Teaching Intercultural Management Communication: Where Are We? Where Do We Go?
Varner, Iris I., Business Communication Quarterly
DURING THE PAST 10 YEARS, a number of schools have added courses in intercultural business communication, several books have appeared on the market (Beamer & Vamer, 2001; Chaney & Martin, 2000; Kenton & Valentine, 1997; Victor, 1992), and the number of internationally oriented presentations at regional and national ABC conventions has gone up significantly (Varner, 1999). All of these developments are positive, but much needs to be done to make the teaching of intercultural business communication more effective. In light of this need, this article addresses two questions:
* What are some major challenges we face in teaching intercultural business communication?
* How can we meet these challenges to assure that students become effective intercultural managers and communicators?
The final section outlines several specific activities to improve intercultural business communication skills.
The major challenges for intercultural management communication are 1) tying the teaching of culture clearly to business, 2) avoiding being blinded by static and traditional views of culture, and 3) recognizing the role of the self-reference criterion and the diversity within cultures.
Tie the Teaching of Culture Clearly to Business
All too often the focus of intercultural business communication courses is on general intercultural communication rather than on intercultural business communication. However, many aspects of general culture are irrelevant for international business. In an intercultural business communication course the focus must be on business, and we need to tie our teaching firmly to business issues. How we position the course will have far reaching implications for what we emphasize in the course and how we connect culture and business (Varner, 2000).
At the same time, the intercultural business communication course is not an international business course that mentions culture briefly in passing but never connects business practices with cultural priorities and orientation. In this case, culture is treated as a soft area that is not relevant to production results, sales figures, and financial data. Managers who only focus on functional business issues will be hesitant to examine culture as a variable in international business success (Klaesgen, 2000).
The academic background of the instructor can pose a challenge as well. Few have a formal background in the field and, therefore, they may not know what cultural aspects are or are not important in intercultural business situations.
Instructors who come from the humanities or a language background may not be familiar with business issues. They may even have a negative view of business. As a result, they may focus on the preservation of traditional culture and see business developments as a threat. Instructors who approach the field from a business background may focus almost exclusively on strategic business issues and not pay much attention to intercultural communication (Weitzenbuerger, 2000). The two sides may look at intercultural management communication from entirely different perspectives.
My university, for example, has a year-long focus on globalization with many guest speakers, panel discussions, and programs. I am on the steering committee. For me, coming from a business background, globalization presents some problems, but in the balance it is mostly positive. How do cultures get along, what can we learn from each other; how can we improve life for everyone through globalization? I was rather surprised in the first meeting when my colleagues from Arts and Sciences almost exclusively talked about the negatives, such as exploitation, sweat shops, poverty, and negative results for the environment. A person with that viewpoint approaches intercultural business communication differently from a person who has a positive outlook. We need to present a balanced picture. …