In international business, understanding the culture of the host country is one of the key elements that promote successful internationalisation of operations. Understanding the values and norms professed by the host culture provides an excellent grounding on which a deeper connection with the prospective market can be established. According to Ladegaard (2007), the major benefit of considering the local culture to an international business is that it can enhance the business local-responsiveness, which confers a sense of importance to the members of the host culture. The responsiveness communicates that the international business has the best interest of the local population at heart and that it seeks to integrate and meet their unique and specific needs.
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The country under consideration is Uzbekistan. It is located in the middle of Asia and borders such countries as Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan. Uzbekistan is a small country, almost the same size as the state of California with the population of approximately 24.8 million people (‘Uzbekistan’ 2015). The choice of the country is explained by the cultural vibrancy of Uzbeks and other residents of Uzbekistan. It thus provides an apt opportunity to investigate the influence of the host culture on an international business establishment.
The paper interrogates the Uzbekistan culture to determine how international business can be successfully set up in Uzbekistan. The paper will explore some of the cultural dimension theories to establish the cultural values that distinguish the different cultures in the world and then use an intercultural communication model to demonstrate how an international business can enhance its competencies in Uzbekistan through communication.
The paper will conclude by making a set of recommendations on how foreigners ought to communicate or otherwise interact with the locals when conducting their business. Analysis indicates that the Uzbekistan culture is a high context culture rooted in collectivism, thus, international business should not pursue individual interests at the expense of the local community.
Literature Review about Culture
Culture refers to a set of attitudes, beliefs, societal norms and behaviours that are shared by a group of related persons (Spencer-Oatey 2012). The relation may be grounded on shared ethnicity, heritage, residence, or activity (Fischer 2009). Culture defines social morals, knowledge, and beliefs. Consequently, it is possible to have synonymous events or activities having different meanings and implications in different societies. The function of culture in the society is to establish shared values and meanings on which interactions between the members of the society can take place (Fletcher et al. 2013). Through their components such as rituals, language, rites, and religion, cultures form a common programming that allows for easier comprehension and interpretations of words, actions, and symbols (Ladegaard 2007). These interpretations are crucial in the functioning of the society and peaceful coexistence of its members.
There are several cultural dimension theories or models that have been advanced to explicate various values that differentiate cultures around the world. Some of the most common ones are the Hofstede’s cultural dimension theory and the Edward Hall’s cultural factors framework. Hofstede’s cultural dimension model analyses cultures through dichotomising the five dimensions of culture that govern interactions between the members of the society. The first element is the power distance. This refers to the degree to which the people accept the inequality in power distribution in the society (Hofstede 1984). Cultures with a low power distance index have almost equal distribution of powers among individuals, and the reverse is also true. The second dimension is uncertainty avoidance. This refers to the degree of tolerance for ambiguity or uncertainty (Hofstede 1984). Cultures with a low uncertainty avoidance index embrace uncertainty and ambiguous settings and even use them to their advantage. However, those with a high uncertainty avoidance index feel extremely uncomfortable in such situations and put measures in place to avoid the ambiguous and uncertain situations (Hofstede 1984). The third dimension is masculinity versus femininity which refers to the degree to which the members of the cultural group are either task oriented or person oriented. Masculinity implies the people are more focused on achieving goals while femininity implies the primary focus is on personal development (Hofstede 1984).
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The next dimension is individualism versus collectivism. In individualistic societies, people put their interests first and present themselves as individuals, whereas in collectivist societies the interests of the community come first and those of the individual are subservient to that of the community (Hofstede 1984). The last dimension is the long term and short term orientation. Long term oriented cultures value adaptation and pragmatism in developing solutions; the short term oriented cultures value the local traditions instead (Hofsted 1984).
Edward Hall’s model investigates the uniqueness of cultures through contexts, time, and place. In context, Hall (1977) establishes that there are low context and high context cultures. High context cultures are the cultures where there are many contexts to be appropriated by the members in deciphering the message (Hall 1977). There are many unwritten rules which are only understood by the people embracing that specific culture. In low context cultures, there are less shared meanings and as such nearly all meanings have to be spelt out (Hall 1977). With regards to time, there are monochromatic and polychromatic cultures. Monochromatic cultures value time, conduct one task at a time, and are very time-conscious (Hall 1977). Polychromatic cultures view time as a fluid element that can be changed as circumstances dictate (Hall 1977). The last factor of space dichotomises cultures into high territorial and low territorial. High territoriality values individual spaces and marks them out for possession; the reverse is also true (Hall 1977).
