of them. They grew up being taught that hard work was its own reward. They were raised in an era where work was hard to find, and the only way to move up in a company was through time and effort. Education was not prominent in the midst of the depression and wartime. Minorities were not a large part of the workforce and the typical worker was a white male. If you had asked a Traditionalist engineer early in his career about diversity in the workplace, you might have heard, "We have two former Army sergeants, a Navy commander, and even an Air Force pilot!" The diversity equation was as simple as black and white...actually it was even simpler... they were mostly all white...and they were 99.9% male. (2000 BridgeWorks, LLC)

As the Baby Boomers emerged into the workforce, the human rights movement redefined diversity to include not only blacks but women as well. The term "Baby Boomer" stems from the fact that at this point in history, birth rates were increasing dramatically. The need to support larger families combined with the technological advances and changes in corporate structure have allowed this generation to increase their incomes considerably. Boomers like to focus on efficiency. They are the generation with the least amount of disposable time.

Generation X’ers have blurred the lines between genders, become even more color-blind, and opened the workplace doors for other diverse individuals, such as the physically challenged and those in same sex partnerships. They are a generation of educated individuals who seek rapid advancement. They want everything now and anything less than that is not acceptable. Workplace loyalty is not an important issue in career decisions. Generation X’ers view the workplace differently from their predecessors in many ways, and many organizations are still trying to catch up.

The newest generation entering the workforce is the Millennial. These individuals with more energy than the Ever Ready Bunny are not part of the skeptical generation of X’ers that has turned corporate America upside down over the last decade. There’s another generation looming on the horizon. The Millennials are on the move, 76 million strong, and raring to put their own stamp on the world of work. This is the population group age toddler to late teens, who are emerging into the workplace and will keep going and going and going. They are pragmatic and realistic and companies can look forward to some "straight-to-the-point" approaches for getting things done. This is a generation that has experienced more diversity than any previous generation. Whether through day care, through the media, or through school, Millennials have experienced many different kinds of people. This is a generation of future workers that is way beyond accepting different forms of diversity; they expect it!


There is one other type of generational group that is many times overlooked. It is the Cusper. They are individuals who carry an extra strand of generational DNA because they are positioned between two generations. While they often go unrecognized, Cuspers are all around us and are playing vital roles in organizations. Given the perspective and flexibility of the Cuspers, it's surprising how often they are overlooked and undervalued in the workplace. Typically Cuspers share some traits of each generation that surrounds them, which gives them a unique set of abilities. But often they feel they don't fit any one definition. While they may personally struggle, our experience shows that they fill incredibly important roles and they may be one of the most precious assets corporate America has access to today.

Generational mixing "is great," says George Heenan. "The younger generations get to tap into the years of work experience that the older generations have, and the older generations can learn about the values and expectations of the younger generations. This helps tremendously when they all have to work together on business strategy." (2000 BridgeWorks, LLC) The fact is the generations won’t go away. Managers, supervisors and employees will carry their "generational personalities" with them throughout their lives. To further complicate matters, new generations will continue to enter the workplace. Just when you think you have your organizational culture figured out, bang! Here come the Millennials. Organizations and leaders that continue to look the other way rather than developing strategies for dealing with the changing workforce are going to pay for their shortsightedness.

The Future of Communication

One of the wonderful things that have increased communication of all types has been technology. Currently we have the opportunity to sit down at our personal computer, access the World Wide Web, and literally have a conversation with people all over the world. Unfortunately, we are still limited by our language barriers. That will soon change.

We are now at the beginning of a revolution that will change the world: Automated translation technology will bring us significantly closer to a universal communication system, while at the same time preserving the richness and beauty of linguistic and cultural diversity. The vehicle for this transformation is the Synchronous Automated Translation System (SATS), which is now under development at a number of computer companies.

Unlike conventional translation, where the speaker must pause every few sentences while a human interpreter interrupts, the automated system will provide instantaneous translation. It will be synchronous in that the speaker and listener will not feel any perceptible time lag. The system will be automated and it will use an advanced computerized program (artificial intelligence) that requires no human intervention. As such, it can be integrated into our social environment in practically any form of machine or technology. (Lehman-Wilzig, Sam 2001)

Conclusions and Recommendations

In such a diverse business world, we can deduce that each and every human being will have differences. A combination of culture, gender, and generation, in addition to other factors that make us individuals must be taken into consideration when a working relationship exists. We must all open our minds and become aware that there are several factors that can influence our perceptions. These can include education, time, tolerance, patience, and technology.

As shown, technology will continue to make our world smaller. The advances that are brought forth take us all many steps closer to universal acceptance. This also educates us to others diversity. This education brings forth tolerance and patience which all occurs over time. We have much to learn from each other and opening our eyes, our ears and our minds is the only way to accomplish this. Acceptance of others diversity will allow us to thrive in today’s business world.


Bonvillian, Gary & Nowlin, William A. (1996) Cultural Awareness: Copyright Prentice Hall

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Cox, Jr., T. (1993) Cultural Diversity in Organizations. Copyright Taylor H. Cox, Jr.

Freivalds, J. "Habeas Epistolam (or: You’ve Got Mail!) - The History of Communication Systems: Communication World (1999) v17 i1 p14. Retrieved 7/23/01 from Infotrak database (general business file) on the World Wide Web: http://apollo

Leaper, Norm (1996) International Communication: Beyond Words. (Part two) Communication World v13 n7 p 33. Retrieved 7/23/01 from Infotrak database (general business file) on the World Wide Web: http://apollo

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