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Promising verbal strategies for managing intercultural (business) communication

Intercultural competence

What does ideal competence for intercultural (business) communication look like? Successful participation in intercultural (business) communication is coupled with awareness of one’s own expectations and those of the interaction partner. According to observations made by Clyne, successful intercultural (business) communication makes maximum use of culture-neutral expressions. Other typical features are regulation of communication and preservation of face, without offending the partner (cf. Clyne 1994: 203). “Face, defined as the social value a person claims for himself in an interpersonal contact, depends on a line, a pattern of verbal and non-verbal acts by which he expresses himself” (Goffman 1955: 213). In intercultural (business) communication, disruptions are seldom - in Clyne’s (1994: 204) corpus, “almost never” - caused by morpho-syntactic, phonological or lexical problems, but rather by disruptions on the pragmatic and discourse levels. More momentous is the misinterpretation of para-linguistic phenomena. A colleague told me about the following incident: a non-Russian-speaking American guest at a birthday party in Russia asked the Russian business associate who took him to the party: “Are they so annoyed because I came?” The associate answered, somewhat bewildered: “Why? No one is annoyed, everyone is happy that you are here.” The cause of the misunderstanding was the transfer of the para-linguistic phenomena of volume and turn-taking habits from American conversational culture to Russian. In the former, loud volume and interruptions signal negative emotions, which led to the mistaken impression of annoyance (cf. Rathmayr 2008a: 398-399).

Some communicative strategies are especially helpful for intercultural business communication independent of the interacting individuals’ cultures of origin. These include continual questioning, repeated summarizing of what has been mutually understood, and the avoidance of “relative” adjectives, i.e. adjectives denoting relative size. Language-specific and culture-specific aspects follow only in a second step. The overall advantage of the linguistic approach lies in its emphasising common ground as opposed to stressing difference, as is typical of psychological studies, and in raising sensitivity for “hotspots” as opposed to the accumulation of individual cultural peculiarities. The conscious use of language allows for “the tolerance of ambiguity and the willingness to engage in building new discursive frames” (Bargiela- Chiappini, Nickerson, and Planken 2013: 31). The necessity of cautiously forming criticism and disagreement has already been mentioned (cf. Section 4.8). Below, recommendations will be presented for asking questions, summarising and avoiding relative adjectives (cf. Rathmayr 2008a).

 
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