Communicating in a World of Diversity
LEARNING OBJECTIVES After studying this chapter, you will be able to
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Discuss the opportunities and challenges of intercultural communication Define culture and explain how culture is learned Define ethnocentrism and stereotyping, then give three suggestions for overcoming these limiting mindsets Explain the importance of recognizing cultural variations and list eight categories of cultural differences
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Identify the steps you can take to improve your intercultural communication skills Outline strategies for studying other cultures List seven recommendations for writing clearly in multilanguage business environments
COMMUNICATION CLOSE-UP AT IBM
The “I” in IBM stands for “International,” but it could just as easily stand for “Intercultural” as a testament to the computer giant’s long-standing commitment to embracing diversity. Ted Childs, IBM’s vice president of global workforce diversity, knows from years of experience that communicating successfully across cultures is no simple task, however—particularly in a company that employs more than 325,000 people and sells to customers in roughly 175 countries around the world. Language alone presents a formidable barrier to communication when you consider that IBM’s workforce speaks more than 165 languages, but language is just one of many elements that play a role in communication between cultures. Differences in age, ethnic background, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, and economic status can all affect the communication process. Childs recognizes that these differences represent both a challenge and an opportunity, and a key part of his job is helping IBM executives and employees work together in a way that transforms their cultural differences into a critical business strength. As he
Ted Childs oversees IBM’s efforts to build competitive advantage by capitalizing on the benefits of a diverse workforce.
Understanding the Foundations of Business Communication bracing those differences, not trying to ignore them or pretending they don’t affect interpersonal communication. And it’s a lesson that every aspiring business professional can take to heart. As Ted Childs puts it, “No matter who you are, you’re going to have to work with people who are different from you . . . and manage people who are different from you.”1
puts it, workforce diversity has “moved from being a moral imperative to being a strategic imperative.” Throughout its long history of employing and working with people from different cultures, IBM has learned some powerful lessons. Perhaps the most significant is its conclusion that successfully managing a diverse workforce and competing in a diverse marketplace start with em-
1 LEARNING OBJECTIVE
Discuss the opportunities and challenges of intercultural communication Effective intercultural communication • Opens up business opportunities around the world. • Improves the contributions of employees in a diverse workforce.
UNDERSTANDING THE OPPORTUNITIES AND CHALLENGES OF COMMUNICATION IN A DIVERSE WORLD IBM’s experience (profiled in the chapter-opening Communication Close-Up) illustrates both the challenges and the opportunities for business professionals who know how to communicate with diverse audiences. Although the concept is often framed in terms of ethnic background, a broader and more useful definition of diversity “includes all the characteristics and experiences that define each of us as individuals.”2 As you’ll learn in this chapter, these characteristics and experiences can have a profound effect on the way businesspeople communicate. To a large degree, these effects on communication are the result of fundamental differences between cultures. Intercultural communication is the process of sending and receiving messages between people whose cultural background could lead them to interpret verbal and nonverbal signs...
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