The Theoretical Foundation for Intercultural Business Communication: A Conceptual Model

By Varner, Iris I. | The Journal of Business Communication, January 2000 | Go to article overview

The Theoretical Foundation for Intercultural Business Communication: A Conceptual Model


Varner, Iris I., The Journal of Business Communication


This article develops a theoretical framework for intercultural business communication which sets it apart from intercultural communication and international business. In the past, discussions on the theory of intercultural business communication have mostly focused on intercultural communication using business as examples rather than including business as a distinct variable. The model presented here discusses the intercultural, business, and communication strategies that are part of intercultural business communication. It is argued that for intercultural business communication to take place, it is not sufficient for all three variables to be present. The three variables interact and create a synergy that reflects the dynamic character of intercultural business communication. In this process, intercultural business communication becomes a unique construct that is different from intercultural medical or intercultural religious communication. The article examines how past articles in the field fit into this model.

Keywords: Intercultural Business Communication, Models of the Communication Process, Theories of Business Communication

The thesis of this article is that a theoretical framework of intercultural business communication must include business as an essential variable where business is not just used to illustrate a point, but where business as an organization and/or activity becomes an integral part of the theory. As the term implies, intercultural business communication deals with intercultural issues, communication, and business. It is the communication among individuals or groups from different cultural backgrounds in a business environment. As such it has its own identity separate from business communication, intercultural communication, and international business. Some authors use the term international business communication, some use intercultural communication. In this article I will use the term intercultural business communication for intercultural business communication within and between countries.

Historically, much of the research examining international issues falls into two categories: international business and intercultural communication. The intercultural business communication research draws heavily from intercultural communication and international business (Lovitt, 1999). However, relying on research from related disciplines can create risks. For example, imported research may provide answers to questions that do not go to the heart of intercultural business communication and impose its own conceptual model of intercultural communication or international business that may hinder the development of more appropriate concepts of intercultural business communication (Lovitt, 1999).

Authors who focus on international business may discuss some communication issues, often in relation to negotiation or expatriate selection and training, but the emphasis is typically not on the communication but on functional business problems.

For example, Inkson, Pringle, Arthur, and Barry (1997) examine and contrast models of international human resource development. Others examine reasons for failure of expatriates (Mendenhall & Oddou, 1986), attempt to build models for better selection procedures (Nicholson, Stepina, & Hochwarter, 1990), and explore the impact of the move from ethnocentric to polycentric and global staffing on corporate strategies and goals (Kobrin, 1988). While expatriate selection and training clearly have communication implications, these researchers typically do not focus on the intercultural business communication element but rather on the content of the training and the process of selection of employees.

Others focus on cultural variables that affect intercultural business, but the emphasis is not on the intercultural business communication process but on cultural attitudes (Hofstede, 1980; Hofstede, Neuijen, & Ohayv, 1990). …

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