Communication in Multicultural Teams. Do Cultural Differences Imply Unbearable Challenges or Opportunities for Success?


Term Paper, 2020

26 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Excerpt

Table of Contents

List of Figures

List of Tables

List of Abbreviations

1 Introduction

2 Culture and Communication
2.1 Culture
2.2 Multicultural Team
2.3 Communication
2.4 Intercultural Communication

3 Cultural Variations
3.1 High and Low Context Communication (Hall)
3.2 Fast and Slow Information Flow
3.3 Neutral and Affective Communication (Trompenaars & Hampden- Turner)
3.4 Nonverbal Communication

4 Challenges and Opportunities
4.1 Teams and Individuals
4.2 Leadership

5 Approaches and Measures for Improvement
5.1 Relevant Competencies
5.2 A Culturally Embedded Model for Effective Intercultural Communication (Westwood & Borgen)
5.3 Real-time Gesture Translation (Hasler, Salomon, Tuchman, Lev- Tov & Friedman)

6 Conclusion

Bibliography

Affidavit

List of Figures

Figure 1: A traditional communication model (Griffin, 2008, p. 176)

Figure 2: A culturally embedded model for effective intercultural communication (Westwood & Borgen, 1988, p. 118)

Figure 3: Prototype of the gesture translator for Western and Asian greeting gestures (Hasler et al., 2014, p. 31)

List of Tables

Table 1: The 3C Model for cross-cultural communication competence (adapted from Matveev & Nelson, 2001, as cited in Griffin, 2008, p. 191)

Table 2: Relevant Competencies (adapted from Griffin, 2008, pp. 202-203)

Table 3: Communicative Competence (adapted from Westwood & Borgen, 1988, p. 122)

List of Abbreviations

IAU International Association of Universities

1 Introduction

Todays globalized world is characterized by rapid changes, whether it is in technology, immigration policies, transportation systems or in the economy. The contact to people from other countries with different cultural backgrounds is on the rise, there is a global workforce and more cultural diversity than ever before. Considering the workplace, more multicultural teams can be found with each employee bringing along his own cul- tural practices, work habits, expectations, goals and communication desires as well as values, norms and rhythms. This can lead to challenges, increased miscommunica- tions or intercultural conflicts due to the perceived incompatibilities (Ting-Toomey & Oetzel, 2013). Communication forms an important part in the handling of intercultural encounters. It is not only about speaking the language, it is about the right way of communicating, especially when mediating between different cultures, or as Jawaharlal Nehru once said:

One has to recognize that countries and people differ in their approach and their ways of living and thinking. In order to understand them we have to understand their way of life and approach. If we wish to convince them, we have to use their lan- guage as far as we can, not language in the narrow sense of the word, but the lan- guage of mind (Tirmizi, 2008a, p. 21).

The paper on hand concentrates on the intercultural communication process at the workplace with a focus on multicultural teams. It is a research that investigates the dif- ferences and challenges of communicating in a multicultural team as well as the oppor- tunities and ways of improvement. The aim is to identify whether a multicultural team is supposed to be viewed as a burden or rather as a chance for growth. First of all, defini- tions for culture, a multicultural team, communication, and intercultural communication are presented briefly to point out what is meant by them on the pages that follow. Cul- tural variations in regard to communication, or more precisely high and low context communication (Hall), fast and slow information flow, neutral and affective communica- tion (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner) and nonverbal communication, are illustrated in chapter three. Chapter four follows with the analysis of challenges and opportunities for multicultural teams and the leadership. Chapter five tries to convey concrete ideas and measures including essential competencies to improve the intercultural communication process. The final chapter provides an evaluation and summary of the examined as- pects and tries to answer the question whether cultural differences, concentrating on communication processes in multicultural teams, imply unbearable challenges or op- portunities for success.

2 Culture and Communication

This chapter gives an overview of the important terms and concepts that form the basis of this paper. It analyses what can be understood when talking about culture and ex- amines the meaning of a multicultural team. Afterwards, the communication process with a sender and a receiver is explained and subsequently transferred onto an inter- cultural communication setting with its particularities.

2.1 Culture

The concept of culture is not that easy to define as it combines a lot of different facets. Nevertheless, an attempt has been made by identifying that culture consists of “shared ways of thinking, feeling and behaving rooted in deep-level values and symbols asso- ciated with societal effectiveness, and attributable to an identifiable group of people. Culture may manifest at different levels (…), may take several forms, and may evolve over time” (Tirmizi, 2008a, p. 23). Furthermore, culture includes mores, tradition, cus- toms and habits (Hall & Hall, 2000). According to Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner (2011), it is arranged in complementary layers. There are fundamental assumptions about existence arranged at the center, surrounded by norms and values (meaning what is regarded as right and wrong or good and bad) and artifacts and products in the outer layer. The latter refers to the explicit culture that is apparent to others like the particular language, buildings or art. Hall & Hall (2000) outline that culture also plays a very important role in the communication process, given that it is a system for “creating, sending, storing, and processing information developed by human beings, which differ- entiates them from other life forms” (p. 183).

