Communication is a basic part of life, which facilitates both verbal and non-verbal interactions and information exchange between humans and animals. In humans, effective communication also includes understanding the emotion and intentions behind the information. It further involves the ability to unambiguously convey or receive a message in order to gain the full meaning of the message and make the other person feel heard and understood (Robinson, Segal, & Melinda, 2020). Generally, learning and business are human endeavours that critically require effective communication. Business simply connotes an organisation or enterprise engaged in commercial, industrial or professional activities (Adam Hayes, Margaret James, 2021). Communication in business is vital to ensuring effective transfer of goods and services, particularly across different cultures.
Several businesses have failed due to language-induced cross-cultural misunderstandings. A case in point is when Colgate, a toothpaste company, introduced a product called “Cue” in France but suffered backlash and eventual closure because the name of the product, at the time in France, was the name of a famous pornographic magazine (desconeguts, 2014). This article shall therefore, briefly discuss a language-induced failure that occurred in Panasonic as it attempted to introduce its product to a new market. Thereafter, the study shall identify key challenges to cross-cultural communications before proffering strategies to address them.
Aim of the study
The aim of this study is to draw lessons from a case study of previous failures in business occasioned by their inability to understand the language and nuances of other cultures with a view to proffering solutions to prevent the reoccurrence of such blunders.
Definitions of Key Terminologies
The study will first define some key terminologies, such as culture, language and communication as well as cross-cultural communication. Culture is defined as the ways of life of a people, including their arts, beliefs and institutions, passed down through generations; it further comprises of their language, religion, norms of behaviour amongst many others (LaMorte, 2016). Language and Communication are variables that are distinct but interdependent, as one aids or facilitates the other. Language is predominantly a human activity; it is a medium that aids transmission of feeling and thoughts, while communication can be described as a way of interchanging ideas which can be verbal or non-verbal. `Cross-cultural communication connotes the way interactions or transmission of information takes place across different cultures.
A Case Studies of Business Communication Failures Cross-Cultural Environments
An example of a company that failed in business as a result of language misinterpretation in another culture was Panasonic. The company was very successful in the late 90’s in Japan and eager to enter the American market with the first touchscreen computer. The company devised a genius marketing strategy; use the popular American Cartoon Woody Woodpecker as their mascot and marketed the computer as “Touch Woody”. Unknown to the Company “wood” in American vocabulary meaning, “hard penis”. This error was discovered a day before launch and though the product was ingenious, it was a huge failure (desconeguts, 2014).
From the foregoing, a clear understanding of the myriad of peculiarities in a variety of business environments is essential to properly connecting with the needs of consumers in furtherance of market penetration. This fosters good relationship between the parties involved and also makes the necessary transition very smooth, further preventing conflicts in terms of the different expectations of each party. Universal peculiarities in different cultures includes their religion, food, tradition and language. Understanding these differences can better help to facilitate business administration, especially in a cross-cultural setting. An example of understanding cultural differences to facilitate business is the German sports brand “Adidas”, with clients across the world. This is due to their adhered non-discrimination policy, especially with nationalities and their ability to convey their phrase “Impossible is nothing” in several languages to avoid misrepresentation.
Failure to have an inclusive, culturally-aware and non-discriminatory organisation or business in a new cultural environment can lead to the decline of such business venture, loss of success streak, bad imagery and misrepresentation as well as the ultimate loss of the enterprise. In order to effectively communicate with other cultures, it is advisable to understand the variations that exist in those cultures in order to properly adapt, use precise wordings, avoid use of own means of communication or cultural slangs, which may have another meaning in a different culture.
Challenges to Effective Cross-Cultural Communications in Business
There are several factors that can hinder cross-cultural communications, some of which are: ethnocentrism, mode of communication, stereotyping etc. However, the obvious factors in the case study are ignorance of language nuances and ethnocentrism. The language nuance as it relates to the subtle variation of the word “wood” in Japan and America, contributed to the decline of the business, because it connotes different things in both countries. The ignorance of the Japanese marketers also played a role because the marketers had failed to properly study the criteria that would have been necessary for its success in the market because they believed that theirs had no fault.
Strategies for Addressing Cross-cultural Communication Problems in Business.
There are two very efficient strategies of addressing these issues. One way is to deliberately educate people about the dangers of ethnocentrism and ignorance, thereby inculcating open-mindedness in them. The Japanese for example thought that their idea for the marketing strategy was best without at least making enquiries about the American market. This was out of ignorance on the diversity that exists, and people should become educated to be more culturally sensitive.
Companies going into new markets should invest time and money, if necessary, in properly understanding the market. Being culturally sensitive is one thing but to a very large extent, it is imperative that they invest the necessary resources needed to understand the market. Be it hiring an analyst for the market, or having their employees invest time in learning the language nuances that exists would be of great essence.