Culture relates to the customs, ideas and values of a particular civilization, society or social group, especially at a particular time. Culture is what people are. It relates to the way of life and encompasses beliefs, attitudes, values, expectations and norms of behaviour. People from the same cultural background share common beliefs and values and their expressions, approaches, understanding and responses to given situations follow a certain predictable pattern. Given this commonality, communication within this cultural group is easy. Differences in culture translate into differences in language, accent, background, body language, distance, intimacy, values, beliefs and expectations.
These differences get sharper with distance and diversity. In a country like India, culture would vary from eastern region to western and southern region to northern region. In the larger context, there are huge cultural differences among people across the globe. Countries in the eastern region like Japan, Korea, China and India are culturally very different from western countries like England, Germany, USA and Canada. Religions and backgrounds further accentuate these cultural differences. Religions specify certain behaviour and discipline, which people subscribing to that religion adhere to. Arab countries follow Islam and their practices would vary very much from people following other religions like Hinduism, Buddhism or Christianity.
All these diversities make the process of business communication more complex. It is pertinent to note here that there is a term called ‘culture shock’ that refers to disorientation caused by a change from a familiar environment, culture and ideology to another that is radically different or alien. Awareness and preparedness help overcome any kind of culture shock. A business communicator, to be effective, should recognize the diversity and make conscious efforts to adapt, orient and reach out. Business communication, as we may recall, is always goal oriented. Be it oral, written or even non-verbal communication, the communicator wants to convey the message so as to elicit the desired response. This may relate to providing information or seeking some specific response or even motivating people to act in a particular manner.
Cultural differences call for adapting the appropriate tone, accent, loudness, pace and clarity in verbal communication, and appropriate handshake, postures, gestures, body movements, timing and distance in non-verbal communication. It means that the approach to communication that works well within a cultural group need not necessarily work well in an inter-cultural context. Any business communicator who wishes to communicate effectively with heterogeneous cultural groups should make extra efforts to understand the cultural differences and accordingly develop relevant communication skills. Like it is in India, in other countries too, there could be region-to-region variations or rural-urban variations even within the country. Generalizations and presumptions, therefore, should be avoided. Cultural differences across different regions and countries manifest themselves in different ways.
The business communicator should be particularly conscious about the following aspects: conversational style, method of greeting, timing and punctuality, paying compliments, giving gifts, attire and dressing up for meetings, respect for elders, addressing people by name, interpretation of silence, spatial distance during meetings, gestures and touch, use of manners and formality, frankness and intimacy, expression of emotions and methods of negotiation.