Book helps business people communicate across cultures

Faced with a multicultural workplace and expanding global market, it's no wonder that a business professional speaking to a room full of clients or colleagues might feel like someone grappling with a foreign language. A new book by two Goizueta Business School faculty members is designed to help. Inspired by the increasing number of international students in their classes and their experiences as corporate communication consultants, Sherron Kenton, senior lecturer in management communication and Deborah Valentine, adjunct instructor in management communication, saw the need for a book like their newly published Crosstalk: Communicating in a Multicultural Workplace.

The two decided to combine their interests in gender and cultural workplace issues to create a practical guide for managers dealing with communication problems in the new workplace culture.

Organizing the book

The book is organized like a handbook for professionals. Applying a model for communication, the authors establish chapters based on four major cultural groups: European, African, Asian and Latino, with accompanying notes on gender sprinkled throughout each chapter. Kenton explained that the authors "researched the traits of major cultures in terms of how they affect communications."

Although the authors are careful to note that there are many subcultures within each larger group, they believe it is possible to locate some common traits that affect communications in most groups. "We realize individuals may not exhibit the specific behavior that we discuss," Kenton said. In fact, the communication model used throughout the book suggests, first and foremost, that a business communicator should consider the specific environment or situation in which the presentation, letter or conversation might take place.

Whether the situation is a formal meeting or a conversation with an employee, the authors advise careful analysis of the audience and the goals. "Every management decision has a communication function," said Kenton.

The credibility factor

The authors believe that the book "serves to raise a red flag in front of every business communicator, saying `look out if you don't take the time to understand cultural differences.'" This notion of a broader world view relates not just to the business person's view of the audience, but vice versa. The authors repeatedly stress the need for the communicator to establish a sense of credibility with the prospective audience.

Using the "Kenton Credibility Model," the authors outline how to assess an audience's perception of a speaker's credibility. They write that, "If your audience perceives that you are credible, you will be persuasive. And if you are persuasive, you will get what you want; you will achieve the objectives of your communication."

Throughout the book, the narrative contains boxed examples of business situations that illustrate some of the relevant points. Kenton explained, "We used research on real people in real workplaces." The authors sought to keep the format and organization simple to stress applicability.

Valentine noted how a colleague had used the book. Traveling to Mexico for a corporate training, he read the chapter on Latin American culture on the plane ride and was able to apply what he read to make his trip successful.

They also hope that business people using the book will learn more about themselves and consequently become aware of their own cultural behavior. Kenton noted that in the multicultural workplace, "one's personal strength might be a communication weakness."

The authors hope that underlying the communication theory and pedagogy of the book, a holistic world view might emerge. "By focusing on the common traits of large groups, we hope to show how much we have in common," said Kenton.

--Matt Montgomery

Return to the September 23, 1996 contents page