International Business: How to communicate effectively as a management professional


Global corporations are increasingly demanding individuals who excel within communication experts and possess knowledge of new media. There is a growing need for professionals who are able to learn and translate corporate communication needs on a global communication level, and have the skills necessary to analyze corporate policies, realize cultural trends, and analyze marketing and communication developments.

Communication can be significantly different when working with individuals of other cultures. Whether your company is targeting local firms or international customers, it’s important to understand their needs and values. Working internationally helps to perceive your industry differently to various markets; other nations may offer innovative ideas on topics that might involve your business. These are resources that domestic companies can easily miss out on. Foreign clients can become major brand influencers across the globe. Customer loyalty and feedback can also make a great impact and may inform future choices in marketing and manufacturing.

                The role of international communication and management professionals has changed with the global expansion of businesses in recent years. As a result, the areas of corporate communication, persuasive leadership, workplace mental health assessments, recruiting professionals, and teaching international business within universities are merging.

Communication Practices

As a global mind, working with international businesses as a manager is inevitable. Knowing how to properly communicate with clients on an international level will help you to overcome several business issues, such as clients that exhibit traits of flexibility and spontaneity. Some cultures allow for more elasticity and impulsiveness than others, who tend to take a more punctual and firm approach. It is important to adjust time accordingly to give your clients the respect and time they deserve in order to make business decisions.

Etiquette and Politeness

There are several politeness strategies that can be introduced into business communication training. Pikhart and Koblizkova go into depth regarding the following politeness strategies in the November issue of Journal of Intercultural Communication, “The Central Role of Politeness in Business Communication: The Appropriateness Principle as the Way to Enhance Business Communication Efficiency”:

§  Interactional language function which focuses on maintenance of social relationships.

§  Implicit communication refers to the things we say usually without regard to the messages others receive.

§  Explicit communication refers to the things we say or write, often messages intended to influence the behavior of others.

§  Positive politeness manifests itself as a desire for approval and respect and a wish to be liked.

§  Negative politeness manifests itself as a desire to be autonomous and not to infringe others, alleviates space for the counterpart not to feel imposed upon.

The level of participation for your audience varies widely in international business communication between cultures. In some countries, your client may become insecure if you directly ask them for their opinion. Other clients will appreciate openings to voice their beliefs as straightforwardly as possible, as this is seen as an ordinary response in their cultural setting. If you are not versed in business communication strategy, you may think that someone is attempting to insult you personally.

Conducting Business with Foreign Clients

If you need not neglect the art of cross-cultural training, you will be well prepared for all aspects of international business communication, including the awareness of which helps in running a smooth business across nations. Knowledge of cross-cultural training will perfect both your presentation and management skills. (“International Business Communication”, 2018)

Clients representing companies overseas have different expectations for greetings and farewells, proper conduct in business meetings, and other business situations. Knowing how to say hello, who speaks first, and what to leave behind can be critical. Some cultures expect a gift to be brought to a hosted conference or meeting, while others may view this practice as tasteless. Knowing the level of conservative behavior expected when visiting or entertaining individuals from another culture is very important. (Hendricks, 2014) Know how to converse and politely interact with foreign customers before making any contact, whether in person or online.

There are quite a few ways of showing attention and interest. For example, some Japanese people may listen attentively while putting their heads upon their arms and closing their eyes. What is an acceptable manner of expressing concentration in Japan is interpreted as “taking a nap” or “drifting off” in other circumstances.

Some audiences value formality and credentials more than others. Pay attention to how you dress, how you greet your audience, and how you make your introductions if you want to present yourself as a professional. (“International Business Communication”, 2018)

Language Barriers

Language can vary significantly due to different environments, cultures, and experiences. Linguistic misunderstandings can often lead to lack of confidence in negotiations, such as asking imperative or direct questions, using high context reasoning, providing advice without being requested, being over polite, apologizing too much, and passivity. (Pikhart & Koblizkova, 2017) Good communication is simple and direct, sometimes intensified by emotion, but never confusing.

Just like different words mean the same thing in different languages, body language is by no means universal, which makes international business communication none the easier. For instance, a nod signifies “yes” in many countries, but “no” in parts of Bulgaria and Greece. Even beyond these gestures, the concepts of eye-contact and personal space differ greatly.

Misinterpretations within language can be both international and indigenous dilemmas. My manager described in an interview how to deal with problematic employees. When he is presented with a characteristically challenging employee, he said to, “Give clear, behavioral feedback, document the behavior for future reference, and set consequences if things don’t change.” I thought this was an interesting, positive, and forward moving mindset, that allowed the problematic employee to know what would be expected of him or her, and realize what the ramifications of his/her attitude would be if he continued to prove him or herself challenging.

Mental Health in the Workplace

            There are several notable trends in the workplace that lead to the topic of mental health, including lost productivity due to short- and long-term absenteeism, reduced performance at the workplace, early retirement and other work cutbacks, reduced opportunities for career development, and days out-of-role. (Mcdaid, Curran and Knapp 365-373) Mental health problems affect many employees—a fact that is often unnoticed because these ailments tend to be concealed at work.