2.2 Multicultural Team

After showing how wide the concept of culture is, it can be envisioned how much a team can get affected when several cultures are represented by the membership. A team includes many individuals with a particular cultural background.

In a multicultural team, a multiplicity of national cultures, subcultures and identities can be found that bring along a lot of different facets (Tirmizi, 2008b). Besides that, the team members of a multicultural team are “independent in their tasks, (…) share re- sponsibility for outcomes, (…) see themselves and are seen by others as an intact so- cial entity embedded in one or more larger social systems, and (…) manage their rela- tionships across organizational boundaries and beyond” (Tirmizi, 2008b, p. 5).

2.3 Communication

As mentioned previously, culture has an influence on communication. To understand how both concepts cohere, a closer look is taken at the communication process.

Communication comes from the Latin word communis including com, what means with or together, and munis, implying service or gift (Westwood & Borgen, 1988). A sender delivers a message and a receiver understands and interprets the message, hopefully as intended.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: A traditional communication model (Griffin, 2008, p. 176)

The sender uses words and nonverbal behaviors like eye contact or posture in addi- tion. As shown in Figure 1, there are environmental factors as well as personal and cultural filters interfering with the sender and receiver interaction process. Those filters are also called noise and have severe effects on the sender’s construct of the message and on the receiver’s interpretation (Griffin, 2008).

Communication can appear in the form of words (for instance, in business and politics), material things (that show status and power), or behavior (transmitting how others feel or avoid confrontation). Only some people are aware that messages differentiate in their speed. Headlines, television and manners are examples for fast messages, whereas art, books, culture, deep relationships and language are examples for slow ones (Hall & Hall, 2000). According to Westwood and Borgen (1988), a well-functioning communication can lead to a better data flow and to more understanding, well-being and fulfillment.

Communication should not be underestimated as it has an influence on the climate and effectiveness of a team. It can have an impact not only on the team members’ intensity of trust, commitment, performance, satisfaction and motivation but also on processes like information sharing, decision making and community and relationship building. An effective communication can provide knowledge and mutual understanding, it sets di- rection and helps to act appropriately (Griffin, 2008).

2.4 Intercultural Communication

An intercultural context brings special features to the communication process. Follow- ing Figure 1, filters in an intercultural interaction that cause noise can be prejudices and stereotypes, language, dialects, mental models, the use of silence, the vocal tone, physical proximity as well as formality and directness of the message, history, assump- tions or fears. Those filters then influence the sender’s or the receiver’s behavior. If the receiver is a group, there is a diversity of filters and interpretations. In addition, the fil- ters interact with each other because the team members exchange their understanding of the message. Since there is a wider audience in a multicultural team, a well- functioning communication is required. Team members must combine a multitude of viewpoints, experiences and numerous locations (Griffin, 2008). According to Hall & Hall (2000), intercultural communication is “deeper and more complex than spoken or written messages. The essence of effective cross-cultural communication has more to do with releasing the right responses than with sending the right messages” (p. 4).

3 Cultural Variations

The multiplicity of facets and the influence of culture has been accentuated in the pre- vious chapter. In the following, it is described in which areas cultures differentiate ex- actly. In doing so, a closer look is taken on those variations interfering with the com- munication process.

Cultures vary in many ways. Those cultural differences, often called cultural dimen- sions, can be subdivided into the three categories relationships with people, attitudes towards time and space and attitudes towards the environment. Dimensions of the cat- egory relationships with people include, for instance, universalism and particularism (rules versus relationships), individualism and collectivism (the individual versus the group), specificity and diffuseness (the degree of involvement in the business relation- ship), achievement and ascription, affective and neutral communication, and high and low context communication. Attitudes towards time and space are, for example, char- acterized by monochronic or polychronic cultures (one thing at time and scheduling versus many interruptions as relationships are valued more), by territoriality and per- sonal distance and by the orientation towards the past, present or future. They are de- termined by whether schedules and agendas are followed and by the manner the busi- ness is organized. Besides those cultural dimensions, there can be a lot of additional distinctions like whether formal or informal communication is used, or which communi- cation structures are applied (Hall & Hall, 2000; Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 2011; Griffin, 2008).

