Linguistic and socio-cultural peculiarities of business communication

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Course Paper




Characteristics of business communication

Socio-cultural issues of business communication

Business communication as a cross-cultural issue

Peculiarities of unofficial business communication

Specific patterns of problematic interaction

Linguistic features of business communication

Content and Structure


Peculiarities of delivery


List of References


"Effective communication needs to be built around this simple foundation and realization: communication is a dialogue not a monologue. In fact communication is more concerned with a dual listening process." — Dr. Heinz Goldmann Chair Heinz Goldmann International Foundation for Executive Communications Geneva.

Business communication has a long history stretching back to the origins of rhetoric as a scholarly endeavour and even further back to the origins of business practice. Today business communication exists as an academic field that emphasizes research in this sphere aiming at raising its effectiveness. Different domains of business communication have been researched by F.Briggs R.D. Clarke S.R. Covey L.Ekroth L.Ferrer E.Shriberg T.K.Gamble M.Gamble N.Gerber R.I.Gesher M.D.Winer C.B.Gussenhoven G.Harper D.House B.Lampton A.Lieb N.Payne N.Qubein L.Ramsey A.Taylor T.Rosegrant A.Meyer B.T.Samples A.Thompson A.J.Vasile H.K.Mintz and many others. In the focus of their attention are such issues as studying the peculiarities of official and unofficial business communication dealing with specific problems in business interaction examining the content and structure of business presentations and developing general guidelines of effective delivery.

Grounding on the results of previous researches this paper presents an attempt to give an overview of contemporary achievements in the theory and practice of raising the effectiveness of business communication from the linguistic and socio-cultural viewpoint. The work consists of the introduction two sections of the main part conclusion and the list of references.

Characteristics of business communication

Communication is important in the work situation which for most people is within an organization a complex system that intentionally coordinates the behaviours of its members to meet certain goals. Communication channels follow both the formal and informal organization structures.

Organizational communication can take different forms. Some messages are written down although certainly not all of them. Also informal channels can be used.

A problem for many people at work is the need to communicate in an assertive manner. Assertive communication involves internalizing positive attitudes regarding one's rights and specific communication behaviours including persistence a workable compromise use of feedback appropriate self-disclosure fogging negative assertion and negative inquiry.[1]

Socio-cultural issues of business communication


Business communication as a cross-cultural issue

On the one hand "every communication is a cross-cultural communication" (i.e. coloured and influenced by each person's unique life experience.) as Larry Axelrod and Roy Johnson state in their book Turning Conflict Into Profit.[2]

On the other hand advances in transport and communications technology combined with the development of a world economy have resulted in people from different nations cultures languages and backgrounds now communicating meeting and doing business with one another more than ever. As we come together our cultural differences become accentuated as we start to realise that the rest of the world is not reading from the same book. One area where this is now being felt is in business.[3]

Today some of the world's largest economies include Japan China Mexico Brazil India and Korea. As a result doing business across borders (whether political religious cultural or linguistic) requires cultural sensitivity meaning a sense of empathy flexibility and creativity informed by cultural knowledge. Western organisations are feeling the impact that a lack of cultural sensitivity can and does have upon business performance. Many organisations are now investing heavily in cultural sensitivity training to address issues such as etiquette protocol communication styles and negotiation approaches. In a competitive world such businesses appreciate that greater cultural sensitivity will assist them in forging longer and more prosperous relationships.

A lack of cultural sensitivity can lead a company individual or product to failure. This is reflected in two simple categories: culture and language.

Culture comes in many shapes and sizes including areas such as politics history faith mentality behaviour and lifestyle. The lack of cultural awareness may harm a business. For example a golf ball manufacturing company used to package golf balls in packs of four for convenient purchase. However a failure of their sales in Japan made the company repackage the product because in the Japanese culture the number 4 is considered unlucky (equivalent to the number 13 in western cultures) due to its sounding like the word "death".

Business communication can also be damaged by poor translation due to the lack of cultural sensitivity. For instance IKEA once tried to sell a workbench called "fartfull" — not a hugely popular product for obvious reasons.

The cited examples could easily have been avoided by conducting some basic research in respect to checking the concept design shape colour packaging message or name in the target culture. If businesses want to succeed internationally cultural sensitivity must be at the heart of everything they do; from their personal interaction and relationships with clients to the products/services they develop.

Peculiarities of unofficial business communication

During the work time the employees encounter the boss as the source of discipline assignments occasional reprimands and typically very little personal conversation while an informal setting is meant to favour positive relationships in the workplace. The employees typically like to be around the supervisor who showcases humour asks about their families and hobbies and gives an unrestrained laugh.

However the social scene does not erase the workplace lines of authority. There are certain peculiarities of after-hours communication [4] as the after-hours conduct may have a direct bearing on the business future.

Kinesics is restricted. Any touching other than a handshake greeting or dancing with the group is unwelcome.

The main purpose of a social event is to foster the good will to bring together co-workers and colleagues for a bit of camaraderie and some well-deserved recognition.[5] This makes it necessary for people to circulate among everyone present not just the equals they feel most comfortable with and stay long enough to interact with as many associates as possible especially the key people. However it is supposed that all of the company leave before the party time has elapsed in order not to be thought of as part of the clean-up crew.

Having an idea what to talk about may be critical. Therefore inappropriate humour is normally avoided no matter how informal the setting is. Although people might laugh it can happen they do so either out of courtesy or from discomfort. In fact such humour could jeopardize one's professional reputation.

The informal gathering does not welcome "shop talk" that is opinions about a five year plan a drop in sales or the employee that had to be fired. Instead people tend to demonstrate that they have an interesting meaningful life away from the corporation: the unofficial conversations are focused on major sporting events releases of new movies great places to go on vacation new restaurants bestselling books and national events.