These topics have been discussed numerous times at national conventions regarding how to boost workplace morale and lower diminished productivity. Some of the socio-economic arguments for the promotion of good mental well-being in the labor force include economic growth and development, the promotion of a high level of public health, sustainability of social welfare systems, and social inclusion. (Mcdaid, Curran and Knapp 365-373) These arguments provide increased job performance, higher morale, sustainable economic systems, and makes each member of the labor force feel included. The gain to both individuals and the organization from promoting good mental health at work is reflected in increased presence, well-being, and production. (Funk, 2018)

The workplace contains many strains that lead to the necessity of mental health days. While discussing these matters with my manager, he spoke less on what work-related situations stressed him out. Instead, he talked about the necessity of focusing on the bigger picture, regarding what types of activities worked as stress relievers, rather than the lull of the day-to-day grind. Because he constantly multi-tasks and, at times, feels that there is rarely enough time, he likes to combat the stresses of being a manager by walking around the warehouse and helping team members with their daily jobs, whether it is throwing boxes on the line or helping team members process product. He finds helping others reach their productivity goals to be a productive, enjoyable use of his time.

Becoming a Management Professional

Researchers Yu, Guan, Yang, and Chaio, each majoring in either international business or teaching international business courses in Taiwan, composed a research analysis comprised of 108 business professionals from various professions. The average age of the respondents was about 40, and among them, 78% managers, 14% CEOS, and the remaining 7% as presidents. Most respondents were college graduates and about 48.5% of them received either a master or doctoral degree.

The researchers conducted an analysis that encompassed what types of management skills were most useful in an international business setting, as well as what the average knowledge requirements and professional requests were for young aspiring managers graduating college.

International Management Skills

Important skills they concluded that international management professionals needed to possess in order to be successful included (Yu, Guan, Yang & Chiao, 2005):

·         Initiative

·         Business ethics

·         Overall learning ability

·         Self-control

·         Computer skills

·         Teamwork

·         Foreign language ability

·         Word processing ability

·         Experience (marketing, financial management)

·         Communication skills

·         Leadership

·         Diversified capabilities

·         Interpersonal skills

·         Flexibility

·         Ethical and moral views

·         Management skills

·         Adaptability

The most frequently assessed skills above have been boldened, and include the ability to speak a foreign language while possessing both strong communication and interpersonal skills.

Researchers Yu, Guan, Yang, and Chaio reference in their article, Developing the Skills for International Business Management, “Because students are the outputs of educational programs, whether they possess the capabilities demanded by the business community ought to be a major concern for educators.

“Therefore, what is essential is that educators understand how to deploy their often-limited educational resources and still ensure that students’ abilities in international management are strengthened.” I feel this is an important issue to discuss due to the recent budget cuts states like Wisconsin have seen. While the budget has been reduced, educators still understand and need to ensure that they are trying to give the same quality of teaching.

“The Importance of Various Skills for International Managers” table (below) shows the perceived importance of the various skills in international business management, as voted upon by the research analysis conducted by researchers Yu, Guan, Yang, and Chaio. The top seven skills are communication skills, initiative, business ethics, foreign language ability, learning capability, adaptive capability, and self-control.

It can be concluded that executives believe that personal characteristics and teamwork are extremely important in international business management. The importance of international business-related abilities (such as cross-cultural communication skills and international perspective) are generally regarded as being of lesser importance in this study, reflecting that, for the executives here, the skills for general management seem to be prerequisites to the necessary skills for international business management.

(Table 1)

“Managers Take Busted Things and Fix Them”

When asked what advice he had for an aspiring manager, my manager said, “Remember that managers take busted things and fix them.” Managers deal with problems. They have power because they are trusted to make the right decision when no one below them knows how.

A high title represents knowledge and experience of how to make things better. He advised me to play to my strengths and focus on cultivating strong relationships. He also told me to be consistent, and treat all co-workers as partners, rather than creating a separation.

He advised me to continue working hard to prove my capabilities and to focus on taking each promotional opportunity. He recommended that I apply to everything, and take whatever position is available, even if it’s a position I don’t see myself wanting to spend a long time in. Eventually, managers will see that I’m applying for everything and take that as a sign that I want to move forward with the company. They are more likely to give me positions that they know I’m interested in.

The Recruitment Process

By surveying 108 executives in the aforementioned research analysis, the exploratory study conducted by researchers Yu, Guan, Yang & Chiao determined the following two discoveries regarding how firms select applicants for positions into international management: (1) Firms tend to fill positions requiring international management skills by putting greater emphasis on international expertise, foreign language ability, and knowledge related to international business, and (2) Educational institutions are not able to fully satisfy the demands of the business community.

How do educational institutions begin to satisfy these demands? Many universities have begun instituting international business education courses, such as economics, finance, literature, and communication strategy.