3.1 High and Low Context Communication (Hall)

Hall’s cultural dimension of high and low context communication is characterized by the amount of information the listener already has. In low context countries like America or Scandinavia, people compartmentalize personal relationships and work. They lack in- formation and information networks outside their expertise that are necessary for deci- sion-making. Consequently, the speaker must tell them everything and include all of the context details in the explicit message. There is the possibility of an information overload due to the lack of channels. In high context countries such as Japan or the Arab states, the explicit message includes very little context information as the listener is already contexted, he already possesses a lot of information. That means that back- ground information is neither required nor expected since the people stay informed within their highly developed information networks between family, friends, colleagues and clients. They are used to frequent interruptions. An example for a high context in- teraction can be demonstrated by twins that share a lot of background information, whereas two people from different countries meeting for the first time communicate low contexted. The situation as well as the relationship gets affected. Even a change in the level of context is possible and can serve as a communication tool (Hall & Hall, 2000).

3.2 Fast and Slow Information Flow

The fast or slow information flow refers to monochronic and polychronic cultures and to high and low context cultures. It is determined by the time a message takes from send- er to the receiver’s response. In polychronic cultures like France, information flows rap- idly and freely within groups but is limited between groups. In contrast, in monochronic cultures like Germany, information flows slowly in inflexible compartmentalization and is controlled and focused. A fast information flow can be found in high context cultures, a slow one in low context ones (Hall & Hall, 2000).

3.3 Neutral and Affective Communication (Trompenaars & Hampden- Turner)

Interactions also vary in the way that feelings and emotions are expressed. The com- munication process is either characterized by an affective exchange of information or by an objective and detached one. In North America and Northwest Europe, it is com- mon practice to communicate efficiently and achieve objectives by leaving any confus- ing emotions out. Farther south, communication is seen as a human affair where emo- tional expressions like showing anger, laughing or banging one’s fist on the table is seen as appropriate (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 2011).

3.4 Nonverbal Communication

Besides the verbal message with spoken words, there is nonverbal communication that should not be underestimated. Each culture has its own standard guidelines concern- ing nonverbal signs, obtained through socialization processes. That’s why the differ- ences are relative. For instance, an Arab finds that an American’s tone of voice sounds emotionally disengaged or cold, whereas a person from East Asia would perceive it as harsh or too heated. Southern European and Arab people appreciate an expressive and emotionally engaged tone of voice, whereas in East and Southeast Asia a moder- ating and soft tone of voice is preferred. The display of nonverbal behavior is also de- pendent on status, gender and cultural norms. In individualistic cultures, a lot of posi- tive and negative emotions can be shown. In contrast, in collectivistic cultures, only modest positive emotions, such as being friendly, are common. Extreme negative emo- tions like anger should not be displayed in public. They distinct rigidly between their in- and out-group and are not as good at decoding negative emotions due to their lack of experience. Culture-specific nonverbal communication includes emblems, illustrators, regulators and adaptors. Emblems are hand gestures and movements with intention and direct reference to the spoken word. Additionally, they can substitute a verbal message. Examples are greeting rituals and peace or insult gestures. Each culture has its own specific meanings and rules of display. Illustrators draw a picture accordingly to the verbal message. They are used complementary, especially in Southern Europe. Regulators include kinesics, oculesics and vocalics. Their function is to control pauses and the flow of the conversation, they reflect cultural norms and are the most regulated nonverbal signs. Adaptors are habits and gestures that react to internal or external physical or psychological needs. Therefore, they are not used to communicate. It is very important to use them in the right context at the right time, for example, whistling is seen as rude in India (Ting-Toomey, 1999).

4 Challenges and Opportunities

Differences and variations between cultures, especially in view of communication, have been pointed out. This chapter brings the outcomes and consequences of those cultur- al differences into focus and analysis the challenges and opportunities for a multicul- tural team in communication. Additionally, it shows ideas on how to best lead a multi- cultural team.

Cultural or linguistic differences can cause conflicts between cultures. Limited infor- mation or experience can lead to generalization, stereotyping and prejudices, to ethno- centric behavior, a biased and shallow perception, and finally to discrimination, racism or separation. People may perceive and categorize in terms of their own culture and ignore differences. Cultural conditioning through the family and the social environment can remain unconscious but does have severe effects on the individual and is passed from one generation to the next. There are several reasons for cultural conflicts due to differences and ambiguities in language. On the one hand, there are characteristics that are shared by all languages, but on the other hand, there is no accurate corre- spondence between them, and meanings can differ in the particular cultural context (Muhammad, 2005).

4.1 Teams and Individuals

The important question is, whether and how those intercultural conflicts can be pre- vented and solved. Therefore, it is necessary to find out how it is best to interact with each other in view of cultural differences, where the challenges are and how they can be used as chances for improvement. This chapter focuses on multicultural teams in the work environment in regard to communication.

