The Difference Between Open-Ended Questions And Closed-Ended Questions Is That Email and Intercultural Communication

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Email and Intercultural Communication

The modern business world requires people from all corners of the earth to communicate with each other. A manager in the USA may have staff in Germany, India and China; the French importer may have partners in Turkey, Italy and Japan. More and more people today communicate across intercultural lines.

As anyone who has worked internationally can tell you, intercultural communication is not always a smooth ride. Intercultural communication in this context refers to people, mainly but not only from the business world, working with others from different nationalities, religions, beliefs and cultures. When different cultures come together in a business setting their differences often cause confusion, misunderstandings, mistakes and more. These intercultural differences can be anything from different communication methods, mannerisms, meeting styles or body language.

One area of ​​intercultural communication common to most people who work internationally is email. The internet allows us to send documents, requests and information to partners, customers and clients around the world. However, despite the undoubted benefits that communicating by email gives us there is a down side, especially in the context of intercultural business communication.

When looking at intercultural issues in email we need to look at it from two angles: 1) the language issue and 2) the cultural issue.

LANGUAGES

English is undoubtedly the lingua franca of the modern business world. Whether we are in Berlin or Bangkok most business emails are in English. Although most people accept it as an international language, most do not have native language skills. This creates communication problems and misunderstandings.

Those who have English as a second language of course tend to misspell words, invent new words, use bad grammar and generally do not explain themselves. Reading such an email can be a struggle and if one word is out of place the whole meaning can be misunderstood.

It is important for those communicating in different cultures to remember that this is expected. The best way to approach such emails is to look beyond the intent form. If that is not possible then a simple email should be sent back asking for clarification on points or even sending back closed-ended questions that can only have a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.

culture

Intercultural communication can be difficult in a face-to-face environment. However, people naturally react to situations by responding with body language, gestures, facial expressions, etc. With email communication people don’t have this luxury. As a result emails have a lot of potential to get lost in translation across cultural lines.

The actual format of an email can vary across cultures. In some formal cultures it is expected that one begins by addressing someone with their first name (and possibly last name) followed by their email. Others may not care at all and jump straight to the content of the email. Either way, one person may find email too formal while another sees it as informal or even blunt.

The contents of an email also depend on culture. Some cultures may accept the use of slang, idioms, puns, joke-phrases or swear words in an email, while in others it’s a real no-no. Some may find it acceptable to answer a question with a simple “no” or “yes” while others expect a more detailed answer.

The meaning of an email is also affected by culture. What a sentence means in Dublin may not mean the same in Delhi. When emailing in a culture with an indirect communication style (such as India or Japan) it is possible to get answers to requests that are neither ‘yes’ nor ‘no’. If one does not appreciate the fact that the writer actually hides their true sentiments between the lines then confusion can arise.

Conclusion

Email is becoming more and more widespread as a means of business communication. However, as we have seen, when this happens within an intercultural context there is a lot of room for misunderstanding from a linguistic and cultural point of view. Individuals should take the necessary steps to investigate these areas and always keep an open mind to minimize the chance of intercultural mis-communication. Companies with large international staff should aim to implement codes of conduct around emails as well as invest in intercultural training for their staff.

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