COMMUNICATION CHALLENGES IN INTERNATIONAL TRADE
The establishment of effective communication networks was instrumental in the development of ancient international trade and imperial authority. The importance of communication in the context of international trade can be seen in the fact that the merchants of Nuremberg, the silver traders of Antwerp and the wheat traders of Venice all shared economic newsletters and developed identical beliefs and values in the rights of capital (Wild, Wild & Han, 2003). International communication has thus developed and changed in shape and form over the years as seen in the development in international communication concerning trade including the telegraph, emergence of robust newspaper industries, radio broadcasting, the telephone and even electronic mail and social media. Advanced forms of transportation have also greatly impacted international trade.
However, communication challenges and differences in international trade have been a major issue given that there exists thousands of different languages and a host of distinct cultures across the world (Ferraro & Briody, 2013). Moreover, the 19th century saw a shift toward professionalism which involved the free conversion of all currencies to gold which was at the time considered to be “the international monetary currency of exchange” (Pirenne, 2015). Other than time, other events that have shaped international trade as we know it today including the first and second World Wars. The depression in the late 20th century also greatly shaped international trade. However, it is crucial to consider that despite the gains that the world has achieved from international trade, including the fact that resources that are localized in one region on the globe can be, in a short period of time, spread out to all the corners of the earth, and the fact that if a section of the world’s population faces hunger it can conveniently purchase food from other countries to avert such a crisis, communication has been the backbone of international trade since its inception.
Advances in international communication followed advances in the knowledge base that guided commerce. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, it is considered out-of-the-norm or offensive to discuss women, even when simply asking about the condition of a female relative. Also, while it may be considered offensive to walk out of a business meeting in the Western world and to stay away for about half an hour, it is allowable in Saudi Arabia, to do so especially with the intention to attend prayers (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner, 2011). In this the Saudi Arabian setting, business meetings are more of informal discussions than formal meetings. Moreover, in Japan, it is considered disrespectful to use the word “no” and even though the Japanese may disagree with certain proposals, they may never state the word and may thus react with confusion when a person who is not of their culture uses the word (Katan, 2014).
Business people also have the challenge of adjusting to “high-context and “low-context” societies. Also, conflicts are not taken personally and thus disagreements are not considered to need urgent attention and are not taken to be threatening. Also, words are used repeatedly as they are of high value and communication tends to take an open, precise, dramatic and linear form. Furthermore, significant differences in the use of non-verbal communication can be seen in the fact that in Asia, it is considered respectful to avoid eye contact while in North America and Latin America, eye contact conveys equality between persons. Regarding touch, a firm handshake is recommended during business meetings in America (Ferraro & Briody, 2013). A firm handshake in this context conveys professionalism, confidence and experience.
Also, regarding paralanguage, while Egyptians use silence to communicate agreement, Greeks use it to communicate disagreement. Also, the British raise their voice to show that they are angry while Indians use it to draw attention. In America, the difference in the voice pitch between different sexes is hardly noticeable (Stewart & Bennett, 2011). Nonetheless, it is important for the Japanese whose women raise their pitch to distinguish themselves from their male counterparts. Furthermore, a thorough comprehension of the local meanings of phrase and words is essential for international communication especially in the context of international trade (Katan, 2014). Modern day international trade can be witnessed in the fact that many companies have expanded globally and in addition to large businesses, even small and medium businesses have access to the global market place.
As more businesses rush to operate internationally, the mixing of cultures and the meeting of different languages has become more common as seen in the cross-cultural and multinational teams that are a common sight in multinational corporations and national government delegations discussing multilateral and bilateral trade (Jones et al. There are several gains to be made from such multinational teams including a wider pool of expertise and insight. However, there are many obstacles to successful international business in the context of culture and language. While challenges in communication including the fact that non-verbal meanings differ from place to place when dealing with international colleagues and clients have been discussed in detail, it is also important to note that forcing non-native English speakers to communicate in English, the standard language of business around the world, often leads to confusion and misinformation as a lot of useful information is “lost in translation” (Gill,2002).
Some of the strategies that could be used to improve international communication in the context of communication challenges affecting international trade include, on the part of international businesspersons, to conduct research on communication methods and cultural norms that are considered standard for that particular region. Studies indicate that training employees in cross-cultural communication increases their productivity by about 35% (Ferraro & Briody, 2013). Furthermore, about 75% of companies that do not engage cross-cultural communication training report, during global business dealings, frequent miscommunication problems. Also, traders should be willing to ask where they lack cultural knowledge that is fundamental to avoiding cultural faux pauxs instead of engaging in international communication while being ignorant of the differences in language and culture across borders (Gibson, 2002). Also, traders should be ready to acknowledge that they will commit errors when coming internationally and should apologize in the context that they offend individuals across borders.
This means that they should avoid using acronyms, jargon and slang and where possible, should give lucid explanations of them. Also, organizations should emphasize providing opportunities for individuals to develop their language skills and ability to interact effectively across different languages (Walker, 2003). Also, those engaging ion international business should engage one topic at a time, use commonly used words and repeat important messages if necessary, speak clearly, and use straightforward sentences. Clearly, it is important to note that international and intercultural communication are in the context of modern international trade, interchangeable and thus business people must take into consideration the culture of those they communicate to and transact with. Serious efforts should thus be made with the view of addressing communication challenges in international trade that arise from differences in language and culture.
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