restricted access 2 - Business Communication across Cultures: A Theoretical Perspective
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2 Business Communication across Cultures: A Theoretical Perspective Francesca Bargiela-Chiappini The challenges of intercultural encounters, especially in professional and business settings (Roberts, Sarangi and Moss 2004, Roberts, Moss, Wass, Sarangi and Jones 2005; Spencer-Oatey and Xing 2003; Poncini 2004; Tanaka 2006), demand a re-examination of taken-for-granted concepts and frameworks which, individually taken, are inadequate to interpret often complex interactions. In recent years, research in intercultural communication in business has continued to grow within and beyond Europe (e.g. Poncini 2004; Neumann 1997; Grindsted 1997), as witnessed in the work of Clyne (1994) and Marriott (1997) in Australia; of Yamada (1997), Emmett (2003) and Tanaka (2006) in Japan; Nair-Venugopal (2001, 2003) in Malaysia; and a pan-Asian project showcasing research from six countries (Bargiela-Chiappini and Gotti 2005; Bargiela-Chiappini 2005, 2006a, 2006b). The appreciation of the situated nature of discursive practices is a distinctive feature of a number of recently published research studies on professional communication (e.g. Candlin 2002; Pan et al. 2002; Sarangi and Roberts 1999). The ambitious aim of many applied linguists working on intercultural communication remains that of enabling the reader ‘to discover through his or her own resources how to be most effective in such complex international settings, as well as how to interpret the behavior and communication of other colleagues in these settings most effectively’ (Pan et al. 2002, 2). The route of standardization of professional communication — possibly achievable through the adoption of a dominant Western model of communication (e.g. American) — has wisely been considered untenable (see Pan et al., 3), not least because it would have to deal with the burning question of which English should be adopted in international business communication (Bargiela-Chiappini 2006b). 20 Francesca Bargiela-Chiappini One practical solution to smoother communication is the exchange of ‘bestcases ’ among professionals on an international scale (Pan et al. 2002). The prerequisite for setting up collections of such cases, or Communication Display Portfolios (CDPs), is that ‘the participants [should] become reflective about what they are doing and how, and the learning process can begin’ (Pan et al., 7). The construction of CDPs relies on an analytical model based on interactional sociolinguistics which emphasizes the importance of the physical context of the interaction. Thus, non-verbal elements such as kinesics and proxemics are included in the analysis of real professional interactions. The emphasis on ‘getting closer to practice’ in professional communication (e.g. Sarangi and Roberts 1999) characterizes also situated discursive approaches to business communication (cfr. Poncini 2004; Tanaka 2006). As far as I am aware, none of these studies has sought to question the conceptual basis of intercultural discourse. In the light of empirical findings on professional and business communication across cultures, the time is ripe for revisiting foundational concepts such as discourse and culture, with a view to offering new insights into intercultural interaction that would benefit practice as well as research. The next section is a brief introduction to the field of intercultural business discourse (IBD), an approach to intercultural communication which attempts to capture the interactional and situated nature of encounters between cultures. The chapter acknowledges the debt of IBD to cross- and intercultural business communication but also seeks to move the field on towards richer notions of ‘culture’, ‘discourse’ and ‘context’. The chapter argues that this is the conceptual cluster that stands at the heart of the meta-theoretical notion of ‘interculturality’. Interculturality, defined as the process and the condition of cultures-in-contact, is a novel conceptualization of intercultural interaction based on a linguistic anthropological understanding of language as the ‘principal, exemplar medium, and site of the cultural’ (Silverstein 2004, 622). The inter- and cross-dimensions of cultural communication Before launching into the discussion, it is useful to introduce the terminology which is often associated with IBC and which can be the cause of some confusion. Two sets of terms come readily to mind: intercultural and cross-cultural,1 and multidisciplinary. This chapter uses only the first term of each set to describe the kind of research that pertains to IBD, and with the following meanings: (1) intercultural refers to comparison of cultures in contact; (2) crosscultural refers to comparisons of different cultures in situations of non-contact (and intracultural describes behaviour within a culture) (Gudykunst 2002a). Business Communication across Cultures 21 The sixties marked the official birth of intercultural communication in the US. By that time, North America had experienced waves of immigration that fed a multicultural workforce and stimulated...