Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers: Intercultural Business Communication
Robert Gibson (2002)
Oxford: Oxford University Press
Pp. xii + 111
ISBN 0-19-4421805. £13.50
Globalization has triggered more businessmen moving cross-culturally, and improving intercultural communication skills has been an intriguing area in the second language acquisition field. Since intercultural communication includes not only linguistic elements (grammar, syntax, pronunciation) but also interactional competence (turn taking, negotiating, opening or closing a conversation), as well as the sociocultural aspects of speakers, it is often hard for language teachers or trainers to emphasize the elements that are important.
Intercultural business communication often includes economic topics, and businessmen in different cultures need to become sensitive to the multiplicity of cultural values and to improve the communication skills that could directly lead to successful negotiations with other corporations. Miscommunication may start from small linguistic misunderstandings to serious situations in which agreement may be differently interpreted and its process may be completely different from culture to culture.
Unfortunately, many times one's own sociocultural values and interactional competences are acquired unconsciously, and it is difficult to understand others' cultures without first examining one's own culture. As on in a series of Oxford Handbooks for Language Teachers, Robert Gibson's Intercultural Business Communication provides numerous ways of looking at, understanding, and becoming aware of others' and one's own cultural values in business communication. According to Gibson, "the next state of going global requires high-level skills to manage diversity inside and outside the company" (p. 3), and it is extremely important for businessmen to use interactional and communication skills for successful business outcome.
This book offers not only an introduction to intercultural communication for trainers and language teachers, but will also serve well as a handbook for businessmen who are interested in learning leadership, negotiation, various sociocultural backgrounds, English, and different communication skills, such as the non-verbal communication of target businessmen. Becoming aware of and comparing cultures and communication skills may look limited at first, but as a result, the outcome can be immense.
Let us now look at the content of the five chapters in the book. Chapter 1 (The Intercultural Challenge) deals with the importance of intercultural communication, what it is, what possible barriers can be, different interpretations, culture shock, dealing with differences, and managing diversity.
Chapter 2 (Cultural Dimensions) discusses the research field of intercultural communication and the related disciplines. Non-verbal communication such as eye contact, touch, body distance, paralanguage, or interactional skills such as turn-taking rules can be differently used and interpreted cross-culturally. Also, communication skills considering high and low context cultures, directness of speech, temporal and spatial concepts that are different cross-culturally can be essential factors not only for businessmen but for any person who faces intercultural communication. At the end of the chapter, power status of speakers, characteristics of cultures such as collectivism and individualism, and gender elements are explained. [-1-]
Chapter 3 (Business Communication) offers tips on how to manage people, to negotiate, to socialize, to give presentations, to advertise, to use language, and to apply for a job. In Chapter 4 (Cultures), the author emphasizes the fact that being aware of one's own culture is as important as understanding others'. A section called Critical incidents covers a majority of the chapter to show readers different types of cultural interfaces. Finally, in Chapter 5 (Going Further), checklists of training methods are summarized.
I believe that this book can be useful to readers in many ways. First, the exercises open readers to discuss conflicts faced by other businessmen. When readers try to solve them in an individual way, it can help them to prevent some future conflicts or at least can prepare them. Sharing individual experiences with other businessmen (students or trainees) will give both a broader and more focused sense of problems and possible solutions. This would enrich the class or training sessions as well as learning others' culture and communication skills, and promote the "Synergy Effect" that Gibson discusses.
Second, throughout the book, diagrams, charts, and pictures clearly explain difficult and unfamiliar concepts, models, or theories to readers. This is extremely important since the book uses concrete examples to make sure that readers understand the concepts. Looking at the pictures and the descriptions that accompany them, can help readers more effectively remember and retain the concepts .
Finally, it is a great asset of this book that any language teacher can use it to improve the communication skills of international students or trainees. Making statements politely, directly, or indirectly will help students to develop their interactional competence, a skill that is as important as linguistic competence. Changing the target readers from managers or businessmen to professors or administrators in institutions would equally provide other important perspectives and opportunities.
Although there are many advantages of the book, the book needs to be used carefully with the support of teachers or trainers. I raised a first question when Gibson mentioned that "in intercultural communication, in particular, it is vital to distinguish between what is part of a person's cultural background and what is part of their personality" (p. 12). Even though I agree it would be much easier if people knew the differences between the two elements, it is extremely hard to distinguish them, since they are all intermingled.
Second, as mentioned earlier, the concepts and models are simplified for the readers. Readers need to accept them carefully and question whether the concepts are not too black and white. It is very hard to generalize which characteristics represent which cultures. Also, it is much more complicated when cross-cultural situations happen. In other words, just based on the examples from the book, the readers should not generalize that Germans or Chinese are this way or that. It becomes the teachers' or trainers' responsibility to emphasize that generalizations cannot always be made.
Third, the globalization process can cause people to change deep-rooted cultural values. For example, it is very true that Asian countries still represent collectivism. However, the cultures themselves are undergoing a change, since the people are changing. It is essential for students or trainees to become sensitive that these cultural values are not stable but transforming.
Finally, as mentioned in Gibson's acknowledgement, the majority of the book has already been discussed in other works by leading figures in different fields. Rather than creativity, the book provides a good synopsis and an easier explanation of concepts in the field. [-2-]
Although there are several elements to be considered, I highly recommend the book for those who are looking for a handbook that can be easily understood and clearly explained with concrete examples of businessmen. In a short period of time, readers can become aware of the importance of learning intercultural business communication and can practice their cross-cultural communication skills. Even if the author's target audience may not have been non-native speakers, ESL learners can benefit significantly in learning a language and other skills. I believe that when training sessions or classes are comprised of diverse international students (or trainees), the benefit for each individual can become greater. Readers and teachers can accommodate the examples shown in the book and use them according to the needs of the students.
Considering the fact that interpretation and intention of the speaker and the hearer may vary cross-culturally, it is essential for all language teachers, ESL students, businessmen, or trainers to become familiar with different factors that are related with intercultural communication skills. I have no doubt that Robert Gibson's Intercultural Business Communication will provide readers with a wonderful start.
Eun Chong Yang
University of Cincinnati
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