Some Sources of Misunderstandings in Intercultural Business Communication Part 4
maart 30, 2019

Some Sources of Misunderstandings in Intercultural Business Communication Part 4

1) T. Lázár University of Debrecen Faculty of Economics and Business,

4. Some other areas of misunderstandings in intercultural communication caused by cultural differences

In successful intercultural communication participants need to speak a common language properly, they need to be aware of the cultural differences and should take them into consideration, but in some situations misunderstandings can arise even if the participants fulfil the above-mentioned requirements. According to Larkey (1996) in culturally diverse workgroups misunderstanding may come from misinterpretations of intent, organisational practices, or interpersonal reactions, as well as simple miscommunication of ideas or values.

There are different areas of language use which might cause problems in intercultural communication. One of these areas is the language of numbers. In written communication there are differences in using decimal points in different parts of the world. In some countries they use the decimal point to separate thousands (in most European countries) while in the United States they use the comma. Another example is the use of billion and milliard for numbers with nine zeros. In some countries they use the phrase billion (US, Britain etc.) and in other countries they use milliard for the same number (Russia, Italy, Germany etc.) .

Although the metric system was designed to be universal all over the world, the conversion of scientific units into their SI equivalents might be problematic. There are different systems of units in use in various areas of science. For example the British system of units, known as imperial units and the similar US Customary Units, which are legal in the USA and Canada .

There are other aspects which are in close relation with cultural differences which can be the inward, non-verbal intercultural communication. They are gestures, facial expressions, interpersonal distance, eye contact, touch and silence. Some important areas of causing misunderstanding are listed below, but they are just examples, of course there can be a lot more .

The prevention or handling of possible misunderstandings can be led by philosophy and useful methodology in the field of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Existing mentor programs, for example can protect intergeneration conflicts .

One of the important areas to avoid future misunderstandings is the attitude toward time because it can vary from culture to culture. For example people in Latin America, Southern Europe, and the Middle East have different attitudes toward punctuality and interruptions than people in the United States, England, Germany or Switzerland .

Also, the layout of the office and the arrangement of furniture play an important role in different cultures. This can convey power and show status .


International Journal of Engineering and Management Sciences (IJEMS) Vol. 2. (2017). No. 3.

DOI: 10.21791/IJEMS.2017.3.9.

In an intercultural business context even using colours can cause problems because there are some cultural differences associated with colours. Just to mention one example: black is the colour of mourning in many European countries and in the United States, too. However, in Japan and some other countries it is white, and on the African continent red has similar connotations .

Another important area of nonverbal communication is clothing. In some cultures dressing conservatively or casually reflects different messages and can be associated with social status or wealth .

When doing business internationally you must apply the correct interpersonal space during conversations. There can be differences in the appropriate space in different cultures. For example people in the United States need more space than people in Latin America, but the Japanese need even more space .

Body language is an important part of the communication process in any culture. This may take different forms, for example facial expressions, gestures and posture. In many cases gestures depend on the culture and the context, and to avoid misinterpretations use them with care in international business settings . Another difference can be found in using touches and body contacts in intercultural business communications. Shaking hands is accepted in many cultures, hugging on the other hand may seem inappropriate in some cultures. In countries like Italy, Greece, Spain touching is tolerated whereas in Hong Kong for example, any type of physical contact is best avoided .

In some business cultures people favour direct eye contact, for example in the US, Great Britain, Eastern Europe, while in other cultures eye contact is avoided, and for example in the Middle East there is a prolonged eye contact which can be uncomfortable for those who are not accustomed to it. There can be cultural variations concerning the eye contact with women in different cultures. If you are not familiar with these customs you can misinterpret the eye contact .

In many countries in business meetings there is a given amount of “small talk” before gettingdown to business. But this might be a minefield for intercultural communicators as there aredifferences concerning the topics of this “small talk”: it is appropriate to talk about some topicsin some countries but they are considered inappropriate in other countries. Problematic topics could be politics, religion and family situations .

The role of silence as a form of nonverbal communication is different in different cultures. Some might interpret it as a sign of agreement, while others as a lack of interest .

These examples illustrate that communicators should take many aspects of intercultural business communication into consideration, which requires intercultural competencies, preparation and experience. These skills can be improved and nowadays multinational companies realise how important they are and they are willing to invest in improving them.


International Journal of Engineering and Management Sciences (IJEMS) Vol. 2. (2017). No. 3.

DOI: 10.21791/IJEMS.2017.3.9.

5. Conclusion

Intercultural communication is determined by sociocultural, and psychological considerations The success or failure of intercultural communication can depend on different factors but we can agree that culture has a very important role in it. There is a large variety of skills that communicators need to develop in intercultural communication and the more they have the better communicators they can be. The lack of a common language can act as a barrier to successful intercultural communication but this is not the only factor. There are a lot of other areas which might cause problems in intercultural communication so it is advisable to be well prepared before you communicate with people from other cultures. . Moreover, there is a growing interest in intercultural communication in international business life. Investment in exploring and developing the intercultural communication potential of employees is no longer a challenge, but should be a part of duties in everyday business operation, and also in strategical thinking.

About Professor C.J.M. Beniers

Prof. C.J.M. Beniers is a well known authority in the field of modern and international communication techniques. He developed the Six-Component-Model. This model enables companies, institutions and politicians to communicate and negotiate with counterparts from all over the world successfully. His career began as international manager at Philips and later he earned his doctorate as professor in communication. He has more than 35 years experience as manager and management trainer. Thus he knows both sides – theory and praxis – very well. As scientist, Prof. Beniers conducts frequently research in the field of intercultural communication. The results of his interesting research can be found in news articles, free pod casts, audio books and his E-books such as “Bridging The Cultural Gap.” Here, modern managers learn how to prepare for business meetings with people from different cultures; they acquire the techniques and tools to handle situations in times of crises successfully, master intercultural barriers, country-specific communication patterns, looking into personal cultural values & systems. Knowing all this, men can prevent cultural misunderstandings and misinterpretations – not only in business but also in private life.

NL Zoetermeer, 30-05-2019


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