In terms of team performance, empirical research showed that on the one hand, there are studies saying heterogenous teams outperform homogenous ones, but on the oth- er hand, some studies emphasize that homogenous teams require less time and effort due to conflicts and difficulties in communication. Furthermore, it is very much depend- ent on the type of task, the task interdependence, the types of differences, the re- sponses of the team members and the management of the teamwork (Tirmizi, 2008b).

There is an individual communication culture in every team formed through experienc- es and preferences of all team members. Specific norms are created by the team, whether it is intentional or unintentional. The more conscious a group becomes about its norms, the better it can choose between them to support communication. If those norms meet the values and needs of the team members, a hybrid culture is existent. The cultures then overlap, inclusion and mutual understanding are promoted. In an ongoing team building process with new team members it is important to talk about the understanding of the culture in the team in order to develop an idea of the communica- tion process in the group. Open mindedness, self-awareness, flexibility in approach and appreciation for everyone’s needs, values and differences are indispensable for an enhanced intercultural communication. Teams and individuals must build bridges across their cultural differences. Through communication it is possible to get to know strangers and to destroy cultural or linguistic barriers. Virtual teams face even more challenges. Communication techniques and tools like active listening or giving feed- back can help. A well-functioning communication can lead to innovative solutions, productivity, strong relationships, inclusion, collaboration, harmony and peace. It is indispensable for the exchange of information and for contributing to the team. Invisible aspects like the tone of the conversation should not be underestimated as they last longer within the membership. Differences need to be acknowledged in order to estab- lish more creativity. All team members must work together, decisions, meetings and actions should be documented and distributed (Griffin, 2008). All in all, communication in an intercultural context is very complex and goes far beyond exchanging verbal messages, or as Griffin (2008) summarizes:

I believe that, at the transpersonal level, everything is already known and under- stood. You can see into the hearts and minds of colleagues and neighbors. Knowing at this level requires a still mind, relinquishment of the ego, and investment in know- ing with more than what the conscious mind is aware of. You will need to allow the witness within to be the knower, the part that is connected to everyone else and to the Universal Mind. A challenge is to bring this high quality, a more-accurate-than- words kind of knowing and communicating, into conscious awareness. Communica- tion and understanding will improve when life is lived in responsible relationship to the whole and to individual needs, neither subordinate to the other (pp. 204-205).

4.2 Leadership

Not only the team members are affected by their differing cultural backgrounds. The management must consider new ways and strategies as there are divergent demands, needs and expectations in the membership. Kumbruck and Derboven suggest that leaders apply a situational leadership so they can adapt to the motivation and abilities of their team members. Because of differing cultural backgrounds, team members of a multicultural team distinguish in their expectations of leadership. Those expectations, if unfulfilled, can lead to a lack of acceptance and can have an influence on the leader. The manager should therefore include role expectations but at the same time shape and change them if necessary. He must be aware that in a multicultural team there is an uncertainty in action due to cultural differences. Thus, he bears a lot of responsibility and functions as a role model because employees might observe and imitate him. He must be conscious about his own behavior. Mutual learning is seen as a factor of suc- cess and should therefore be integrated in the leadership style as well as a transpar- ency of rules and processes. Furthermore, the leader is supposed to possess a high degree of sensitivity, self-reflection and knowledge of cultural differences and dimen- sions to reflect the employees’ behavior as well as his own (translated from Kumbruck and Derboven, 2016).

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Details

Title
Communication in Multicultural Teams. Do Cultural Differences Imply Unbearable Challenges or Opportunities for Success?
College
Fresenius University of Applied Sciences Idstein
Grade
1,0
Author
Year
2020
Pages
26
Catalog Number
V988004
ISBN (eBook)
9783346346964
Language
English
Tags
Intercultural Competencies, Interkulturelle Kompetenzen, Intercultural Communication, Interkulturelle Kommunikation, multicultural, multikulturell, Culture, Kultur, Differences, Unterschiede, Team, Information, nonverbal, Leadership, international, Hall, Trompenaars, Hampden-Turner, cross-cultural, transkulturell, transcultural, Diversity, Diversität, Globalisierung, Globalization, Gesture Translation, Gestik, high context, low context, information flow, fast, slow, Informationsfluss, schnell, langsam, neutral, affective, intercultural, interkulturell, Communication, Kommunikation, Kompetenz, Competence
Quote paper
Deborah Seiferth (Author), 2020, Communication in Multicultural Teams. Do Cultural Differences Imply Unbearable Challenges or Opportunities for Success?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/988004

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