|Nonverbal Communicative behaviour in international business|
Nonverbal communicative behaviour in international business
Different studies have shown that a better knowledge of other cultures and keeping an open mind can improve our perception toward strangers. Learning to make better connections with individuals from different backgrounds will help us identify emotions through nonverbal communication cues. Therefore, our negotiation skills will sharpen as we move into a more familiar setting. Expressing the right message with our different body parts, gestures and facial expressions is as important as the words we choose in a communication.
Communication in international settings has been always very complex. Negotiation developments can take longer periods of time while individuals begin building a relationship of trust and familiarity. It is very common to see that at a certain point of an international negotiation, individuals negotiating remotely will set up a meeting to meet in person. This is often part of a negotiation process, and can happen in the early, intermediate or final stages of the negotiation. Body language, voice tone and facial gestures are very important components in nonverbal communication and can help to mold first impressions when negotiating with individuals from other cultures.
The assertion that a thorough understanding of nonverbal communicative behavior among people of different cultures settings is very important for the favorable outcome of a negotiation.
Today’s business world has become increasingly globalized with many new cultures involved, and new major economic powers such as
Unfortunately, a lot of organizations nowadays, in an effort to reduce their spending on foreign travel may overlook misinterpretations caused when information is transmitted through just electronic channels such as phone, media, internet, etc., in place of face to face meetings. As qualitative research indicates, certain cultures prefer face to face meeting to written communication (Ngai, 2000). In addition, as found in Ngai’s research, negotiators from high-context cultures, who rely heavily on nonverbal cues for communication purposes, are likely to find that face-to-face meetings will provide them with valuable information that would not be available through written communication, (Andersen, 1988, 1999).
Professor Michael Wheeler (2003) writes in his article, “Do you know where to look for the right cue?”, that “old-fashioned face-to-face negotiation remains the best way to establish the type of connection needed to forge an agreement that benefits all sides”. Wheeler’s (2003) emphasis on creating and maintaining connection among negotiators is as critical as the ability to recognize subtle nonverbal cues in the communication.
Connecting with others is to show others we are aware of their needs. The effort and enthusiasm to share experiences, ideas and strategies with others can bring us with positive rewards while we leverage relationships.
Goman (2002) emphasizes that while negotiating in international settings, it is as important to understand specific greeting behaviors, business protocol, negotiation behaviors, social behavior, nonverbal communication, religion, morals and superstitions as it is to have general information of individuals.
Companies and individuals who want to increase their international business are often required to understand the culture and languages of their international business partners. Individuals with different backgrounds, cultures and languages experience communication in different ways. Despite knowledge of a different language, misinterpretation can still occur in verbal communication. So, it is easier to learn to interpret messages conveyed if we are more sensitive to understanding differences in nonverbal cues among different cultures.
Observing and listening with greater detail in a negotiation between people of different cultures can be very helpful in adapting to specific cultural behaviors. People also appreciate efforts and interest in learning more about them and their cultures which help find common ground among partners and create a smoother communication process. As cited in the International Journal of Listening, Reik (1954/1972) mentions that listening to someone requires people to attend to more than just words being spoken; they must also observe others behaviors. Timm and Schroeder (2000) affirm that with communication among diverse groups, individuals need to be more knowledgeable about differences among cultures including communication patterns, especially in relation to listening/nonverbal communication, to become effective communicators.
Other research on communicate patterns between different cultures indicates specific differences in nonverbal behavior between high context and low context cultures. Ngai (2000), describes in her research high context and low-context cultures as groups of people that have very specific related characteristics.
High context cultures are more expressive nonverbally. However, they tend to omit facts and verbal codes that are relevant and valued by low context cultures. People from high context cultures enjoy starting conversations with casual topics and like to learn from the person they are negotiating with. They want to acquire more information from their business counterparts that can help them to attain a higher comfort level with whom they are working with. Understanding differences in values, customs and personal beliefs can help them find things in common while making sure they create a comfortable environment before they proceed with negotiations. For high context cultures, this is a very crucial process because they want to make sure they like and trust their business counterpart. Whatever is said and how it is said can change their emotions easily and that is why they pay close attention to the way things are disclosed to them as well as how they disclose things to their counterpart. Some examples of countries with high context cultures are Japan, China Mainland, Ethiopia and Latin American countries.
