Globalisation : How Successful Multinationals Communicate Interculturally

Nerella Campigotto has over 20 years international experience in business development and business-unit management. Raised in Switzerland and educated in Australia, Nerella was a Director for a multi-national language services company in Australia. She then moved to Japan to direct a European Executive Training Program, followed by a transfer to San Francisco to manage two operations. Moving to Vancouver, she joined an international recruitment firm to direct business development in the US, UK, and New Zealand. 

Nerella now operates her own consulting firm, Boomerang Consulting Inc. and is also President and a founding Director of the Canada, Australia and New Zealand Business Association.For more information please visit www.boomerangconsulting.com or call: +1-604-609-6178, email: info@boomerangconsulting.com


Most of us have at some point encountered challenges within our organizations when it comes to communicating effectively, whether it be internally with our colleagues, or externally with our clients, partners and suppliers. Add to this the element of communicating between different cultures, and the issue becomes even more complex.

Some multinationals struggle with these issues on a daily basis, but they learn to pay attention and make the effort to meet the various needs of the cultures in which they do business. Others choose to ignore these issues and impose their headquarters’ viewpoint, often unaware of the negative impact this may have on their bottom line.

The topic of business communication can be broadly separated into two areas; external and internal communication. External communication covers areas such as an organization’s marketing materials, negotiations with clients, partners and suppliers, and general public relations and business practices. Internal communication involves policies and procedures, management and training, human resources and legal requirements, newsletters and other employee communiqués.

With external communication many organizations do more than just pay lip service, and do translate and localize their marketing efforts. It is still surprising, however, to find a number of multinationals that don’t do so with their websites, a matter that seems particularly unacceptable in the e-commerce world. Ensuring that you communicate with your target audience in their own language seems self-evident. In addition, it is also important that the translation be undertaken by professionals, or your company’s image may be seriously tarnished. It is also prudent to engage professionals in the area of public relations, who are familiar with the culture in which your organization is operating, as some matters need to be conveyed in a particularly sensitive manner.

The subject of intercultural negotiations and transactions is quite complex and easily warrants a separate article. Here the medium of communication is of importance; certainly the Internet and email have facilitated the process somewhat, as these allow time for consideration. However, where negotiations take place face-to-face, the dynamics of the transaction need to be taken into account. Which culture is dominant ? Where and in what language does the negotiation take place ? Keep in mind that even if the other party is willing to use English, this is often a means by which the true intent can be obfuscated by a lack of clarity, hidden behind the excuse that English isn’t their mother tongue. The reason intercultural negotiations can be difficult is because the motivation, as well as the perception of the process and its outcome, tends to be different.

It is evident that an inability to reach consensus with prospective clients and partners affects your business’ bottom line. What may seem less evident is that negotiating isn’t just an external matter, but also involves internal dealings with and among staff; ineffectual communication can be quite costly here as well. Multinationals must make staffing decisions that determine the corporate culture in their foreign branches; should managers be local or transferred from headquarters ? There are arguments for both choices, as long as the decision is given clear consideration since the result, of course, affects internal negotiation and communication practices.

Internal communication procedures that involve local legal and human resources requirements are usually dealt with in a positive manner by multinationals ( often because they do not have a choice ); relevant materials are translated and local policies and laws adhered to. What about staff training ? Often such procedures are simply imposed from headquarters in English, with no real appreciation for whether the message is clearly understood and, most importantly, followed. What about corporate relations efforts such as employee newsletters, Intranet content etc. ? Some companies will spend small fortunes trying to communicate their brand and vision at headquarter level, and then completely disregard the effect in their foreign markets, thereby jeopardizing potential profits.

To conclude, we can easily see that to operate successfully in a foreign market, companies need to consider many aspects of intercultural communication that may affect their revenues and profits. Ultimately, to achieve positive results it is important to demonstrate awareness of the other culture and empathy for the foreign market, without losing the uniqueness and message inherent in the company’s culture.


© Copyright Nerella Campigotto

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