Intercultural Business Communication
Intercultural business communication refers to a form of communication that identifies and addresses the intercultural perspectives that present communication limitations (Ladegaard 2007). Intercultural business communication enhances competencies through enhancing intercultural contexts when receiving, processing, and disseminating information. The function of intercultural communication in international business is to enable the foreigners to establish shared meanings with the native people and culture, thereby establishing communication links. The shared meanings enhance understanding. The understanding, in turn, facilitates and promotes the conduction of business dealings between people of diverse cultural backgrounds (Fletcher et al. 2013).
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One of the models that have been used to study intercultural communication is the Developmental Model of Cultural Sensitivity (DMIS) advanced by Milton Bennett in 1993. The model explores the process of acculturation and divides the process into two phases: the ethnocentrism phase and the ethno-relativism phase (Bennett 1998). When interacting with a foreign culture, one enters the ethnocentrism phase and moves along to the ethno-relativism phase as one experiences the difference and embraces the diversity. When in the ethnocentrism phase, a foreigner exhibits negation in his communication as he is still hostile towards cultural diversity (Bennett 1998). Gradually, the foreigner gravitates to the defence stage where there is over-analysing of the native culture and making comparisons with others. The person then moves to the minimisation stage where the person identifies the similarities between the two cultures. The ethno-relativism starts from the fourth stage of acceptance where the foreigner starts acknowledging and respecting the cultural differences (Bennett 1998). As the assimilation continues, the foreigner enters the adaptation stage where communication employs alternative cultural interpretations. Lastly, the foreigner enters the integration stage where the cultural values of the native culture start being incorporated into the communication system of the foreigner (Bennett 1998). It is at this phase that the person assumes an intercultural or multicultural identity.
Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Model
Uzbekistan has a unique culture. One of its most conspicuous characteristics is that it is a collectivist culture as opposed to an individualistic one (Adam 2010). As such, the interests of the community supersede those of the individuals. Through institutions such as the Mahalla, Uzbeks are able to enhance their sense of collectivism via traditional forms of social relations (‘Uzbekistan’ 2015). The family setting is largely communal with large extended families that span several generations living in the same house. Individualistic tendencies such as abnormal profit-making are frowned upon by the members of the society (Yusupov 2009). Also, explicit expression of individualism such as expression of sexuality is considered a taboo. Women are generally expected to wear loose, free flowing clothes that do not show the shape of their bodies (‘Uzbekistan’ 2015). The same is expected of men but the demands are not as strict as they are for the women.
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With regards to the power distance as defined by Hofstede (1984), the Uzbekistan culture has a low index. Uzbeks readily accept the inequality in distribution of power in the society. For instance, the elderly persons possess immense amount of powers and elicit more respect as compared to the young members of society. There is also intense gender inequality. The women are considered a weaker gender and are expected to play second fiddle to their male counterparts (MacFadyen 2006). For instance, the Uzbek women are not expected to sit at the table where the men are holding conversation and are not expected to hold familial leadership positions. Women in the Uzbekistan culture are also expected to walk with their heads tilted down when in public so as not to unnecessarily attract attention, whereas men can walk in any way they please provided it is dignified (Yusupov 2009). As of 2010, the women held a paltry 8% of the parliamentary seats and 18% of all administrative positions in the country demonstrating male dominance and patriarchal nature of the Uzbekistan culture (Adam 2010).
Hall’s Cultural Factors Model
Edward Hall’s cultural factors model also demonstrate the unique characteristics of the Uzbekistan culture. For instance, with regards to the context as espoused in Hall’s model, the Uzbekistan culture is a high context culture (MacFadyen 2006). There are scores of shared meanings which means there is little divulged in terms of talking as every member has the required context to insinuate the implied communication (Hall 1977). The women, for instance, are not expected to offer a handshake when greeting a male person. A nod of the head suffices. However, they can greet one another through placing their right hands on the elbow of the person they are greeting if it is a stranger or acquaintance, and kiss them on the cheeks if it is a close friend or relative. The men, however, can offer and receive handshakes.