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen Covey titled one of the chapters "Seek first to understand and then to be understood."[6] Accordingly "motormouths" who dominate conversations are unpopular. On the contrary it is common to allow other people to talk. For this reason open-ended questions often planned ahead are prevalent. The best conversation starter begins with "tell me about..." and then encouraging others to go on talking one may use comments like "Very interesting " "Tell me more " and "What happened next?"

Moderation in eating and drinking with special attention to the table etiquette is an important issue as people are there for the fellowship not for the food. A social event is an opportunity to build business relationships and to promote oneself. Therefore any mentioning of the importance of drinking should be avoided even that at the end of the day "to help one unwind." Furthermore frequent reference to the topic itself leaving alone the impaired speaking and unsteady walk following the extra cocktails can label one: "lush " "a drunk " "undisciplined " or something similar which often leads to ruining the carer.

Specific patterns of problematic interaction

There are situations which can injure the integrity of the conversation by blocking its flow creating frustration and reducing understanding and satisfaction. These apply to most social and much business conversation. The most common communication problems are the following.[7]

Some professionals suffer from the occupational hazard of talking too much – professors clergy speakers and trainers and others who are paid to talk for a living. Involved in their own monologues going on and on without giving the others their turn such people soon frustrate others losing the involvement of the listeners.

Another hazard arises when a talker begins a topic and the listener grabs it away and opens a "me-centred" monologue. Thus the initiator of the topic is unable to complete his or her thought. This is very frustrating and eventually such behaviour which is called the "take-away" and "me-too" syndrome drives people away.

Unsolicited advice. Some people are quick to give advice as soon as the other person mentions a problem intruding with "Have you thought of...?" or "Why don't you...?" Men seem especially prone to this tendency although women are not immune from it. It is also prevalent among "professional know-it-alls" such as teachers managers administrators and some lawyers ministers and counsellors. The advice-giver assumes the authority or even parenting role and that can be off-putting. It is considered more appropriate to let the person finish and then perhaps to ask "Are you asking for my opinion?" or "What alternatives have you thought of?"

Interrupting can also be very annoying when a person is breaking in before the interlocutor has completed the thought. Usually this is done because the interrupting people are impatient and are afraid of not getting their thoughts expressed. Many such situations occur on TV interviews when the host has guests with opposing views. The guests butt in over-talk even shout in order to get in their words. According to some producers this makes for exciting television while many observers find it irritating.

Contradicting is the ultimate conversation-blocker. Although great in structured debate direct disagreement ("I disagree with you" or the more gingerly "Yes but") is not helpful in conversation which is at its best when it is mutual and collaborative. Instead of the "I'm right you're wrong" game it is considered better to hear out the point of view being expressed check the understanding and then offer "My view is different from yours. Let me explain." People who feel heard and understood are more likely to hear and understand someone expressing a different view.

Stingy contributors. This describes the people who listen take and receive but contribute little enthusiasm information self-disclosure acknowledgement compliments or other elements that lift a conversation. They like to "pick the brains" of others who share personal experiences but give nothing in return remain cool and contained with personal matters. This cautious ungenerous style causes an out-of-balance conversation in which real trust can never exist.

Exhibiting one or more of the above mentioned communication patterns in a conversation makes one's interlocutor frustrated or annoyed. With heightened awareness these mistakes can be avoided and eliminating them from one's repertoire can reduce the interaction problems.

Linguistic features of business communication


Content and Structure

Business communication presupposes speaking in a public situation so its effectiveness much depends of the general rules of public speaking. The study of public speaking is guided by one overriding principle: what is effective depends on the speaker the situation and the listeners.

Preparation for speaking in public begins with establishing a goal. The choice of the topic is usually determined by the reason for giving the speech. The topic should always be related to goals. The first step in goal setting is to determine the general purpose of the speech. General purposes include informing entertaining and persuading. Next a speaker establishes a specific purpose. Establishing a specific purpose involves answering the question "What exactly do I want my audience to do think or feel when I am finished speaking?" The third step in goal setting is audience analysis. Answers to six specific questions can help determine what information you need about the audience[8]: (1) What do they already know about the topic? (2) What is their specific interest in it? (3) What are their attitudes and feelings about the thesis and purpose? (4) About the speaker? (5) About related subjects and issues? (6) How will the situation affect the speech? Answering the questions sometimes simply involves asking a few people; in other cases it requires inferring from demographic data. A good speaker will continue to use feedback from listeners while talking. What the speaker learned may require a revision of the purpose.

Next the speaker states the thesis which is a subject-centred statement: it is a single sentence summary of the speech. A thesis is the main point or central idea of the speech. Developing a thesis requires organizing. Organizing thoughts involves outlining the speech choosing two three or four main points that will be used to develop or support the theses. Several standard plans for choosing main ideas are the time pattern the space pattern and three specific topical patterns. After selecting main points the speaker arranges them using audience analysis. With a deductive structure the thesis is stated early in the speech. With an inductive structure the thesis is withheld until midway through or at the end of the speech.

Finally main points are developed with sub-points and supporting materials and the speaker prepares the introduction and the conclusion. An introduction needs to get the listeners' favourable attention and to begin pointing their thoughts toward the subject of the speech. Introductions may use several techniques: humour serious illustrations quotations questions a startling statement or statistic or in some situations direct reference to audience occasion or subject. A conclusion should refocus listeners thinking on the thesis and leave them in an appropriate mood. Techniques for conclusions are the same as those for introductions with the addition of a summary. Combining one of the techniques with a summary is recommended especially for informative speeches. Relating conclusion to introduction can also give a speech unity.


Communicating effectively requires shared meaning between communicators. Meaning refers to the entire set of reactions people assign to symbols.

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