Transcultural Understanding in Business Communication: The Case of America vs. Korea

Transcultural Understanding in Business Communication: The Case of America vs. Korea

S. J. Chang (Illinois State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6220-9.ch007
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Abstract

Communication in the global business environment is inevitably culture-bound. While the importance of transcultural understanding looms large, the gaps between cultures remain wide. This motivates us to refine our perspectives on communication in the multicultural business environment. Based on experiential discussions, this chapter presents some cohesive points on transcultural communication between the Western and the Eastern cultures, which is presupposed by the cultural contrasts between America and Korea. The chapter can serve as a practically meaningful guideline for business communication between cultures.
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Introduction

As the world continues its course of globalization and digital revolution, every day different cultures meet and interact in and around global business both online and offline. Business decisions and choices are increasingly influenced by the cultural backgrounds of various business partners and stakeholders. Continuous expansion of large-scale global trades, mergers, alliances, and social media interactions promote cultural diversity and multiculturalism in the business world (Black & Mendenhall, 1990; Zonis et al., 2005; Collins, 2008). Thus, transcultural human resources management becomes an increasingly important issue, not the least part of which is transcultural communication.

Communication in the global business environment is inevitably culture-bound. This is because while people, capital, information, and technology now travel more freely, rapidly, and widely than ever, cultures still do not easily or quickly transmit, translate, or transform. As the seemingly unstoppable technological advancement has been revolutionizing the notions of politics, commerce, entertainment, civility, and even humanity itself, it is critical for global business managers to have the right perspectives on transcultural communication (Husband, 2000; Baraldi, 2006).

While the importance of transcultural understanding looms large, the gaps between cultures remain wide. While we seek cultural harmony, cooperation, and synergy, what we often encounter first is cultural misunderstanding, naiveté, conflict, hostility, and collision. So questions remain to be answered: How do we effectively communicate across cultural gaps? How do we understand people from the other side? How do we make them understand us?

This motivates us to refine our perspectives on communication in the multicultural business environment. Based on experiential discussions, this chapter presents some cohesive points on transcultural communication between the Western and the Eastern cultures, which is presupposed by the cultural contrasts between America and Korea. The chapter can serve as a practically meaningful guideline for business communication between cultures.

Premise

Different cultures breed different socio-politico-economic systems and paradigms. This means that economic systems and policies, market mechanisms, financial institutions, corporate structure and governance are all inherently culture-bound. Therefore, understanding different cultures is important for effective transcultural communication.

Culture, however defined, dictates everything. Culture can be defined as an integrated pattern of knowledge, values, beliefs, rules, attitudes, and behaviors shared by the members of a society. This means in plain language that culture represents the way how people think, talk, act, eat, play, live, and die. All these institutions are then reflections of culture. So if we are to understand different business systems, market paradigms, and corporate structures, we need to look into the culture where they are instituted and understand the underlying values first.

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Understanding The Differing Cultural Values Between America And Korea

Different cultural heritage would view and interpret values differently. It is quite obvious that over the history different cultures have developed different social ideals, which in turn have dictated the shape and form of all institutions - politics, economy, education, and so forth. As such, without mutual understanding of the underlying values of different cultures, much would be lost in transcultural communication (Schmidt, 2007; Chang, 2008). As an example, between the cultures of the United States and Korea there exist almost diagonally different views on competing values.

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