With regards to orientation as defined by Hall (1984), the Uzbekistan culture has a long term orientation. As such, the traditions are highly valued in problem solving efforts. Uzbeks are keen to observe and celebrate all the life-related rituals including birth, circumcision, engagement, marriage, and death. An exemplary Uzbek is the one who observes the prescribed social norms, beliefs, and values. The Uzbekistan people are deeply religious, as religion forms one of the mainstays of the Uzbekistan culture. The majority of the Uzbekistan population, an upwards of 90%, professes Islam (‘Uzbekistan’ 2015). The rest of the population is Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, evangelical, and Pentecostal Christians (Adam 2010).
As for Hall’s space factor, the Uzbekistan culture is clearly a low territorial culture. According to Hall (1977), such cultures have less ownership of space and do not consider boundaries to be of much significance. Communal undertakings such as harvesting and house buildings are common in Uzbekistan (Adam 2010). When the harvesting season is nigh, for instance, school and university students and even the military personnel are expected to participate in communal harvesting of cotton. The Uzbekistan culture has and continues to experience changes as time progresses. The women are increasingly assuming bigger roles and the younger population is embracing global outlooks (‘Uzbekistan’ 2015).
Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity
The aforementioned unique characteristics of the Uzbekistan culture will definitely influence how an international business organisation operates in Uzbekistan. Using the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), one would have to acknowledge and accept that in Uzbekistan one cannot make abnormal profits. Ethno-relativism informs a foreign operator that the Uzbekistan abhors individualism. The need for profit making should be subservient to that of satisfying the need of the community for the product on offer (Yusupov 2009). Another influence will be on the products offered. For instance, being a deeply religious society where the majority is Muslims, it will not be prudent to offer products that are repugnant with the Islamic beliefs (Adam 2010). To communicate that the business organisation has adapted and integrated with the Uzbekistan culture, the organisation should refrain from offering products such as pork or scanty dresses for sale to Uzbeks. To fully integrate into the Uzbekistan culture, an international business is also expected to employ the locals. It will also greatly help in alleviating the scourge of unemployment which stands at 18% (‘Uzbekistan’ 2015). Also since Uzbekistan is a high context culture with a lot of shared meanings, it is not necessary to draft very detailed contracts like in low context cultures where every detail must be captured in writing (Adam 2010). Adaptation should also be expected with regards to gender equality, hospitality, and greetings when interacting with the customers.
In summary, it is evident that culture influences international business operations. A culture provides a framework where shared meanings can be established and used to enable correct interpretations and fruitful interactions. If an international business ignores the culture of the native country, it will be easy to lose legitimacy through performing acts or offering products that infringe the taste and expectations of the natives. Efficient and effective communication is, therefore, important for the success of the international business. Through the DMIS model of intercultural communication, a person can embrace the native culture and improve information flow by moving from negation to integration. Full integration into the host culture optimises the local responsiveness of the international business which in turn optimises the company’s sales and consequent profitability in the long run.
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Useful tips for foreigners in Uzbekistan include the following:
- Make a point of learning Uzbek as it is a vital part of the Uzbekistan culture. Knowing the language will facilitate communication and will give an impression that a foreigner is genuinely interested in the natives, not just in their money.
- Be reactive as opposed to proactive. Follow leads, do not lead. For instance, unless a foreigner is explicitly offered a handshake, they should not offer one. Instead one should just place their right hand above the heart accompanied by verbal greetings.
- Avoid making extensive eye contact. In the Uzbekistan culture it is considered disrespectful (Yusupov 2009).
- If one is making a presentation, one should restrict the hand movements; the Uzbekistan culture considers it not only potentially distracting but also offensive.
- Crucially, do not point at places or persons with the index finger when making a point or giving directions, rather use an open palm (MacFadyen 2006).
- Lastly, avoid public display of affection as the Uzbekistan culture highly discourages this behaviour. A pat in the back, a hug, and even holding another person’s shoulder, especially of the opposite sex, in the public even for congratulatory purposes, should be avoided.