(Table 2)

The results to the right indicate that the global trend toward the internationalization of business makes it vitally important to recruit people with international business knowledge and foreign language ability. (Yu, Guan, Yang & Chiao, 2005)

Moving Up the Ladder

My manager started as a part-time team member, as I am currently, and worked as such for about 2 years before going full time. He stayed as a full-time employee for a year before being promoted to a lead and was promoted to supervisor 6 months after. He remained a supervisor for about 7 years in various departments and then became an ADM. He has been an ADM for about 3 years and is expecting to make the jump to AGM within the next 6 months. He gives me an insight of the general progression that I might expect to go through if I want to be a manager. However, he jumped straight into the workforce after high school and slowly made his way up through experience.

With my degree, I could enroll in a management trainee program and become an AGM after 2 years of being recognized in the program. While this sounds like a better option, in theory, I feel that my manager has more respect due to possessing more than 11 years of field experience. If I’m able to jump up the ladder without undergoing the experience, the opportunity of me receiving that same recognition and respect diminishes greatly.

Training Processes to Become International Business Managers

The purpose of management education is to develop human resources for the business community. As the needs of the business community transform, so must the programs offered by educational institutions. Business students must possess the abilities to discover, problem-solve, communicate, and collaborate in an international and cross-cultural business management. Not only do firms have to invest in nourishing employees with international expertise, but academe also must prepare their students for managing international operations.

The success of international business communication training is measured by how well business graduates can apply their learning on the job. It is not enough to verbalize or to read what he/she is expected to do. Students must have an opportunity to practice what they have learned. The following is a case study that includes the following steps in how to involve students with a real-life example: case selection criteria, selection of a case, and case study procedures.

Case Study

A case study is not a methodological choice, but rather a choice of object to be studied. It is a process or record of research in which detailed consideration is given to the development of a person, group, or situation over a period of time. In this instance, the case study is studying what a university student might study in order to learn what an international business manager does in an average day.

Case Selection Criteria:

I use the term “case study” as it draws our attention to the question of what can be learned from a case. A case study is both the process of learning about the case and the product of our learning. The choice of case is made because it is expected to advance our understanding of the research phenomenon. The below criteria affect the effectiveness of the case study method. Lawrence’s (1953) frequently cited criteria for selecting high-quality cases are as follows:

·         A good case is a vehicle by which a chunk of reality is brought into the classroom to be worked over

·         Keeps class discussion grounded upon stubborn facts that must be faced in real-life situations

·         Anchor on academic flights of speculation

·         Record of situations that must be pulled apart and put together again before they can be understood

·         Reports from different sources can provide rich and unbiased case materials

Selection of a Case:

            Based on the case selection criteria, a real-life international business case was prepared as an example for illustrating the case study activities. The case brings the communications and negotiations for forming a multinational corporation into the classroom for analysis and discussion.

·         Must reflect real-life, international business situations and demonstrate communication theories and strategies used by managers for achieving their business objectives

·         Provide opportunities for students to connect their knowledge to the real business world and play active roles of managers or consultants in analyzing complex business situations, identifying problems and opportunities, and proposing solutions and implementation plans

·         Brings communications and negotiations for forming and operating a business

·         Be able to pull the case apart for analysis considering related business and communication theories and research

·         Be able to put the case together again for a better understanding of the interrelationships between the facts, such as how cultural background affects the decision making, how important is the selection of business contacts, how communication strategies affect the effectiveness of business management, and how theoretical models can improve practice

·         Be able to make appropriate recommendations and implementation plans for coping with the communication problems and business risks

Case Study Procedures:

            To help students go through this process successfully, the instructors should first make sure that students have already learned the basic theories and practice of international business communication and management.

1.      Purpose and requirements

2.      Analysis and recommendations

3.      Group and class discussions

4.      Group written report

In summary, studying real-life business cases is a useful educational tool that can effectively develop students’ abilities of discovery, problem-solving, and collaboration in international business communication and management. The case study method is most productive when students are actively involved in the activities of individual analysis, group and class discussions, and group report writing. (Zhao, 1996)


In conclusion, it is sufficient to say that no matter if it is in the past or present, the knowledge of international business management plays a very important role for large firms in developed countries and, likewise, for small and medium-sized firms in newly-industrialized countries. Educational institutions cannot overlook international business education. Educators should continue to consider adopting case studies, analysis, and diagnosis to improve the analytical skills of students and to foster the spirit of teamwork.

My manager said he “ended up” in a management position, which I thought was an interesting story because I’ve always deeply desired to be in a position like his. When I talked with him and other managers earlier in the week, the general vibe that I got was that they all sort of “ended up” in the management positions at my company. While they are proud of the work they have put in to get where they are now, they applied to other jobs and careers before and stuck with the company as a safety. After spending various numbers of years working with the company and gaining experience, they slowly moved up.

            As I hear their stories, I find myself deeply invested in wanting to make the best life that I can for myself, including gaining a good education, investing in myself, and learning as much as I can. From my research, I have concluded that sometimes mental health days are not a bad thing, as on-the-job stress is natural. It is important to know your audience and how to speak to them. Take initiative and show respect. Above all, I discovered the importance of continuing to learn and listen. As an individual who aspires to become an internationally-respected professional, I have my work cut out for me.