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Alumni in Action

Alumni Webinar: Effective Intercultural Communication in Business

By Sadie Schernikau

March 8, 2022

International business is defined as transactions between two or more parties located in two or more countries. Firms and multinational corporations engage in international business for many reasons—to gain new markets and customers, enhance profitability, access talent and innovations, and more. Communication between parities isn’t always clear, and might take some getting used to. During this webinar, Sachin Tuli (BBA ‘98, MS ‘00), director of the undergraduate international business major the Wisconsin School of Business, explains what pieces play a role in intercultural communication in business.

What is culture?

Culture at the most basic level is the system for living in a society. History, traditions, geography, and social institutions make up culture. There are different ways that culture can create barriers in the business world, but there are ways to work through them while working towards understanding one another. It’s important to realize that cultural differences can exist, but they may not always be an issue as to why communication doesn’t work. In a diverse and interconnected world it’s wise to understand how to face certain barriers while being respectful.

Deep vs. surface culture

Culture includes both surface level elements and deep or unobservable elements. Those who study intercultural communication view culture as an iceberg to visualize these differences. The visible things at the top are elements like food, clothing trends, and hair styles. But underneath the surface lies elements like values, attitudes, and beliefs. This is where greater differences can exist, so companies and their employees need to learn to understand these differences.

International mindset matters

Unfortunately, humans’ brains are wired to discriminate. They are wired to take in new information and assign that information as different. A global mindset is extremely valuable when paired with experience abroad. Having an international mindset can help elicit skills that can be learned, but not taught, such as relationship development skills, empathy, and a non-judgmental interpretation of others behaviors.

High context vs. low context communication

Different cultures prefer different levels of context in communication. Good communication in a low context setting is precise, simple, and clear. Messages are expressed and understood at face value. Repetition is often appreciated if it helps to clarify. Quality communication in a high context setting is sophisticated, nuanced, and layered. Messages are often implied but not blatantly expressed. Understanding where business partners across cultures fall on this scale can ensure messages don’t get lost in translation.

Sachin Tuli is the director of the International Business major at the Wisconsin School of Business. Tuli brings over 15 years of teaching experience to his courses in international business and global marketing, which include Business in the Global Economy and Global Marketing Strategy. He has developed, taught, and led international business seminars to China, Cuba, India, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, and Vietnam for graduate and undergraduate students, as well as for other faculty.

As director of the international business major, he oversees curriculum, advises students on academics and careers, and collaborates with other professionals to ensure that the department is well represented at UW-Madison and its communities.

Tuli holds a BBA in marketing and an MS in higher education administration, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.