For that reason, the combination of nonverbal cues such as voice tone, eye contact and gestures have more weight than the words they hear. On the other hand, with low context cultures negotiations need to be precise and agreed on a reasonably short period of time. Low context individuals place a higher emphasis on verbal communication. They like people to be direct and explicit and expect the same level of commitment as they display. They do not appreciate things to be left up in the air. The more details and specifics that are provided the more comfortable they feel. Low context cultures tend to be very precise with their verbal and nonverbal expressions in a way to express clarity and certainty. Examples of countries with low context cultures are the United States, England, Hong Kong, other parts of Europe and Tanzania.
The main idea is that while we learn about differences among different cultures and understand that there are certain categories of individuals based on their cultural characteristics, we will gain better insights and impressions of those differences and why inevitably cultural clashes sometimes occur. Ngai (2000) qualitative research study conducted throughout the Asian continent during negotiations with a U.S. counterpart, studies differences in cultural nonverbal cues in intercultural communication. Ngai (2000) used Patterson’s (1990) 12 categories of nonverbal classifications listed below, to code her observations:
1) facial expression
2) gaze and eye movement
4) body movement
6) space and territory
9) physical appearance
According to Marsh, Elfenbein, and Ambady, (2003) in their research report Nonverbal “Accents”: cultural differences in facial expressions of emotion, mentions that research on the judgment of emotions across cultures suggests that people have more difficulty understanding nonverbal communication of individuals from foreign cultures. And that is because emotional expressions may function as a universal language, but one with regional accents. In other words, we find more easily to understand people within our same cultural group.
An example of the differences in above noted nonverbal communicative behaviors can be demonstrated in a first time introduction between an American man (low context culture) and a Latin American woman (high context culture). The high context Latin American woman will greet the low context American man in a very close and personal way utilizing much closer body movements, posture and touch that is normal for introductions in Latin America, where individuals express themselves with a warm and gestured expression. It is a way to show people that they are welcome and no longer strangers.
However, these behaviors can be uncomfortable and intimidating to the American man who is used to low context introductions that are more formal and less personal. He is not used to public touching and prefers to maintain control of his personal space and territory and have less sensory involvement. A better understanding of the Latin American culture will make this type of introduction more comfortable and less intimidating for the American man.
Facial expressions, gestures, gaze and eye movement can also indicate particular meanings. For people in low high context cultures it may be easier to express the right meaning with these nonverbal cues in accordance with their words as they want to be as clear and concise as possible. In high context cultures, at times, while a person shows a positive gesture or a positive emotion with its body, he/she might be thinking the opposite of what is said. This culture tends to suppress their emotions to avoid early disagreements and confrontation with others. Their common behavior is to first show courtesy and politeness which may be secondary the specific business at hand.
According to Andersen (1988) as cited in Ngai research (2000), people from high context cultures prefer evasion to painful decisions and tend to be non-disclosive. Thus, they feel the best way to express differences of opinion is indirectly.
Moreover, Efron, D. (1941), as found in Ambady, et al., (2003) revealed that many studies have demonstrated that people use “body language” as they speak, gesturing with their hands and bodies in a way consistent with the particular language they are speaking. Different languages are associated with different patterns of gesture, even when spoken by the same person.
As cited in the International Journal of Listening (2000), one of the earliest researchers in nonverbal signals, Mehrabian (1971), discovered that 93 percent of the total impact of a message comes from nonverbal aspects-vocal and visual. Thus, merely 7 percent of the impact comes from the words. Burgoon, J.K. & Woodall, W.G., (1996) see nonverbal communication as “an unspoken dialogue”. Focusing on our own and others feelings, reactions and nonverbal cues can increase our opportunities to successfully communicate in a universal language that breaks down boundaries, expands our knowledge of others and make us better communicators.
Connecting, creating rapport and understanding the universe of nonspoken symbols, can be considered essential strategies to create a positive outcome of an international negotiation. When one learns to identify nonverbal cues, identify group differences and international differences, it is easier to adapt to people and to create shared opportunities to negotiate in a more flexible and comfortable way.
Understanding and knowledge of differences in cultures will help us avoid incorrect assumptions while helping us find the precise meaning of nonverbal communication and lead to more successful business negotiations.