Oluremi Ayoko, Charmine Härtel, Greg Fisher and Yuka Fujimoto
Evidence abounds of an increasing escalation of business globalization (Bartlett, 1989; Nadesan, 2001; Prince, 2001; Sands, 2001). Increasing competitive pressure is being placed on international firms to develop worldwide communication networks within their own firms, as well as with their suppliers, customers and their external constituencies such as government agencies and special interest groups (Babcock and Babcock, 2001; Fisher et al., 2001b). This phenomenon is compounded by the constant development in technologies that allow a rapidly expanding number of messages to be exchanged within a short span of time and across large geographical distances. Communication skills that bridge cultural boundaries are therefore critical to both employee and organizational effectiveness.
These trends mean that today’s organizations must find effective ways to manage the increasing heterogeneity in their workforces and consumer bases (Ashkanasy et al., 2002a). Research indicates environments where diversity creates productive conflict result in organizational effectiveness such as greater innovativeness (Jackson et al., 1992), improved problem solving and decision making, and higher levels of creativity (Härtel and Fujimoto, 1999). On the other hand, failing to equip employees with the skill to deal with diversity runs the risk of promoting destructive conflict in the organization (Watson et al., 1993; Ayoko et al., in press), which results in reductions in team performance and increased turnover and absenteeism (Hambrick, 1994), as well as negative effects on individuals’ emotional well-being (Fujimoto and Härtel, in press).
The organizational implications of diversity mean that individuals who come from different cultures and possess different language competence levels will require specific strategies that can help them achieve effective communication during business interactions. This is because it is anticipated that their roles as producers and customers will add value to interrelated global business networks (Porter, 1985). This is, however, no easy task. The diversity literature paints conflicting pictures of the effects of cross-cultural (compared to mono-cultural) interaction (for example Milliken and Martins, 1996; Chatman et al., 1998;